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“Berlin is poor, but it’s sexy!”

Klaus Wowereit, former Mayor of Berlin

Continuum Berlin 2019 took place on December 14, 2019 in the form of an interactive exhibit that embodied the most iconic elements of the “Berlin experience,” intertwined with the unique life of Minerva students. The event broke away from the traditional structure to dive into a rebellious new format of experience design tailored to the city and the students. With attention to details as small as stickers on phone cameras (a practice common in many Berlin clubs to ensure privacy and keeping people off their phones) or as big as the venue itself, Berlin Continuum 2019 was a Minerva event unlike any other.

The title of the event —  Merghain — was a play on “Minerva” and the name of the infamous Berlin nightclub “Berghain”, which was celebrating its 15th birthday on the same night. Merghain drew on the uniquely raw, edgy, and free aspects of life in the German capital while also creating a space for more reflective interactions and throwing the students on a rollercoaster experience of their lives in Berlin.

“It was like the whole event was one beautiful piece of art.”

Anvit Garg, M21 student

The venue itself was a black-box theater, a simple open space that traditionally hosts modern theater and avant-garde performances. This venue set the precedent that the whole event itself would be a holistic piece of art. It also allowed for the space to be divided into different rooms, referencing the layout and names of the different rooms in the Berghain club.

Before even entering the venue, there were several elements in place to set the stage and lead you into the mindset of Merghain. The entrance of the venue was hidden at the end of a broad concrete tunnel stemming from a graffiti-covered opening on the street. On the corner of that tunnel stood a street musician, a member of the class of M21 fully engaged in the role, playing guitar and collecting coins in an old hat. The very first feelings you get upon approaching are raw, urban and far from elegant. The concrete tunnel lead to a door where two Minerva staff members had transformed themselves into bouncers with black leather outfits and serious faces. They stopped every person at the door, asked for IDs and “roughed” them up a bit before letting them inside. Their acting was a big part of setting the scene and the uncanny feeling of seeing familiar faces in familiar roles that do not fit together. Following the bouncers, each person had to get a stamp and put a sticker over the front and back camera of their phones to enforce the experience of a Berlin club where privacy is highly valued. The ambiance was completed by the dress code in the theme of Berghain and wild Berlin freedom — guests and staff alike were wearing leather pants, revealing glowing tops, transparent dresses, torn up T-shirts, and fishnets with leather boots.

The Main Stage

The main room contained a conceptual art exhibit comprised of different pieces found on the streets of Berlin, which had been artistically transformed with graffiti, tape, and paint by students and displayed on the walls and the floor. Stage lights were shining on some of the pieces including an old television with its back taken out and painted and its insides on display, titled “Disconnected”, and two big windows with individual abstract graffiti artworks in each frame hung on the wall. The titles of the artworks were all a play on the traditional connotation of the objects displayed and the unique Minerva experience of the students. In addition to the displayed artworks, the room included a collaborative artwork where guests were invited to (legally) experience  “tagging a wall” or vandalizing an object. There was also a station where students could draw temporary tattoos on themselves or each other. The open space had a dual purpose: it invited participants to decipher the art they were looking at while also forcing them to interact with each other.

The whole event was designed with the class of 2021 in mind, making references to their experiences and inside jokes. One of the centerpieces was a play on Duchamp’s Fountain, an artwork studied in freshman year and a piece famous for challenging the definition of art. “M21” was a toilet collected from the streets of Berlin, tagged with silver paint to say “M21” at the bottom where the signature would go. The inside of the toilet was spray-painted black and topped with a silver “#” for the HCs taught at Minerva.

The scandalous artwork drew people in and provoked discussions about its meaning while also leaving room for interaction. Many participants embraced it as a representation of some frustrations they themselves had and enjoyed seeing displayed.

The Dark Room

Loud techno music was playing to set the mood of a traditional Berlin club, mixed in with some recognizable 80s and pop sounds to get people dancing. A small opening at the back of the exhibition space, marked by a neon sign with the words “Minerva @ Berghain” led into a smaller room lit up only by red neon lights and the sound system. It was the dance floor everyone could go dance in to experience the feeling of being in a cramped, dark club with loud music. The room fluctuated between packed and empty throughout the night as people were drawn to different parts of the event space.

The Panorama Bar

While Berlin is traditionally considered to be more loose, wild, and edgy, and trashy, there is also a side of the city that is warmer. When the loud and wild stage of Merghain was too much, people could go into the third section of the space where fairy lights and bean bags created a more intimate atmosphere. Polaroid pictures and craft tables embodied the Berlin hipster vibe and allowed people to experience the sustainability trend, working with their hands and talking to each other while reflecting on the more emotional aspects of their semester, accompanied by a slideshow of photos from the past four months.

Pushing boundaries

While maintaining that original purpose of reflecting on the city and the community, Merghain also challenged the boundaries of traditional institutional events at Minerva and blurred the lines between staff and students and formal structure and informal experiences. The dramatic dress code which initially scared some students ended up being the foundation of bonding and interaction. The lack of formal structure normally associated with these events allowed for a more free and collective experience between the whole community, transcending artificially created social groups, legacies or titles.

The display of artworks and performances itself pushed the boundaries of the definition of art, blurred the lines of authorship and presented different modalities as coming together to form one holistic artistic expression of Berlin.

All photos by Berfin Karaman.