Wednesday 9 August 2017

Käthe Kruse: Lob des Imperfekts

Käthe Kruse has a book out, Lob des Imperfekts. Kunst, Musik und Wohnen im West-Berlin der 1980er Jahre. It's an ebook, actually, about music, art and squatting back in the day. Fittingly, it is not neat and tidy, not professional as we may have come to expect.*

Kruse was the drummer in the band Die Tödliche Doris. Wikipedia says the article I've linked to here relies too much on references to primary sources. What other sources would you want to rely on, I wonder? The band was part of the Geniale Dilletanten movement. They spelled it like that on purpose, unlike the Wikipedia article, where someone "corrected" the spelling in 2012 and it has stayed that way. Which has its own charm, I suppose. The idea, as I understand from Kruse's book, was to just get on and do things, make music and art and books with enthusiasm, ingenuity, rather than years of practice. Dilletantism like the herb and your favourite auntie. You're never going to achieve perfection, so why try? Kind of like art-school punk, to use an Anglophone comparison, only less angry, less a reaction to what came before, and more a simple creative urge? Maybe. I'm not an expert.

And that was kind of the point. Kruse writes of the movement:
Perfection can't be expected. Most of us couldn't play any instruments or couldn't repeat what we'd played once before. And that's where the basic premise of the Geniale Dilletanten comes to the fore: that anyone can make music who has ideas and energy (...). In any case, the Geniale Dilletanten stopped leaving the things they cared about to the experts, the self-appointed or otherwise responsible, and took charge of them in person.
So it's not exactly easy listening. My mum used to have an Einstürzende Neubauten CD and she'd play it really loud and hoover at the same when the downstairs neighbours had pissed her off.

But it was a thing, you know? You can hear their influence still now in some bands. Kruse writes about the music scene in 80s West Berlin, where everyone's surname seems to have been Müller and everyone worked in either a bar or a record store, and people ran shops that never sold anything, and it seems like an island where money wasn't necessary and they could make art out of embroidered cushions and get ripped off by a gallery owner and then get their revenge by mass-producing the cushions and selling them for much cheaper, and they'd get invited to art things all over the Western world and do a show or make a video and send that and it would be funny and fun and everything was an experiment and no one got up early in the morning.

And just as that might be getting a bit samey, with some other dude called Müller doing some other artsy thing, the book switches from music and art to something more tangible: how these people actually lived. This is the longest piece of the three that make up the book, followed by a more straight-forward interview with Käthe Kruse. Like the other two articles, it's been used before but is very recent, published in an architecture magazine. Because putting together old things to make new things is good. So Kruse writes – in an almost conversational style – about how she joined one of West Berlin's 164 squats in 1982 and how the squatters lived and worked and went about saving buildings that were slated for demolition, and with them whole swathes of Kreuzberg and Schöneberg.

The experiments extended beyond art, then, to the way people lived. In her building, they started out with forty people sharing space in which to cook, eat and sleep, allocating tasks like washing up, cooking, scavenging building material, repairs, construction. What began as a temporary solution to a lack of affordable living space became more permanent, with band practice rooms and then whole water processing and energy production plants set up in the basement, and smaller, more private spaces coming about as and when needed.

One of the reasons I was so fascinated is that I've known people over the years who have lived in these houses, and seen some of the conflicts that arose there, from a distance. But Kruse details how they were dealt with – new people moving in and bringing bursts of energy, employing a janitor to make sure someone's responsible for certain jobs, making sure the smaller living units are shared by people who get on well. About half of West Berlin's squats have since been legalized, and Kruse takes us through that process as well, and the compromises it entailed. But basically, the squats created the economic conditions for those who lived in them to lead those laid-back lives, experimenting with instruments and making new things. I'm glad the two aspects come together in one short book.

So here's the thing I've been thinking. What if some of us bloggers are our own breed of ingenious dilletants? Doing things our own way out of enthusiasm, writing differently to paid critics, the experts in our case, less for the fame than for the fun, having come across a space in which we can experiment. Sure, some literary bloggers go on to write professionally, and good for them. But at a time when monetizing is almost expected of us, maybe it's cool to just make something new for the love of it and not for the cash.

*The book is professionally produced, of course, by Mikrotext, with photos and all the features you'd expect from an ebook, plus samples from their other stuff. And there'll be a book launch somewhere in Kreuzberg, at some date in September, which is again nicely dilletantish.


K said...

This Berlin novel by Kurtis Sunday might be also of interest, similar theme:

Anarchy in a Cold War is a novel by Kurtis Sunday set in the West Berlin alternative-squatter-Punk scene during the latter part of the Cold War. The city, a focal point in the conflict between East and West, was a capitalist enclave smack in the middle of Communist East Germany. It was entirely surrounded by the Berlin Wall, complete with razor wire and machine gun posts. There is much that is familiar and much that is not. The Cold War is raging and the missiles are armed and waiting in their silos. If nuclear war breaks out there will be a four minute warning. There is no internet and perhaps NO FUTURE. Reality? Sur-reality? Or hyper-reality?

There is a also a free (Creative Commons) the ebook version (PDF, epub and mobi) of Anarchy in a Cold War now available at


the Internet Archive:


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