Scholars of gentrification often study the visual results of socioeconomic structural change in urban environments, including graffiti removal and historical reconstructions of façades, turning “ugly” factory ruins into charming residential loft spaces, etc. This article examines the gentrification of Berlin’s former working-class neighborhood Prenzlauer Berg in terms of sound. We present the Knaack Klub as a sonic case study symbolizing the erasure of the voices and culture of Berlin’s long-term residents and argue that contestations over sound, brought on by West German migrants in what can be considered a “hostile takeover” of parts of East Berlin, are a key driver of gentrification. Mining visual material including photographs, police reports, court verdicts, real estate advertisements, and street maps for acoustic clues, we are able to synthesize sight and sound, ultimately allowing us to move beyond the surface—in this case, building façades—to study the visual and sonic penetration of a gentrifying neighborhood’s intersecting public and private spaces. The study of the sonic heritage of neighborhoods or even single buildings helps us to move beyond Wilhelmine façades and the surface of courtyard living to reevaluate the relationship between urban space and community, between architectural history and policy.
Sounding Out the Symptoms of Gentrification in Berlin
Florence Feiereisen is associate professor of German at Middlebury College. She has published in the fields of German contemporary literature as well as in acoustic ecology / sound studies, among them Germany in the Loud Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2012; co-edited with Alexandra Hill). Lately, she has been interested in digital tools to explore the intersection of urban history, architecture, and sound.
Erin Sassin is associate professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Middlebury College. Her book with Bloomsbury Academic Press, Single People and Mass Housing in Germany (1850–1930): (No) Home Away from Home (2020), was awarded a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
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Florence Feiereisen, Erin Sassin; Sounding Out the Symptoms of Gentrification in Berlin. Resonance 1 March 2021; 2 (1): 27–51. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/res.2021.2.1.27
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