24 October 2011

Property Marketing Balls Pt.6



Until we dealt with Hamburg’s FRIEDASchanze, our main concern with property marketing had been a linguistic one: the series was a lingering divulgation of real estate boosters’ degenerate penmanship. But the previous installment in this series exposed a mechanism (shared by all of the projects featured in this study) which I’m just going to boldy call ‘vampire colonialism’, regardless of the mayhem which may ensue.


The mechanism is characterised by two key features: first, the romanticisation and fragmentation of the surrounding neighborhood through a celebration of its inherent authenticity; and second, the weaving together of these fragments into a patchwork to conceal the inherent phoneyness of the property itself.

The mechanism is colonial because it judges and appropriates the surroundings in self-defined terms, offering a self-serving, narrow reading of its host. And I’m calling it vampiristic, because the act of subsumation results in the eventual collapse of the host. The real estate project essentially has nothing unique to offer, other than location, and it is from this which it feeds to keep it alive.

Real deal

FRIEDASchanze was sold with the picture of a harmonious intercultural neighborhood in which carefree Italian pizza bakers with the songs of the Adria on their lips could be found, and where quaint obliging Arabs fried falafel in the nooks between home-grown fashion boutiques. So a few weeks back I was in Hamburg and dropped by Schanzenstraße to see how the picture shaped up against reality, and to see if the condos were as boldly crimson as the architect’s rendering suggested.

Manic organic

Sadly they weren’t. Instead, the façade had been toned down to a hue somewhere between egg plant and burgundy. It reminded me of a quip made by German graphic designer Erik Spiekerman where he refers to the colour beige as being a kind of “yellow for civil servants”. Something similar seems to have happened here: one imagines a neighborhood committee doggedly pressuring the building contractor to rethink the shocking red in a last ditch attempt at excersizing a semblance of grass-roots influence on the doings of property developers. If so, they’ve flogged a turd for no good reason. If you’re going to live with a turd, better have one with a colourful little flag stuck in it. But red by committee it is.

Speaking of egg plants and burgundy, the whole ground floor is already home to an organic supermarket – natch boogie. Once upon a time organic grocery stores were the pokey little vanguards of the green movement, but here they’ve arrived, no longer brandishing whole-earth manifestos, but corporate design manuals. It’s a thoroughly agreeble place to shop in: well lit, roomy, imaginatively stocked, and, advantageously, largely void of customers at this hour. Wherever they might be on a Friday morning, they’ve left a trail of evidence behind them: cork notice boards behind the checkouts are festooned with flyers for ayurvedic cookery courses and hand-written classified ads trading vintage sports cars for Bugaboos, or flogging aged IKEA sofas.

Flush puppy


For the sake of dramatic convenience I’m going to assume a new tennant of FREIDASchanze themselves was responsible for the sofa ad, and was asserting their upward mobility with a confident couch upgrade. If so, you’d have to wonder why the same tennant had moved into an apartment which looks like a ‘Faktum’ IKEA kitchen. In a reversal of the theory put forward by D.S. on a low-resolution architecture made for photography, FRIEDASchanze looks shit¹ from a distance, but from up close reveals a complex surface grid of collateral fluting which would conceivably arrise if one were to violently combine seven Billy shelving units. Not an unintersting proposition. At the time of my visit, a guy in a mobile platform was fine tuning the cavity widths with a watchmaker’s vernier caliper. Anyroadup, this conglomeration of precision detailing combines to form a façade which, for all its whimsical surface depth modulation, is about as charismatic as a filing cabinate.


Some meters further down the road, the full contrast between the flush-fitted aluminium window profiles of FRIEDASchanze, and the grungy aggregate of century-old building materials which have coagulated to form the rest of the neighborhood becomes more immediately apparent. Is this the habitat the marketing-speak was referring to? By building something flush and clean, you automatically define everything else as lumpen and grungy. On my stroll down the Schanze I pass a cellar bar called Chance, where bottles of tequila and Malibu are displayed in the window at ankle-height beneath home-made chipboard cladding. The smeared windows of a Chinese bric-a-brac emporium are full of beckoning Maneko Nekos, rice cookers and fading polyurethane lotus blossoms. The Playtech Casino is a riot of self-adhesive foils, and the entrance nook between Falafel Factory and Schanzen Döner is slathered in a baroque filo-pastry crust of posters, flyers, daubings, stickers, Selotape² fragments and indelible tags.


The language of the street here is of adaptation, extension and improvisation. Everything is retro-fitted for a broken but still functioning future. This is the land into which spaceship FRIEDASchanze has decended. Its passengers are about to desembark: grunge tourists on an authenticity trip, nosey and charmed by the locale at first, but soon rubbing up against their own squeamishness and reservations. But for now at least, the mission is clear: revel in the grime, write postcards home, but lay subtle plans for a more orderly future.


P.S.: Leaving the neighborhood I even catch sight of a poster encouraging us to Entdeck the Dreck – “Discover the Dirt”. Turns out that it’s a regular party in a club called Grüner Jäger. “Total trash and high-life in bags!” the club’s website proclaims; a “charming, Poptrash-Bad-Taste-Party”. It’s as if the underground was already gearing itself up for its own fragmentation and eventual metamorphosis into another, newer, altogether stranger bourgeoisie than can be found in the penthouse suites of FRIEDASchanze. For now it is content to frollic – for as long as it can’t afford its own mortgage – in a picturesque nightscape of pseudo-glamour, self-defined trash, and premeditated “good” bad-taste: a juvenil vampire already sucking life from its own environment ”¦

¹ I can qualify “shit” if you so wish: read “banal”, “tedious” or “mundane”.
² US English: Scotch Tape; German: Tesafilm