In the first of his reports from EuroBasket 2015, Emmet Ryan says it’s important to remember the cultural context in which this competition is taking place
None of us were supposed to be here. We were supposed to be arguing over how to correctly write Kiev for our style guides along with a bunch of other Ukrainian city names. Instead, the East Side gallery is facing down a home, but not the only one, of EuroBasket 2015.
Forgetting where this was supposed to be is impossible given the cultural context of the venues chosen to replace it. Zagreb, home to a sporting event that was played in the backdrop of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Riga, which first declared itself a capital at the beginning of the 20th century before finally achieving it at the tail end and being Europe’s capital of culture last year, and of course Montpellier and Lille a pair of cities not far from the hotbeds of another crisis Europe is dealing with as refugees from war torn states look for sanctuary. Then we come here, to Berlin.
Maybe my memory is fuzzy but five years ago it was near impossible to miss what is now the Mercedes-Benz Arena from most of the East Side Gallery. This 1,300 metre long living piece of art is made of stone but the story continues to be told by new artists who have come long after the commissioning period ended. They make their own marks, casually ignoring the signs telling them not to deface the walls.
Approaching from one bridge to the south there is a massive piece across one apartment block with Fuck Off Media but just a few hundred metres up to the left is one nearly as big proclaiming I Love You.
Berlin has been pivotal to this continent’s history and direction for the past century. In this part of town, as thousands prepare to descend upon an arena for a basketball tournament, times are changing. The arena’s side of the road is filled with new giant offices. Mercedes-Benz, of course, Zalando, and more have set up shop. My host here tells me the wall side is in high demand with apartment blocks and the like in the offing. Gentrification is coming to a most rebellious part of Berlin.
Elmira’s an actress. She was just 3 years old when the wall fell but this week my AirBnB host is acting in an historical play about Kaiser Wilhelm’s efforts to get Arab citizens under British rule in the First World War to rise up against that empire. Europe was uglier back then, not just from the actions but the casual way with which humanity went about them. It’s tough to remember that amidst all this conflict now and in our recent history, this is the most peaceful period on record for the continent. The crisis we face now is not one of our making and there are no easy answers but the reason Europe is seen as a better alternative is because of us. We’ve made this continent more peaceful. Most readers of BiE fear no more than paying their mortgage, their credit card, or their student loans. This aren’t trivial concerns for me (phew no mortgage) but when you think of the wider context of concern those before us and those around us face they pale into insignificance.
There is a calm to her apartment. Back home I live in a clutter of computers, phones, and heaven knows what else. Here the room is almost bare. Light fills the apartment and I have a simple mattress and pillow with a table beside it for work. Save for one closet and an empty rack of hangers, the room is bare and bright. It’s the type of thing I call a pleasant shock, a release from the noise and a place where I can focus.
For all it’s gentrification, the life of the East Side Gallery will keep the messages we need out there. The arena, where the relatively trivial matter of four teams qualifying for the knockout rounds will be decided, faces an empty gap in the wall. Not too far from the gap however are a pair of messages scrawled by taggers. ”When you start treating people like people they become people’ and ‘Right now someone is dreaming of living your life.’ Few of us have it easy, this corner certainly hasn’t, but we’re getting better. We need to be mindful of the struggles of those still around us.