||The financial crisis, the demon that has ridiculed the wheels and face of capitalism and affected millions of taxpayers and homeowners, is the most talked about hype. How has it affected the little people, the creative communities that are so used to being poor and has totally ignored this crisis? Berlin has been “arm und sexy' for years, but now, has it hit rock bottom?
Gaby Bila-Günther talked to many in the artistic community and set this fear of the fallen dollar, straight.
Since weeks, everyone is talking about this financial crisis, as if it was the boogieman, a monster that we should fear, a monster that has ruined our lives and made this already troubled world, even worse. Since it first hit the American scene, the financial crisis has been lingering over to Europe and not yet but soon to reach Australia. The Dollar is weak, the Euro is strong and the banks have gone bankrupt. In America, although many haven't lost their jobs, many have lost their homes, their mortgages, and their savings and are forced to be homeless or live in their cars.
The Banks are in trouble and call out to the governments for a helping hand, financial packages that will save them and put them back on the world's financial map. It seems like the end of the world, like the apocalypse, Hollywood had predicted on their screens for years in various films such Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Madam Satan, Armageddon or Deep Impact. But what does it all mean for people who don't own their homes, a mortgage, investments, or a high paying job? What does it mean for Berliners, where the recession has started a long time ago and has forced us to arrange our lives, accordingly? What does it mean for us the artists, musicians, and small labels, self-employed people who have always felt financial crisis on our backs? Is this crisis hype just like the millennium bug, the bird flu and terrorism? How can this financial crisis be hyped even more in a city like Berlin where every fifth person is unemployed and where many have to juggle several part time jobs in order to pay their rent resulting in little time for creativity? In the 1980s the Berlin artistic scene was supported by many Government grants and hand-outs. One just had to tell the Arbeitsamt, you were an artist and you would be left in peace to be creative; none of these job effort sheets or one Euro jobs, because you are not qualified for other positions or jobs, as an artist. Last year when I was sent to join a job coaching program, I had to tell the public servant who dealt with my case, about my job seeking efforts. As soon as I mentioned that I am an artist and writer, who often embarks on many unpaid projects, he laughed and remarked that I must really enjoy being poor or that I am a kept woman artist either by a rich husband or a rich father. Well the only thing that keeps me, I told him is my desire and need to be creative and well-paid grants for projects seem like pleasant memories of the past in Berlin, hence my low income, I added.
My first thought that derived from this entire financial disaster how is everyone I know in Berlin's artistic community, coping? I receive payment for jobs I did in Australia, and with the dollar battling out against the strong Euro, I receive less than before.
I haven't been affected by this crisis as much as my family in Australia has. They have had savings and shares put away ever since I was a toddler and my father has been cursing this crisis every time we phone. “Sorry mum and dad, I haven't been affected by this at all. I am still struggling like always, still chasing paid jobs and my bank account is still in minus. Like I always said, you would be happier being poor and not materialistic'. And the crisis hasn't hit down under as yet; only the Australian dollar which has become the Euro's doormat.
Second thought was: why haven't we the artistic community been affected by this? “Because our lives are not connected to the international stock market,' mentioned filmmaker Julia Ostertag, who coincidently made a film very similar to today's world. “In my latest artistic work, an experimental feature length film, I envision the collapse of society and civilization, as we know it: catastrophes are taking over, there is no money anymore and the world becomes more and more uninhabitable. The film had its premiere in the US in late august 2008. Not even two weeks, later the banks crashed. It is not EXACTLY what the film is about, but it is definitely an interesting synchrony...'
In so many ways I believe that in our artistic work we foresee these catastrophes, why can't the banks do the same? The crisis didn't come as a shock to us creative people, but surely the banks could have done more in their power to ease the lost cash? Most certainly many knew for years about this coming and after witnessing similar crashes of the last millennium, what have they done to prevent this trashing? Perhaps the bank managers could have dropped their wages down and looked out deeper inside some pockets to secure the interests of their small and ordinary customers? I am not an economist and yet naïve, but these questions are burning me.
“Everyone else seems to be lamenting the financial crisis affecting the world right now a bit more than Berlin, because here it has been the mindset ever since I can remember. Berlin is a “recession', (that's a big statement, that needs to be elaborated - recession is a moment in the boom recession bankrupt recovery expansion circle - so Berlin left the circle? nice) laughs Triston (at his poetic metaphor description of Berlin), aka Electro Negreaux, 32 years old American-expatriate living in Berlin. “Berlin has always been in a recession, so what the rest of the world is just now coming to grips with, this city has had to contend with for decades. So, as of yet, there really are no changes other than the cheap are getting even cheaper.' Cheaper you say?
“Well the gas is cheaper', both musicians, Marine Drounan and Daphne Owers are both happy to tell me. So in so many ways it has affected us also positively, so a tick for the crisis. But apart from prices going down, wages have gone down too and many companies have had to lay people off in order to survive.
It happened to Triston: “The company I worked for is a multinational corporation, and when the mergers fell through, the recession hit and losses piled up, people were laid off in droves, affecting workers in several nations, including Germany. So now I am forced wrangle some black jobs on the side in order to survive.' Not only foreigners are forced to work black now days but also to make ends meet many German citizens have followed the same route. Now, I am not an economist, but this cannot be so good for the economy, right? Well if you get caught, you have really broken the German law.
Writer Ben Knight was going to do a great project, “making an internet show for a magazine, I wrote the whole thing and they were really into it, but the sponsors pulled out because of the Finance crisis so, it is ON HOLD!' And when bands go on tour, they are getting less money from clubs because of the crisis. “We could have made more money on our German tour if we'd actually had any stock of CDs to sell, but nothing was available because the warehouse here in London was already in financial crisis. We made a small loss, but we might have made a small profit in Hamburg and Berlin, said Jude Rawlins from London who often tours Germany. 'Our distributors (Pinnacle and Woolworths) went bankrupt in December, so we've had to rethink our business structure, which has actually proved to be a good thing.'
'A rethink was long overdue; in that regard it has affected us in a positive way, he continues. It seems to be principally affecting people who can't live within their means, but we're a rock band - so used to living hand to mouth that it really hasn't changed our day-to-day existence. I think some people will actually envy how easily "poor" artists can adapt. We're not going to be mourning our reduced credit or our unnecessary holidays in the Algarve - which we never took - anytime soon. Artists are used to being broke, as such just now they probably have the advantage.'
Bering a poor artist is an advantage for this crisis because we are so used it? Not according to Kitty Solaris who runs her own label and is a full-time musician in her own right. Like all other struggling musicians she believes that the recession has already started in the music industry a long time ago, but it hasn't been as transparent to most people who don't have much to do with the industry: “I started the label two years ago, and the crisis in the music industry started some years ago, already when I started! So, the cd-sellings are already low. As an artist I can say I have the impression that it's getting harder to get paid gigs or getting a tour together. I suppose the clubs will have problems.'
And yes clubs do have problems. They do pay their artists less money and they use the crisis as an excuse to do so. Bookers and promoters don't even cover their costs anymore, without them, where would we be? Kitty Solaris continues her view, “as the crisis affects all the society, people have less money in their pocket. They can spend even less for concerts and CDs. But I can't say if it's really a difference. The crisis in the music industry started some time ago, so we are used to it already.'
In many cases since well-paid jobs have been cut down, most people have had to juggle more part time jobs and therefore finding less time to write, record and play. For an artist this must be the worst effect of the financial crisis regardless if we are so used to being poor and we think this crisis has bypassed us, like a breeze in the wind.
“What would Berlin be without the rich underground scene? It's unique in the world!' Screams Kitty Solaris again. So we would be so much poorer if we didn't have the artists working in this city and having the time to be creative. Even though we are used to being poor and “wouldn't even notice a thing' like the band Comedian Pharmacists hasn't and laughed at this entire crisis hype, it has affected us in some ways which we might not be aware of.
The governments have been forced in some cases, to help out the banks since the crash. Less money has been spent on many other policies and social groups, where they are needed more. “We should concentrate on social skills, culture, education, and science.' Berlin has been broke for years, has had debts all the way to swallow up the Fernsehen Turm, but instead suddenly there is gazillions of money to help the banks ? Where is this money come from? Where has it been stashed when needed for so many other social causes and public spending?
Many artists agree with the fact that governments had to help the banks however this financial help and aid should be directed towards other social causes and non profit networks. Kitty Solaris isn't against the helping hand towards the banks, 'maybe the government needed to do this. We need some official support for musicians and small labels too. There are not so many records sold anymore, and the artists can't live from that! It's time to appreciate, especially the underground-scene, the small clubs, the bookers, the organizers, the small labels, the artists, the underground scene as a cultural wealth worth to be supported. We have to get away from the thinking that only jobs or things that make much money or material worth are significant and worthy of appreciation and support! Sometimes they are the non-material things that make a culture or a city unique.'
It shouldn't be the money from taxpayers used to get banks out of trouble. “As regards to the governments bailing out the banks... absolutely not. They should give the money to the people. 20,000€ for every man, woman and child in Germany! That would reloads the economy in a matter of days and make them the most popular government in history! This recession has only happened because the banks don't care about anything or anyone. Don't deal with them. Shoot them.” says Jude Rawlins. Well isn't he a true anarchist. It would be to get some handouts from the government whenever our lives, personal businesses and other adventures are sinking. However lets be realistic. We don't live in Paradise. We never did. Other anarchists like writer Jacinta Nandi are happy to see the banks squeeze their belts and lose their well paid positions. “Don't want to seem flippant, I know that dude Merckel committed suicide, and I know chains in the UK are, to quote my mum, "dropping like flies." So I am worried and also sorry for all the Big-Wigs...and to be honest, sometimes trying to repress/suppress Schadenfreude, a kind of automatic Schadenfreude (I know I must be a Bad Person, I can't help it)'. Schadenfreude is a perfect word to express my feelings towards this financial crisis also therefore I must be also a very nasty person. Nastier than the banks, who don't feel one bit of Schadenfreude when slapping their preposterous bank fees onto honest savings accounts, or high interests on their loans?
Personally I find it really disturbing to hear about millionaire who committed suicide because of how much he lost on the market. It is a punch in the face for anybody who doesn't make ends meet, who must be creative and inventive to float above troubled waters and who are braving the world and the miseries caused by others, on daily basis. I pity the people who must live on the streets after losing their homes. I feel sorry for the families who thought their savings are secure and have always lived thinking about tomorrow. My sympathies go to the old people who have paid their dues to society and have lost their superannuation in this whole mess. So regardless of our position as artists who are good at being poor and used to having low incomes deriving from our “artistic excellence', we must stop and think about other ordinary people who have been really affected. Not bank managers or multi international corporate companies but for those people, they laid off due to this crisis. As artists we have always used others' miseries or political consequences as subjects to feed our work and creativity. So perhaps now we should be at our artistic peak and produce more positive energy than the financial markets have so far. “I am happy; I am getting more gigs than ever. Marine Drounan, an electronic musician, smiles when I ask her about her views on the crisis.' Well then creative people, enjoy the same fate. Sometimes they are the non-material things that make a culture or a city unique. So we cares about not affording the penthouse we never had, the Mercedes we never drove or the personal jet we never had in our backyards, when it is our creativity that turns us on, bring us meaning into our lives making us richer, than the fallen millionaires.
Gaby Bila-Günther aka lady gaby, an Australian writer, performance poet and artist, working and living in Berlin.
Her spoken-word, poetry, fiction and nonfiction articles have appeared in journals, online sites, CD compilations, magazines and literature anthologies on three continents.
She has performed, curated and showed text based, photos and video works internationally and 2000 in Melbourne, on a “moving tram' she launched her self-published a poetry tram travel book Validate … Travel, while her own spoken word debut cd, OFF THE MAIN, alongside Dj Zog's ambient techno beats came out in 2002. She runs the monthly show Fuel at Schokoladen Club.