Last week I was witness to the so-called “Balcony Sacrifice”. I had heard of such occasions, yet it still took me by surprise. There were signs of it some months ago: an old man on his third floor balcony climbed onto a fruit box with a round set hammer in hand, in order to check if his neighbour’s balcony would serve for the next sacrifice. I was privy to this on my way to the studio in a backstreet of Wedding – a rather ordinary district of Berlin, where fake castles serve as courtyards, security men greet you when on your way shopping, coffee is served in electrical supply stores, older brothers beat up their younger brothers in the street, rush hour is at one (both over and underground), and a young Muslim in a wheelchair waits for passers-by to carry him upstairs. Like any other district in Berlin, Wedding is currently being “discovered” by artists. But as there are no picturesque canals and only a few run-down houses waiting to be renovated, the stimulation of an artistic avant-garde might not be the watertight solution to cheering up the atmosphere and boosting property prices…at least, as far as I was concerned. I had just been through a very strange month.
It had been a strange month and nothing indicated its end she thought / except her tiny pocket calendar and some houses / set on fire by an early summer or an all too late crowd of activists / let’s get out of it she thought / and rode her bicycle up north / following the former path of surveillance / that had crossed a dead-land territory once / a run-down supermarket / an African flea market (about to close) / some Soviets’ graves next to allotment gardens / the abandoned railway tracks ready for suburban Sunday promenades / that would lead her to the edge of town
My studio faces a short street, cut in half by the large factory building: a liminal space par excellence. I rarely see people in the opposite building, part of which is probably empty anyway. Its shabby grey-white surface serves as a screen for my imaginary projections.
It had been a strange month in total she thought / while remembering the stark tyranny of an everyday sun / that dried out soil and daydreams / and a “try harder” ethos / so she left for a left bookshop / consumed academic thoughts from bookshelves / over-heard the latest rumour about gallery assistants threaten post-doc students / in the quest for grant-based income // as the crisis will attack // and there won’t be any escaping into books she thought / so she bought one and she went on to the playground / children inside / vendors outside talking on their ear-plug-cell-phones / an old lady with her solid plastic picker that reaches out beneath the parked cars / picking up trash professionally sad
Wedding once had a strong identity, or at least a strong colour. Namely RED. It was in this district that workers had tried to demonstrate on May 1, 1929. 19 of them got shot by the police, in the so-called “Blood May of Wedding”. Over forty years later, the West-German Social Democrats moved their party’s headquarters here in order to show their affinity with the workers class. Today, Wedding is a workers’ district, where not only has work vanished (50% of industry closed down in Berlin after the Wall); even the district’s name disappeared when swept up by the central city district’s administrative machine. Its inhabitants did not go away though, they just started performing life outside beyond below without work and district distinction.
There we are John thought D. Jarman / made her wonder how far that we would reach / but her newly bought book told her to connect it all / the fenced playground and the vendor and the lady and the bookshop / and the social vulnerability / and the pseudo-open collaboration with a big subjectification machine / making work and non-work merge / in sweet self-exaggeration / exploitation / re-invention of a flexible biography / a nostalgic lack of continuity / and protection / and desire and submission / institutional co-option of her (oh) so dynamic work force / a power field disguised as game field / an experiment as commodity / while she’s dreaming of something else
If solidarity can only be organized in relation to systems of paid work, then my work in Wedding relates to a system without solidarity. I feel a certain distance, every time I walk out of the metro station. The pavement is broad enough to give way without forced encounters (sometimes objects are dropped from above, sometimes voices are snatched from interiors). Still, I register too many impressions during the five-minute walk and by the time I arrive at the studio I have already been elsewhere’s, losing some thoughts on the way. People here let you come too close; their traces and silences and gestures and angry conversations at the public telephone booth speak too clearly a language that enters my imagination and lingers there, unwilling to drop off and give way to what I brought with me from an early morning thought. I get contaminated with dull lives that make me dream of taking all these moods with me and simply escaping.
There she was on a hill top / right before her the last piece of territory / like a leisure park in a nutshell / like a national park without extension / but with an exploded view that would send out / shock waves of freedom // out there // children were chasing dogs in electric bobby cars / old couples were dancing to nostalgic melodies of forgotten bands / dogs, ducks, horses galloping across fields and fences / and some wannabe punks waiting for the last bus to take them back to their sullen sad skyscrapers / while the filled air of swamps and rotten tree trunks smelled like Finland / so she took a last breath of its infinity / and the local train back home
When I started copying this text to a postcard, I realized that on the balcony in front of my studio, a man was fixing a golden helmet to his head, while an old lady stared cautiously out of the apartment, wondering what will happen to the neighbour’s balcony. While we watched in silence, the man took out a rather large weapon and started attacking the ceiling in methodical pokes.
(Balcony Sacrifice: Yearly ritual performed without public announcement in a district of Berlin, believed to ward off misfortune in the future. Description: A balcony is partly destroyed by a performer carrying a halberd while wearing a golden helmet > reference to Saint Florian, whom believers address in their prayer as follows: “Saint Florian Dearest / From Fire and Damage protect my Home / Let others’ Homes drown in Extinguisher’s Foam.” The (usually dead-beat) balcony symbolizes an insecure future and inherent risks when stepping out the safety of home and tradition; its sacrifice is a substitution for the real sacrifices that might await those who take a step beyond and expose themselves to unknown forces that, through the ritual, are then wrought upon a lifeless object. Note: Popular sources relate the use of a balcony to Karl Liebknecht’s declaration of the Republic from the Berlin Castle’s balcony in 1918, as well as to his violent death shortly afterwards.)
Critics say that the “Balcony Sacrifice” is just a way to establish societal order, keeping transgressions temporary, under control. The real aim is to neutralize the potential of resistance against forces – neo liberal ones, they add - that threaten not only balconies, but the base of work and life as a whole.
Still, I enjoyed the ritual’s destructive beauty. Aesthetics are what artists aim at, in the end.