Mon, Sep 05, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Saucy Berlin transforms itself into a 'music city'

With little or no industrial base the German capital exploits its cultural fame and its reputation as a place where titillation is valued


In the 15 years since Germany's reunification, the capital Berlin has been a city caught up in a hurricane of change, some of it, but certainly not all positive.

Its post-Cold War dream of developing into a thriving metro-polis in the heart of Europe has, claim experienced observers, largely failed despite all the hopes placed in it becoming a buzzing European cross-roads for trade, commerce and culture.

The disappointments have been considerable. This year Berlin is wallowing in high and long-standing unemployment, with city debts put at more than 60 billion euros (US$75 billion). Long robbed of its industrial base, Berlin is seeking new ways of resolving its problems.

Renowned as a city of culture, with its three opera houses, and countless theaters and leisure facilities, and reveling in its notoriety as a free-wheeling, fun-loving city, Berlin attracts increasing numbers of international tourists every year.

Governing mayor Klaus Wowereit exploits the city's cultural fame, also its reputation as a place of naughty, saucy, titillating goings on, by encouraging show-biz personalities and big names in Hollywood to visit Berlin and make use of its many atmospheric film locations.

With Germany's big business interests solidly centered in the west and south of the country -- in Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf -- Wowereit sees little or no chance of Berlin ever again winning any kind of solid industrial base.

So, the city's openly gay Social Democrat mayor champions Berlin as a media city, as a Musikstadt (Music City), and movie-making haunt. His show-biz contacts have paid off in recent years.

First, Universal Music arrived in Berlin in 2001 to convert a huge cold-storage egg-house into a glossy HQ for its expanded German and eastern activities, followed by MTV, the world's biggest music broadcaster, which transformed city warehouse facilities into a plush new seat for its "Central and Emerging European Market"


Berlin's music economy is currently booming. Hundreds of music-scene bars, discotheques, clubs and lounges can be found in Berlin -- many of them in Friedrichshain and trendy Prenzlauer Berg, both eastern city districts.

In the autumn of last year, Europe's biggest music-fair Popkomm was staged in the German capital for the first time.

With Universal Music and Sony active in Berlin, and recording giants like BMG and EMI also strongly represented in the city, it is hardly surprising that economic muscle is given to the city's show-biz scene.

Currently, Berlin's music industry employs some 5,200 workers in more than 700 outlets. Total annual turnover reached 924 million euros (US$1.1 billlion) in 2002, close on 35 per cent more than the 2001 figure.

During Berlin's post-war division little or no progress was made on finding a new role for the collection of old and decaying waterfront properties in the eastern (communist) half of the city, whereas elsewhere in Europe -- notably in London -- new business strategies for waterfront sites were under discussion as early as the 1960s and early 1970s.

By the 1980s, Fleet Street in London had lost its role as a production center for Britain's national newspapers, when new, cost-saving plants, were constructed in London's former docks area in Wapping and Canary Wharf.

Not that Germany's media industry is contemplating a similar such operation in Osthafen, although the city's popular Spree River (Radio) studios are to be found along the waterfront.

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