Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
The touring project will revert to an earlier site after concerns over gentrification came to a boil.
The BMW Guggenheim Lab has found a new place to temporarily call home in Berlin.
The Lab, a temporary urban installation that physically creates a public space and forum for the discussion of issues and ideas related to cities and city living, will now take place in Berlin from June 15 to July 29 in the Prenzlaur Berg district. First installed in New York City from August to October 2011, the mobile project had been scheduled to travel to Berlin, the second of nine stops. But those plans were recently shaken.
As Sarah Goodyear reported last month, the Lab decided to cancel its plans for its second installment, in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, after threats were made against the project. Bloomberg News reported that "left-wing" activists were calling on protestors to derail the project, which they saw as being an instigator of gentrification in the area.
"Things got a little bit out of control to the point that we thought there were going to be serious disruptions," says Maria Nicanor, curator of the project. "We wouldn’t really leave if we didn’t have a good reason to do so. Protests are fine, it's not anything to be scared about. But it started to sound a little more serious."
Officials at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation announced today that the new location had been identified. The Lab will be installed in a complex of artist studios, galleries and restaurants known as Pfefferberg. This was actually the initial site chosen last year for the Berlin segment of the project.
Nicanor says the site was changed from Pfefferberg to Kreuzberg in January after the team spent time in the city to gauge local issues. In talking with locals and officials, it became clear that two of the main issues concerning the city are reuse of its river and waterfront and gentrification. The Kreuzberg site was close to the water and also in early stages of transition, making it an ideal location to explore two major urban themes.
But gentrification is an especially sensitive subject in Berlin, and vocal opponents rallied together – mainly online – to plot against what was perceived as the project's gentrifying effect.
Nicanor says that after it was decided to pull out of Kreuzberg, many other neighborhoods and German towns offered space for the Lab. But there are many permissions and inspections required to install such a project, she says – including things like making sure the selected location is free of unexploded bombs from World War II.
They already had clearance for the Pfefferberg site, so it made sense for the project's tight timeline to simply revert back to the original plan.
Ironically, the Pfefferberg site is an example of the sort of gentrification opponents had been hoping to stop in Kreuzberg. "That neighborhood has been gentrified for years," Nicanor says of the area where Pfefferberg is located.
But even amid the threats over the Lab's plans, Nicanor says the process is directly in line with the goals of the project.
"I think what the lab has managed to do is to be a spark for very hot issues that are underlying, and then it gets to a point where you scratch at the surface and all of these things explode again," she says.
She says that opposition groups are inevitable in projects like these, and that the organization has reached out to the people behind some of the threats to engage in talks – a process that's likely to inform much of the public discourse that happens when the Lab opens in June.
"The conversations have begun before we have even opened," Nicanor says. "I think that’s great. It's fascinating."