“These Artists are dedicating an entire exhibition to Berlin’s Dealers”
by Thomas Vorreyer

original title: Diese Künstler widmen Berliner Dealern eine ganze Ausstellung
appeared in VICE, November 18, 2017

The magazine “BILD” and the AfD find it mediocre.

At Kottbusser Tor in Berlin one can find pretty much anything: sesame rings, tropical fruit, weed. “Do you need anything?” a dealer asks. In many cafes in the area, the dealers are forbidden entry. A few steps beyond the plaza is an old factory building: redbrick with a glass annex attached for the stairwell. At first sight the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg museum doesn’t strike one as particularly spectacular. And yet, it is here that the spokesperson for the Alternative For Germany (AfD), right-wing politicians, and some tabloids have suggested is the new center of the political correctness insanity in Germany in the last few days. And as is well known, they don’t like that sort of thing.

On the museum’s second floor the artists Scott Holmquist, Moro Yapha, Phillipp Muras and two guests sit together in a circle of chairs -- a meeting scheduled on short notice. They’ve had a few of these lately, says Scott. Three weeks ago the artists and the museum announced their new exhibition. The show is called Other Homelands; the dry subtitle reads: Origins and Migration Routes of Berlin Park Drug Sellers. An exhibition about dealers? For many people and media outlets in Germany that is a scandal.

Bild was the first to bring the story to national attention. “Museum celebrates drug dealers”, claimed one of the many headlines that the tabloids have since then dedicated to the exhibition. Burkard Dregger, the domestic policy speaker of the CDU fraction of the Berlin parliament house, allowed himself to be quoted in the article saying that the exhibition is “an expression of utter depravity.” Alice Weidel, a leader of parliament for the AfD fraction shared the article on facebook with the comment: “This sort of thing really only happens in Berlin.” A user wrote beneath: “This is a slap in the face to upright citizens, like police, doctors, care-givers, soldiers, volunteer workers, teachers, etc.” Another wrote: “Yuck, how sick is this current government really?” In an email made available to VICE, the sender “thanked” the museum for the exhibition: It would accelerate a much needed shift in Germany through this clearly recognizable excess.”

When VICE was allowed to preview the exhibition on Wednesday, the Fall of the West wasn’t yet much to look at. Everything takes place in an area of about 90 square meter, not much larger than a typical 3-person shared flat in Berlin. Against the wall lean a few banks of cardboard, on which press coverage of Berlin’s dealers and informational material will later be on display. An employee screws a lightbulb into a socket, a whiff of hot glue pervades the space.

In the middle of the room stands a silhouette, two meters high and about half as wide, sawed out of thick cardboard. Thirteen of these will eventually stand here, explains Scott. The cutouts look half human, half like trees. Later, when visitors are entering, their gaze will fall first on the blank front side. From there, all the figures look the same. The real substance reveals itself on the back side. Here, the migration stories of Berlin’s dealers will be illustrated. Quotes in their mother tongues, photos of their hometowns, and sketches of the routes they took to Germany will make up the contents. But the names of the dealers and more information about their lives will remain confidential. “It is not about individuals, but rather about places,” says Scott. For this reason, photos of the villages and cities the men came to Berlin from are hung up together. Philipp says: “Research has shown how hard it is normally to get pictures of these places.” The exhibition wants to make these views available.

The artists spoke to 159 dealers in Görlitzer Park and Hasenheide Park in Neukölln. Only 13 of them answered their questions. The findings are summed up on a map. It is turned 90 degrees clockwise, at the top is the west, no longer the north. This way Africa sits not beneath Europe, but beside it, at eye-level. Red lines lead from countries like Mali, Nigeria, or Senegal towards the right, towards Europe. Through stopovers like Casablanca and Paris, they all land finally in Berlin.

All in all, a socially critical exhibition, like one often sees in Berlin. The public interest, however, that is somewhat unique – the threats as well. For the first time in the 27-year-long history of the Museum, the FriedrichshainKreuzberg district has hired a security agent. He is in charge of keeping the guests safe during the exhibition opening this coming Tuesday. Shielding against the media campaign is more difficult. Half of the exhibition workers no longer want to be referred to by name, reports Scott. They are worried that the project could hurt their careers.

Scott is not concerned. Six years ago he moved to Berlin from the USA. Here, he works as an installation artist – a year ago he requested a memorial be built for the Berlin dealers, which also landed him in the local news. Moro Yapha also does not shy away from the publicity. The activist comes from Gambia, in Berlin he produced, among other things, a political radio show – he calls the park dealers already “brother”. Philipp Muras, the third in the group, moved to Berlin from Bremen 18 years ago. Today the painter lives around the corner of Görlitzer Park. According to district administration estimates, about 200 street dealers regularly sell grass and other drugs. Many come from African countries. Philipp is afraid that, due to the heated mood of the times, that racist ways of thinking could already be taking hold in his two children’s minds. “In school they were warned about the dealers,” he says. “Then they see: the dealers are black. And conclude that all black people must live like that.”

The German system discriminates against his brothers, says Moro. Many of them graduated from professional education programs or brought university degrees with them from their home countries. However, at least 80 percent had no chance of a legal field of work because they could not get work visas -- to deal you don’t need one. For many, their first contact with drugs was here in Berlin.

Moro wants to work with the dealers to improve their situation. Scott wants the state and the drug society and drug dealers decriminalized – or at least for the subject to be opened for discussion. Philipp hopes that the all the great excitement will subside soon: “We shouldn’t allow the discourse to be dictated by the right-wing media,” he said.

Original in GERMAN