Urban Development and Creative Economy in Berlin, Part 3

NEMONA Showroom Summer 2011

The first part of this article (Monday 5th March) was an introduction to the evolution of the planning discourse since German reunification (1990); part two (Wednesday 7th March) introduced the issue of Creative Industries (in the Berlin context) in quantitative and qualitative terms; today’s part 3  is about the spatial dimensions of the creative economy; and finally part 4 is a short presentation of a project (NEMONA) which tries to answer to the new challenges that the creative economy imposes on our understanding of urban space.

The spatial dimension of the Creative Industries

It is time to focus into Berlin and see how the CI are distributed in the city:

Image 1: Distribution of the enterprises in the creative industries sector in Berlin. Source: Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung. Creative Industries in Berlin Report 2008.

Image 1 shows a clear concentration of CI in the city centre (defined by the white line of the circular train), with some areas (e.g. Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg) particularly strong.  In total, 77,5% of the Creative Industries prefer the centre, with galleries being at the very top (93,9%) and games at the very bottom (61,8%) of the range (Creative Industries in Berlin 2008, p. 107).

A lot has been said about the way that “creatives” use space – in particular old industrial buildings. Together with the question of centrality, this raises the issue of their location choices. What are the criteria for these choices? In a survey conducted for a real estate company (ORCO) and the city marketing organization (Berlin Partner) the “rent levels or the cost of the real-estate” was mentioned as the major factor (80%) with “accessibility via public transport” in the second position with 68%. “Scope for self-design of space” came at position 5 (54%) while “appealing architecture” only at position 8 (41%). It seems that freedom to create one’s own space is more important than the architectural quality of that same space. The large flexible spaces of industrial buildings offer that possibility. Finally, in the last (14th) position came “start-up & technology centres/cultural centres“ (9%) as a reason behind a location choice. Creatives care little for centrally organized clusters. (Creative Industries in Berlin 2008, p. 113).

Image 2: The “Spandauer Vorstadt” area in Berlin-Mitte. Source: Creative Industries in Berlin Report 2008.

These choices of the creative industries have clear consequences in the development of urban space. Image 2 shows the area known as “Spandauer Vorstadt” in the central district of Berlin, Berlin-Mitte. Right after Reunification this became a designated Urban Renewal Area, which means that large amounts of state money were invested in its refurbishment. At the same time, two important players appeared on the scene: On the one hand “Tacheles”, for a long time the emblem of Berlin’s off-culture, was the occupied ruin of a former department store that squatters had turned into a cultural centre with galleries, artists’ ateliers, a cinema etc. On the other hand, Kunstwerke (KW) that also opened up in the early 1990s, became an important centre of contemporary art and the initiator of the art event Berlin Biennale that activated the whole area. Little by little art galleries opened up in the neighbourhood and in particular streets such as Linien Str., August Str. and Tucholsky Str. became the epicentre of the art scene in Berlin. On the eastern end of the same neighbourhood, around Alte Schönhauser Str. thrived the fashion industry, with individual stores and independent fashion labels. The attractivity of the neighbourhood was not to remain a secret for a long time. The ever-growing tourist crowds that were looking for “authenticity” in Berlin, discovered the artsy area with the edgy charm. Business started catering to tourists, and the result was, that by the beginning of the 2000s, tourism had destroyed the same authenticity it was looking for. Not only this: both the art market and the individual fashion labels are now pushed to the fringes of the neighbourhood – or to totally different districts.

Who is to blame? – if anybody is. Was it the Creative Industries that “upgraded” their neighbourhood thus finally displacing themselves? Or was it the state, which through extensive refurbishment and intensive subsidies changed the area from a dilapidated state to a highly attractive neighbourhood? What is the role of urban planning in all this? The case of Spandauer Vorstadt shows that it is impossible to find a single factor behind that development. It would be rather necessary to see a combination of all the above, together with much broader tendencies that include Berlin’s and Germany’s new geopolitical positioning, trends in tourism etc. Yet, undoubtedly the Creative Industries have played a crucial role in reconfiguring the area, both symbolically and materially.

But urban planning faces one more difficulty – and this is linked to the way creatives work.

The city as co-working space:  NEMONA

As we saw several times above, businesses in the CI in Berlin tend to become smaller and smaller, while a disproportionately large portion of the workforce is self-employed. Both of these factors challenge both the workplace and the notion of work time (as opposed to leisure time). The “5-to-9” job is here rather the exception than the rule. Works flows into leisure and workplace into living or entertainment space. The kitchen table, the café, the club are places good enough for the work of the creatives. Their work is often project-oriented. In ever-changing project-teams they come together, before they separate again for the next project. What is the type of space needed for this hybrid, protean work? How are we, as planners, to think of the way we want to live and work in the city? Betahaus in the district of Kreuzberg in Berlin has tried to answer this in its own way and create a business model based on this experience of how creative work functions (www.betahaus.de).  Its principle is this of “co-working space”, a malleable, flexible space than can be transformed as those who use it see fit. It is up to the user to decide whether she wants to rent a table and an internet connection for a day, or a table for 6 to work with her team for a month, or practically any size for any flexible period of time. She can decide she wants to rent a meeting-room additionally or book a course on accounting. She may spend her day in the betahaus coffeeshop or in the courtyard socializing with others. Betahaus (and other co-working spaces) are the response to the changes in our understanding of work. The former factory with its institutionalized rooms and division of work has been replaced here by a transforming space of freelancers, who can create ad hoc working teams.

Cities (in particular outside the Fordist north) have already been that type of spaces. Formal or informal networks have always come together to produce variable amounts of work, somewhere between self-exploitation, the need for survival and social bonding. Trust and confidence, face-to-face communication are very important for these networks, where jobs have to be easily arranged or distributed among their members. Research in the Mediterranean has shown e.g. how seamstresses and tailors working from home organized themselves in network to respond to a demand for cheap and flexible sewing.

We asked ourselves if something similar was possible in Berlin-Neukölln where a large part of the population has immigration background. Starting from the assumption that the Turkish community may work with similar informal processes, a research team of undertook studied the district of Neukölln in 2010 to identify such networks[1]. It showed that they indeed existed – mostly producing inside the home for the family or for a small circle of acquaintances. This becomes very visible when visiting the weekly market at Maybachufer where large quantities of textiles are sold and bought.

In March 2010 NEMONA was born as a pilot project in the field of fashion and production in Berlin-Neukölln aimed at fashion designers and seamstresses. Its goal is to promote partnership and networking between these two groups in order to create new sources for jobs and to develop innovative business models (www.nemona.de).

Image 3: NEMONA

NEMONA develops further the already existing “Fashion Network Neukölln”, in order to support and strengthen designers as future partners of seamstresses and tailors, while the latter (seamstresses and tailorswill be linked to the existing fashion network. This will lead to the launching of partnerships and relationships with designers while strengthening employment possibilities for the seamstresses and tailors.

The establishment and maintenance of the network depends on the implementation of concrete projects. For instance, NEMONA has clearly defined intermediate projects which hold the network together and involve short-term experiences of success. The network will therefore develop common structures, such as the establishment of a showroom, joint participation in development of local production in the immediate environment of the designers, which ensures a better quality of products. NEMONA also offers regular network meetings to share information, to collaborate with other networks or the exchange of qualifications (e.g. relevant industrial and commercial knowledge or specific knowledge of production based on ecological aspects).

Once a month there is a meeting of (mostly) immigrant seamstresses and fashion designers where jobs are being distributed. Seamstresses improve their skills to work in fashion industry. On the other side fashion designers experience what is feasible in practice. In this way an increasing number of small scale projects emerge.

NEMONA shows how the Creative Industries have the potential to link different groups in society and economic scales if we manage to free them from the “lifestyle trap”, i.e. if we manage to see them as an integral part of a society instead of a glittering exotic fruit. This network is only one example of what creative industries can produce– without distinguishing between creatives and non-creatives. What is needed is an analysis of the whole value chain of fashion production, which ranges from training and financing to production and creativity. This shows how different skills are interconnected and by stressing that connection, you have the chance to create value for those involved.

The same study showed that there were many young fashion designers in the same district, sometimes next door to the immigrant seamstresses.  What if we were to bring them together? Wouldn’t that create a fashion network where one can profit from the other? This would be a kind of co-working space at a city level. This is how NEMONA was born, a platform where different people in the fashion and tailoring businesses can come and work together.


[1]  Kalandides, A., Fleig, D., Ghioreanu, D., Kalaç, G., Krone, M., Versch, T. (2010): “ Research report on the project, CIMON ‘(cluster initiative fashion and sewing): Networking opportunities between tailors and fashion designers in Berlin-Neukölln.” Department for Business Development, District Government of Neukölln . [in German]

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1 Response to Urban Development and Creative Economy in Berlin, Part 3

  1. renardteipelke says:

    I really liked the notion of formal and informal networks and their corresponding economies. It is always odd to see how anything informal is perceived as non-regulated, dis-functional, or even illegal in the debate in industrialized countries due to our framed thinking of highly formalized sectors (and even parts of our everyday life) as the norm/the ‘right thing’.

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