PRESS / Frankfurter Rundschau

“After the High”
by Harry Nutt

original title: Nach dem Rausch
appeared in the Frankfurter Rundschau, November 23, 2017

An exhibition wants to give a face to dealers in Berlin’s Görlitzer Park – and thereby transform the problem.

The tunnel, which was a quick way to circumvent the open space of the former Görlitzer train station during the 80’s, was as useful as dangerous. It connected two urban areas separated by the overgrown park, but, at least during the late evening, traversing the tunnel required a certain courage. For a while “Element of Crime” stood in big letters on the wall of the old entrance to the train platforms, but only those privy to the local rock scene knew that the words referenced the now famous Berlin band. Criminal elements are, however, the constant topic of conversation in the area. The park has now garnered an international reputation as the preferred location for illegal drug deals.

Once the opinion on it was extremely different. “Something for everyone and everything for everyone” was the creative model in the mid-80’s according to which overgrown city wastelands were to be transformed into versatile, useful public parks under the umbrella of the International Building Exhibition. The result of this project is, however, disastrous.

Looking at the development of Görlitzer park, architect and city planner Hans Stimmann comes to a sobering summary in a recently published coffee table book about Berlin park areas: “The public park recreated just before the turnaround stands a good 3 centuries after its planning as an example of the recklessness of users. A debate amid garden architects about whether and how the user-specific design of the mid-1980’s is able to adapt to the current requirements of a mass usage and functions under the pressure of everyday security problems. Like a farewell to the idea of the mid-19th century public parks.

The park has become a battleground for divergent interests, and the exhibition “Other Homelands”, in which since Tuesday the American artist Scott Holmquist refers to the “work” of drug sellers in Görlitzer Park, is not seen as an exactly fruitful contribution to the revival of the debate Stimmann addressed. For a few weeks now Holmquist and the district administration of Kreuzberg, in whose Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum he would like to draw attention to the origins of the actors in drug deals, have had to put up with accusations of a questionable idealization. Holmquist’s provocative comment about “fearlessly and courageously working” dealers in public space was not falsely perceived as an innocent glorifying intervention in a years-long heated debate about safety and well-being in and around Görlitzer Park. It requires a certain detachment to accept such a culturally polished minimization of a socio-political disturbance as an artistic contribution.

And yet Holmquist’s concern, to give the alleged offenders a face in order to in a new way make the reasons for illegal drug dealing a subject of discussion again, is not completely absurd. As the artist likely sees it, the small dealers of the Görlitzer Park are, as perpetrators, again only victims of an overarching context of violence. Beyond such a change in perspective, however, it would be advisable to finally take into consideration another form of perpetration. Anyone who speaks predominantly about the african origins of the dealers should not remain silent about their customers. Görlitzer Park has become an illustrious meeting spot for the fulfillment of forced leisure-time needs, whereby it is nearly impossible to differentiate between those seeking to prolong a “party mood” or physical self harm.

The source of Berlin’s appeal as the libertarian European capital of “doing and letting” draws its energy not only from the good air, but also for a considerable time now from the relatively easily accessible forbidden substances. And despite all the subtle reflection on the definitions of criminals and victims, it can not be dismissed that the market development belongs to that realm of an internationally operating organized criminality.

That once so easily proclaimed motto “For everyone something and everything for everyone” has gone fatally wrong, and the subsequent attempt to apply a liberal drug policy in Kreuzberg can be considered as failed. If the conquest of public parks at the beginning of the 20th century was an emancipatory act, it has become, as the example of Görlitzer Park shows, a sport of a reckless lifestyle-elite that quickly moves on after the end of getting high. Görlitzer park is not only about peace and order for the locals, but at its most basic about the future of urban public spaces.