by Travis Jeppesen on January 20, 2009
When I was in high school, I remember picking up an introductory art history textbook and skimming the contents. I didn’t know much about art at the time, but the chapters were pretty standard, covering all the basics for newbies like me – painting, sculpture, and architecture. What really struck me, however, was the conclusion, which was all about New York City, which the author posited as the 20th century’s greatest artistic creation of all.
Looking back at the past year, I feel overwhelmed by the task of attempting to keep up with everything I’ve seen, all I’ve experienced, the people I’ve met. And it couldn’t have happened in any other place – certainly not right now. Berlin is the common thread, what holds all this together. It may not be the most colorful capital in the world, it may not be the most ethnically diverse or even the most heterogeneous architecturally. But it doesn’t matter. Berlin has a spirit that is completely lacking in all other cities I’ve lived in and traveled through over the years. It is perhaps the only place in the world where the avant-garde hasn’t been relegated to the status of historical phenomenon, but is a constantly evolving presence. It is a tragic city, but a city defined by its openness to change, its reliance on social and artistic experimentation, its refusal to embrace any conventional role – including that of metropolis. It is a city where the darkest emotions and the reckless joys of intoxication battle against the manic climate’s steadfast oppression, where the extremes of human behavior constitute the norm, where every room is a potential sexual playground.
Berlin – everything it stands for, everything it is – was the greatest work of art I experienced in 2008, and it very well may be the city of the 21st century. And if anyone thinks that this is a romantic notion, I dare you to spend a year here and not fall for its endless charms.