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<nettime> Yuppie creativity marches on in Berlin ... (Wall Street Journa
Patrice Riemens on Mon, 23 Aug 2010 03:27:41 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Yuppie creativity marches on in Berlin ... (Wall Street Journal)

Trust the WSJ to convince you that art and culture only come to their own
('grow up') when they represent marketable value and the 'lifestyle'
associated with it ...

original to Wall Street Journal W/e 20-22 August 2010:
http://bit.ly/d3I9P4  (for pics & inserts)

Berlin Broods Over a Glitz Invasion
In a city proud of its underground scene, a trendy new social club feeds
angst about elitism

By Vanessa Fuhrmans

In most world-class cities, the opening of a Soho House?a string of
London-born, ultra-hip private social clubs?marks another exclusive
playground for the creative in-crowd. In Berlin, where the members-only
brand opened its latest outpost in May, it's sparked an identity crisis.

Launched 15 years ago in the eponymous London neighborhood, the Soho House
franchise has spread to New York and Los Angeles, will open in mid-October
in Miami, and is perhaps best known to the non-member masses from a 2003
"Sex and the City" episode in which Carrie Bradshaw and her pals are
bounced out of its Manhattan venue's rooftop pool after sneaking in.
Belonging requires a certain quotient of hipness?with credentials
preferably in the media, entertainment, fashion or art worlds?the
endorsement of two members and an annual fee between $935 and $1,800,
depending on the city.

The Berlin club, a hulking Bauhaus building that housed a Jewish
department store in the 1920s, then the Hitler Youth's headquarters,
opened in glam style. At a preopening party, Damien Hirst spray-painted a
shark on a construction wall that now decorates its cavernous,
cement-floored lobby. In the weeks afterward, German celebrities such as
Wolfgang Joop and director Wim Wenders and other Berlin glitterati have
flocked to rub shoulders at the poolside bar or on its chintz-covered

At first glance, it's easy to see why Soho House founder Nick Jones chose
the German capital as the club's first outpost on the Continent: In the 20
years since the fall of the Wall, Berlin has become Europe's hottest
cultural mecca, teeming with galleries, night clubs and budding
designers?just the kind of creative cool the club seeks to embody. "Berlin
is like a child screaming and kicking in all directions, and we want to be
part of that," says Chris Glass, the Berlin club's membership manager.

But not all Berliners, proud and protective of their anarchic, gritty
brand of cool, are sure they want to grow up into the Soho House's more
upscale version of it.

The city's creative energy and social scene have long been shaped by the
starving artists and hipsters lured by its cheap rents and abandoned
building space over the years?the flip side of the capital's nearly 15%
unemployment rate (roughly double the German national average) and nearly
?60 billion ($78 billion) debt burden. "Poor but sexy"?as Berlin's mayor,
Klaus Wowereit, inadvertently branded the metropolis in 2003?a large
contingent remains stubbornly wary of gentrification symbols, from the
rise in rents and strollers in the once avant-garde neighborhood of
Prenzlauer Berg to a $3.2 billion airport being built just outside the
city. Even BMWs are suspect: Last year a record 270 cars, most of them
luxury brands, were torched here.

The resulting reaction to the Soho House has been a mixture of fascination
and fretting. "The city's scene still must be convinced of a club in which
you have to pay a membership fee," cautioned the daily Berliner
Morgenpost. German fashion blog "Les Mads" worried it would be a "step in
the wrong direction" to try to "encapsulate" Berlin's creative scene in a
members-only club. Vandalizers were more to the point: Shortly after the
Soho House project was announced a couple years ago, they grafittied its
façade with "No Exclusive Club!" and the insistence that the building
become a youth center instead.

"What's special about Berlin is that a creative person without much money
can come here and accomplish, contribute something," says Ortwin Rau, who
operates a now-cult status bar, youth center and African and Caribbean art
market along the city's Spree river banks. "Tomorrow we'll have a class of
creative yuppies instead and they'll create something, too, but it won't
be the same."

The eight-story, 1928 building in the city's Mitte district now occupied
by the Soho House was one of the city's first department stories to sell
goods on credit to the poorer and mostly Jewish residents who lived
nearby, but was later "Aryanized" and expropriated by the Nazis. After the
war, it served as the the East German Communist Party's headquarters and
from the late 1950s until the end of the Cold War housed the party's
central archives. Then, it stood empty and in crumbling disrepair for more
than a decade, until British investors bought it from descendents of the
building's original owners.

In recent years, the city's hipster social scene has grown increasingly
more upscale with such locales as Grill Royal, a clubhouse-style bistro
popular with Berlin's media, art and fashion crowd, and Bar Tausend, a
sleekly styled music speakeasy. The China Club, elegantly bedecked with
modern Chinese art, caters more to Berlin's establishment than its
emerging creative class.

In Berlin, Soho House has sought a different approach. At the equivalent
of $1,152, annual membership costs much less than the $1,800 fee in New
York. Soho House tapped a couple of dozen of the Berlin scene's top movers
and shakers to recruit 20 to 30 founding members with the right hip and
creative credentials.

On the rooftop overlooking the blocks of communist-era prefabricated
concrete-slab buildings that still dominate the neighborhood, members can
dine poolside on grilled swordfish. But the menu also includes Berlin's
signature snack of curry sausage and French fries, for ?5, and the lobby
has ping-pong and foosball tables. The club is also playing up the site's
history. Its dinner-event space, where the first East German president had
his offices, has been redubbed the Politburo. A 40-room hotel, with small
rooms starting at ?100, a still-to-be-opened restaurant and the spa are
open to non-members, as well.

Thorsten König, director of Miracle Music and Entertainment, a
Berlin-based music industry consulting firm, was asked to help scour for
members. Afraid Soho House would be too posh or expensive, "many of the
people we asked weren't sure they wanted to do it," he says. But as buzz
builds, friends and acquaintances have been clamoring to get in, he says.
Still, the city's artists, he adds, have shown less eagerness.

"Berlin is still Berlin; it's still the city that is cheap and practically
bankrupt," Mr. König adds, eating sorbet poolside. But, as he sees it, the
city and inhabitants are growing up: In Berlin, for something like the
Soho House, "this is the right moment."

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