Sonic Gentrification in Berlin Selected for Special Journal of Social History Workshop

Good news: “Sonic Gentrification in Berlin,” a project first developed through the DLA by former Faculty DLA Fellow Florence Feiereisen (Associate Professor in the Department of German) and her colleague Erin Sassin (Assistant Professor in the Department of Art & Architecture) along with a group of talented student research assistants, has now been selected as a digital history essay to develop for a special issue of the Journal of Social History. Florence and Erin will participate in a Mellon Foundation-funded workshop at George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media to develop the article. Congratulations!

Here is a description of the project:

“Sonic Gentrification in Berlin”

Florence Feiereisen, Associate Professor, Department of German

Erin Sassin, Assistant Professor, Department of Art & Architecture

Middlebury College

There is an extensive body of literature on the architectural and socio-cultural ramifications of Berlin’s ongoing gentrification, including the conversion of factory ruins into residential loft spaces, graffiti removal, the reconstruction of historical façades, and most troublingly, the displacement of Berliners to the periphery of the city. While we do not challenge the usefulness and necessity of this work, we seek to lend an ear to architectural and social history—to ask, what did and does gentrification sound like?

In order to uncover the class of sound, we concentrate on one of Berlin’s formerly working-class (and sonically complex) neighborhoods, and employ its oldest nightclub and concert venue Knaack as a case study. For nearly 60 years, people flocked to a building built in 1902 on the Greifswalder Straße in Prenzlauerberg to dance to recorded music (under the GDR) and later to see and listen to Rammstein, Snow Patrol, Tote Hosen, and others. Yet, as the nearby apartment buildings formerly referred to as Mieskaserne (“rental barracks” for the working classes) were given facelifts and converted into residences for affluent (and often) non-native Berliners, noise complaints grew in frequency. Following a court order mandating lower noise levels, Knaack lost its reputation as a concert club and was forced to close its doors in 2010. A large real estate company is currently renovating and converting the shell of what was Knaack into luxury apartments and storefronts for two boutiques.

However, unrecorded soundwaves are ephemeral physical entities and when the original architecture and urban spaces that facilitated their creation are no longer extant, recreating the sounds of the past in situ becomes impossible. How then can we best approximate the sounds of Prenzlauerberg and the gentrification of the Greifswalder Straße? Mining architectural/urban plans, artistic representations, and ear witness accounts in newspaper articles and police reports for sonic clues, we seek to employ digital methods associated with Architectural History, Social History, and Acoustic Ecology to map sonic changes onto 2D and 3D renderings of urban fabric of Berlin, and Prenzlauerberg and the Griefswalder Straße in particular. We hope to visually record the frequency and location of noise complaints directed at Knaack alongside sonic approximations or original recordings of the club and its environs. Ultimately, our case study investigates the relationship between sound production versus sound reception, and reads sonic markers of social well-being and unrest against the backdrop of architectural and cultural history—adding a layer to our understanding of communities formed, dissolved, and reformed.