W H A T I S T H I S P L A C E ?
LYRA is a small floating house in the middle of the Bay, constructed with recycled materials. There are windows on every wall and the view changes with the wind; sometimes, you see the small anarchist island of Lummerland, made of a dozen of old boats and barges assembled around a small dancefloor. Other times, you will see a full green window, looking at the bird sanctuary on the Rummelsburger Ufer. When the wind blows from the East, you will face the Spree and the factories of Klingenberg, and you will remember that the water around contains the calcinated remnants of villages destroyed for the mining of brown coal in Lausitz.
I took over the LYRA floating house in March 2020 and spent two months renovating the roof. It was a spontaneous project borne out of the need for “a room of one’s own” to think, rest, and create. LYRA is intended to be a safe space for independent artists from marginalized communities to reconnect with their intimate realities and find solace in a place where life is both private and shared with many other species.
Musicians, dancers, painters, writers and many more need to access a form of retreat at affordable costs in order to cope with stress, trauma, and exhaustion. It is also crucial to offer spaces that directly challenge our living habits and make our environmental impact more visible. On the LYRA, water and electricity consumption become immediately more important. Life on the water is shared with many other species –birds, fish and amphibians as well as insects.
After intensive renovations in September, especially of the floating structure, Berlin-based artists will be invited for short residencies of 1-5 days to experience this peaceful and embodied way of co-living.
A B S E N T L A N D
In any given society, there are utopias that do exist in a real and precise location, places that we can locate on a physical map. Among all the spaces that we go through, there are some that are absolutely different: Foucault called them “heterotopias”. Spaces that have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places than immediately meet the eye. In general, a heterotopia is a physical representation or approximation of a utopia, or a parallel space (such as a prison) that contains undesirable bodies to make a real utopian space impossible. Heterotopias are worlds within worlds, mirroring and yet upsetting what is outside…
A few months ago, I impulsively invested all my savings into a small, shabby, wobbly house that floats on the bay of Rummelsburg, in the centre of Berlin. I was supposed to pay my university tuition with that, but something diverted me here. I bought it from a hippie who lived there in the winter. He forgot to tell me that the roof was leaking. Most of the ceiling was rotting, and needed to be replaced. At that time, the houseboat was docked on the Stralauerufer, a public pier which is managed by the city. Specifically, it is managed by an irascible man called Arthur Fischer, an architect who has attempted to build luxury hotels and touristic floating resorts on the pier; his projects were turned down by the city, but he still manages the pier, and has the power of deciding who may and may not get a contract to anchor their boats on the shore. When I bought the houseboat, it was stationed on the dock, but my request to extend the contract for two weeks was furiously declined. Herr Fischer hated my project, because the houseboat had been parked there illegally at first; the previous owner forced him to give them a contract. So, he hated me, too. On the phone, he vociferated that he didn’t care about my issues, and never wanted to hear from me again. It was my first glance at some of the political conflicts which crystalise around the bay of Rummelsburg.
In fact, the very presence of boats and houseboats on the bay has been a dispute between the communities living on the water and the residents of the condos on the shore. In 2019, a petition was devised by many land neighbors who claimed that the floating structures were a disruption of their views; that many of the “water people” were dumping their trash and their waste in the bay; some of them were even pirates and drug lords. They requested that the right to anchor on the bay be revoked. Already, the city declared a mooring ban on the shores of the Lichtenberg district, on the eastern and northern parts of the bay. But anchoring in the middle of the water is not a municipal issue; the bay is a federal water body, and the right to anchor is a federal right. The German Constitutional Court turned the petition down, but the sentiment remains: alternative modes of living are not welcome by many of the wealthy property owners on the shore. They feel that their view is hindered by the dirty boats that float, year long, on the Rummelsburger Bucht. Interesting how many urban conflicts revolve around the notion of cleanliness.
To me, the small bay of Rummelsburg has always represented a counter-space in Berlin. Water acts a mirror for many different kinds of realities. One of them is physical: stepping onto a kayak to meet my destination effectively displaces my body into a new mode of gravity. I am on board, floating. My body becomes a weight; moving around means that the objects that support this weight –boats, hulls, pontoons– immediately rock and react to new arrangements of matter. Once I have left the shore, the possibilities are different. The absence of ground defines new modes of existing: there is no running here, no walking. Legs become quite useless on a kayak; I sit down, the boat floats, and I start paddling.
[more coming soon]