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Alcohol-oriented districts - click opera
February 2010
 
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Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 12:51 pm
Alcohol-oriented districts

White people -- if you'll forgive the generalisation -- drink, and the further north you go the more immoderately and self-destructively they tend to drink. Or, to put that a little differently, the whiter your district gets, the more bars are going to pop up, and the more your Friday and Saturday nights will fill up with piss, shouting, boom-boom -boom, swagger and bravado.

When I first moved to London I lived in Streatham Hill, a residential district to the south of Brixton with a significant black population. There were certainly pubs there, but alcohol didn't entirely dominate Friday and Saturday nights in Streatham. For that you had to go uptown. A few years later I moved (via Chelsea and Fitzrovia) to Brydges Place, a tiny alley just off St Martin's Lane in Covent Garden.

I thought that being in the midst of a district dominated by theatre and retail I'd be living in a refined environment. Instead, I found I was living in a sewer. Brydges Place, of an evening, became an open toilet, used as a slash-wall of last resort by many of the thousands of people who descended on central London every evening to drink... heavily. My friend Thomi, who had a studio above John Calder's publishing house on Green's Court in Soho, had it even worse: people would stand on his step and pee right through the letterbox. Later I moved to the Chinese end of the Lower East Side just in time to see it teeter between a quietly industrious Asian district by day and a burgeoning, boisterous white people's drinking district by night.

Experiences like these taught me that sometimes what's passed off as a fashionable district, an artist's district, can actually turn out to be nothing more than an alcohol-oriented district. Where pubs and clubs dominate a district, the only artists are likely to be piss artists (and the odd DJ).

Yesterday Hisae and I revisited Friedrichshain, the Berlin district where we lived for over a year. Our only active tie to the area now is Smart Deli, the Japanese cafe where we eat salmon teriyaki and pick up our month's supply of Japanese rental DVDs. But every time we return to Friedrichshain there are a couple more glitzy new bars, a few dozen more people carrying beer bottles, some more drunks in the park, and lots more piss and broken glass underfoot. It's become an alcohol-oriented area. And -- no coincidence, I suspect -- it's predominantly white.

It's not that bars in themselves are a problem, or beer. I like a quaff of the old dunkel weissbier of an evening myself. It's when bars are the only expanding business in your neighbourhood that alarm bells should start ringing. Your neighbourhood, to stay liveable, needs to be more than a mere alkie magnet. And for that, I'd argue, it needs to stay mixed -- not just in the mixed use sense, but the mixed race one too.

Neukolln, where we live now, has a 35% immigrant population, most of whom are muslims. Our streets are dotted with Turkish, Iraqi and Lebanese social clubs where muslims play dominoes, smoke pipes, watch satellite TV and chat under bright fluorescent lights (white people's bars never have such bright white light -- drunk people know how gormless they look in that kind of blaze). What they don't do, of course, is drink alcohol. Islamic culture frowns on it.



It's been interesting following not just the embourgeoisment of our corner of "Kreuzkolln", but also its coverage in the Berlin media. My own coverage of Neukolln's transformation has followed a "creative class" template borrowed from Richard Florida: I've been focused on workshops, art galleries, shops. But when the Berlin media declares that "Neukolln rocks", what they mostly seem to mean is "Here are some new bars for you to drink in". It isn't even about house prices (Berlin is still mostly a rental city, and rents don't radically alter the way house prices do -- they tend to be controlled). It's about the Kneipenszene: drinking.

Two trendy new bars have just opened round the corner from us on the Hobrechtstrasse: Mama and Raumfahrer. Raumfahrer is an interesting case: the curvy-windowed 70s storefront it's housed in strugged for a year as a designer workshop where earnest girls converted Chinese laundry bags into inventive, quirky clothes and bags. They were offering cheap creative studio space in there, but didn't seem to get any takers, and suddenly they were gone, and their space re-opened as a bar.

The bar is doing amazingly well -- at weekends it mills with people, and the windows go opaque with condensation from all the chat. The contrast makes me a little bit sad. It seems to suggest that what I thought was shaping up to be an art-oriented district might just be turning into an alcohol-oriented district, another Friedrichshain. But we have one secret weapon -- our much higher muslim population. As long as they stay, the demon drink can never take more than 65% of Neukolln's soul.

75CommentReply

pitcherthis
pitcherthis
pitcherthis
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:09 am (UTC)
i think there's a very simple explanation for this

for drinking, or drinking excessively, and that's the general oppressive working culture which seems to be less and less compatible with people's needs? i personally struggled with the idea of 'meeting friends in a pub' ever since i landed in england as i never could understand the charm of getting really drunk and spending the whole night shouting (rather than speaking, because of the noise) deeply meaningful beer-fuelled truths at each other...
soho is absolutely disgusting at weekends (i'd also experienced waiting for the last trains back to south london in the past, and they would inevitably be full of scantily clothed girls in high heels, barely managing not to fall over, and/or redfaced chips/burger/kebab eaters...)
give me a vegan cafe with cakes (very important) any day!


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:21 am (UTC)
Re: i think there's a very simple explanation for this

Anyone who thinks Soho is disgusting at weekends should be gently led to a few British provincial town centres and left to peep from behind police vans at the unrelenting chaos. Incredibly, we're comparatively lucky in London.

And obviously there's a colossal grey area between having a cake in a vegan cafe, and vomiting into the lap of someone you fancy in an All Bar One. A quiet pint in a handsome old boozer is one of life's great pleasures. For me, anyway.


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:09 am (UTC)

Of course, it is possible to drink alcohol, even to excess, and fail to smash someone's windows and piss through their letterbox. I've done it loads of times. Every time, in fact.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:12 am (UTC)

That's all well and good, Rhodri, but just don't tell your muslim brothers.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:24 am (UTC)

Yes, those muslims sure are saints. And of couse the troubled or troublesome among them don't use weed instead of alcohol or anything.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:27 am (UTC)

People on weed tend to giggle a lot and mumble like Tricky, don't they?


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mrobot
mrobot
Ben
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:34 am (UTC)

you've obviously never been to seoul. the vomit stains permeate the entire city.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:44 am (UTC)
3 cheers

All major cities, metropolises if you want. Seem to be coming binge boozing piss pools. People are unhappy and need some escape. They bore me as well. Piss artists are nearly the worst. There will never be enough muslims living here (london) to stop it, sadly. Welcome to the age of the leisure indusry.


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tinyfolk
tinyfolk
xxxx
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 12:20 pm (UTC)

I live in a small college town in Indiana. We have this problem only one weekend a year when there's this huge bicycle race and everyone gets hammered. Last year we had drunk folks tearing up lawn furniture and throwing it against the side of our house at 4am. This weekend is the weekend. I'd go out of town if I didn't have things to get done. I'm glad I don't live in a city.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 12:22 pm (UTC)

Speaking of Alcohol and North. You didn't mention the Vodka Belt in this entry.

Though it is about your current district of living, not alcohol in general. Just wanted to point that out though.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 12:40 pm (UTC)

the whiter your district gets, the more bars are going to pop up, and the more your Friday and Saturday nights will fill up with piss, shouting, boom-boom -boom, swagger and bravado.

Your analysis seems to miss out on the fact that huge swathes of the white European population are Latin, and Latin countries don't tend to go for binge drinking.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 12:47 pm (UTC)
Choose Christianity, kids

When is Islam a race? Momus and his commentary could convert tomorrow - would they stop being white? Wouldn't Christianity urge you to refrain from drinking as much as Islam?

But - is the 'problem' of revelry in the streets (don't go to Jamaica, Nick) really worth the brain-closure of religion? A few broken bottles - it's the patina of living. I say 'sweep them up and stay free'.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 01:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Choose Christianity, kids

Wouldn't Christianity urge you to refrain from drinking as much as Islam?

No, Islam quite specifically forbids alcohol, Christianity doesn't.

You're right that not everyone muslim is non-white, and not everyone white is non-muslim. But the vast majority of muslims aren't white, so I'm being a bit lazy and leaving out the caveats.

I'd say, by the same token, that all brain-closed people aren't religious, and all religious people aren't brain-closed.

Edited at 2008-04-03 01:02 pm (UTC)


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god_jr
god_jr
D-L Alvarez
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 12:49 pm (UTC)

Interesting theories. I grew up in a working-class black and Hispanic neighborhood in the US, and we had plenty of drunks, especially on the weekends. But sparked by today’s post I just did a quick search on statistics and found that one site after another agrees with you: whites drink more than any other ethic group. Part of it seems to be the white man’s capacity. That is, if a white man and, say, a black man, were to drink the same amounts weekly, the black man would be more likely to suffer from alcohol-related diseases.

I can’t find any studies that go into motives for drinking: why do white colleges for example have bigger kegger parties than black colleges? Reason would tend to suggest it’s because they can, but I’m no anthropologist and will leave that to the research of “the experts.”

I do know a bit about Berlin though. Just from observation I would guess that the boozing in Friedrichshain also has a lot to do with the age demographics. Not only are more young people living there, more young people who don’t live there are flocking there on Friday and Saturday nights.

In Neukolln, where you have just moved, there are not just more Muslims, there are also more families and elder (past middle-age) people. But that can only provide so much defense against the make-over of gentrification. In the end “who lives there” is only part of the change, and the smaller part.

In my 20s in San Francisco I lived in the predominately Mexican, Mission neighborhood. It was great place for years, but during the dot.com boom (remember that?) it got gentrified into party central. And you’re right, it was mostly those damn white kids, not only frequenting the bars, but opening and running the bars. On the weekends those of us who lived in the neighborhoods were out-numbered by the swarms of slumming hipsters.

So your percentages might not have much to do with the final picture. IF Neukolln becomes the next Friedrichshain in terms of being a party destination, the piss artists will desend like locusts.

I also moved recently, and had considered Neukolln briefly because it was a neighborhood I always liked. But then there was so much hype over the area in the past year that I ended up deciding on another neighborhood (also known for its Muslim population): Wedding. It’s wonderfully quiet, and more central than most people think. The part I live in is a hop away from Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, and as we talked about before, on bike there’s no where in this city that is far. I’m also near the cross-town trains (S1, S2), the circle line, and the Neukolln-express, the U8—not to mention a beautiful park that most white people—including Germans who have lived here for years—have never even been to.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 01:07 pm (UTC)

Wedding is demographically quite similar to Neukolln, though, isn't it? Large muslim and non-white population, and good age-spread.

But yes, you're right, there can be a nomadic population of drinkers who descend like locusts onto an area if it gets bar-hip. When that happens, it doesn't matter who lives there. People will come expressly to piss on you night after night.


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mistresshellena
mistresshellena
Mistress Hellena
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 12:59 pm (UTC)

Was it here in Click Opera that I read recently about how the folks who complain most about gentrification are the first wave of gentrifiers?

In any case, the thought seems applicable here.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC)

For me, there's a tipping point which is hard to put your finger on. Friedrichshain has tipped, Neukolln hasn't yet. You feel it just riding or walking through the areas. And, oddly enough, the same sorts of people/phenomena can have completely different meanings, depending on whether that point has been reached.

For instance, I would rejoice to see a video store in Neukolln as good as Friedrichshain's Filmkunst (world cinema, nice cafe, trendy clientele). For it to appear here would be a sign that our area was going in a good direction. And it would really stand out here, because there's nothing like that.

But in Friedrichshain, Filmkunst just caters to the majority of the local population. It somehow feels smug and non-controversial there, part of a young white bourgeois hivemind. It certainly doesn't stand out. Context, it seems, changes everything.


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anglerfish96
anglerfish96
anglerfish96
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 02:12 pm (UTC)

Interesting that the girl on the cover of Zitty Berlin doesn't have a blemish to be seen.

Perfect example of the false friend phenomenon.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)

It took me a long time to remember that Zitty didn't mean "city" in English but spotty! The false friend phenomenon fades when you're an expat -- you stop hearing the double meanings in context.

I'm rather interested in whether the model is Turkish, or meant to suggest Turkishness. I think, just by virtue of being not-blonde, we are supposed to get at least a taste of that from her. But she's clearly not wearing a headscarf or looking too threateningly "otherly".

It would have been funny if they'd put a radical Islamist standing in front of a mosque behind the "Neukolln Rockt!" slogan instead. And it's interesting how the women of any ethnic minority community are considered more internationally acceptable than the men. They can sort of pass and cross better. They can play both sides, strategically.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)

One under-observed part of the shift in the financing of the music industry is the fact that musicians now make much less of their money through the record industry and much more of it via the alcohol industry. We don't sell as many records, but we continue to perform concerts in nightspots which exist mainly to sell alcohol.

That means that an industrial structure in which music was a commodity in its own right has been replaced by one in which music fits into a drinking / chatting / socialising framework -- it's an accessory to a pint. We've seen this in the way you now get big events like the Carling NME Awards. NME probably now has a more significant relationship with a drinks company than any record company.

And, in line with my theory about the relationship between drinking and whiteness, it may be no co-incidence that the NME celebrates black music less than it ever did. It's very much promoting a white music culture, a culture of drink and drugs, rather than a nerd music-loving culture of collectors and crate-diggers and curious cultural tourists.


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morbid_o
morbid_o
[No Audible Dialogue]
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)

Well, http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com/?s=alcohol ?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)

I'd clearly rather see Gordy reclassify alcohol than cannabis as a Class B drug!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 3rd, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
black fans

Momus, I hate to break it to you but you don't have ANY black fans. Maybe it's that awful cod reggae voice you've sung in.

:-)


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