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* Bettina Vissmann, Bettina Vissmann, Architect, TU Berlin: "Potsdamer Platz Mimicry - Theses on the Construction of Urban Surfaces"; "Zentrum der Zukunft" ("Center of the Future"): Promotional video on Potsdamer Platz

Panel Discussion
* Sascha Korp, Director of Marketing berlin.de (debis), Berlin
* Horst Ulrich, head of the City Information System and Online Services, Office of the Berlin Senate
* Hilmar Schmundt, editor and writer, konr@d (Hamburg), co-organizer of "softmoderne"

Thorsten Schilling und Pit Schultz, mikro e.V., Berlin

"Millennumania" von Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani 
Nina Fischer und Maroan el Sani

DJ Manuela Krause -electronic listening-
DJ Manuela Krause


mikro.lounge #8: 

WMF, Johannisstr. 20, Berlin-Mitte
Wednesday, 4 November 1998, 20.00 Uhr 


Modem -- ISDN

Gunter Becker: Berlin.de im Kreuzverhör. Das Modell der virtuellen Metropole hat nicht nur Freunde (Tagesspiegel, 6.11.98) 

Transcript of the discussion (German)


A "neue Mitte", a "new middle" is opened in Berlin at Potsdamer Platz and millions pour in. On the Net, "berlin.de" is about to be relaunched. Are metropolises disappearing into their own (imaginary) networks? Are new contexts, forums, markets, communities being created that leave their counterparts in the real world looking rather old? Or is this all just a part of the neoliberal process of the deterritorialization of cities, their gentrification, which is also now beginning to take place on the Net as well?

In December, "berlin.de" is to be relaunched: an online community à la AOL with an urban basis? New content for everyone? A clever marketing move to combine ecommerce with public content and make it all more attractive? Or is the state (in this case, the Senate) getting smart and expanding its social care with new services and transparent information for its citizens? The 5th dimension for netizens of the next generation?

What sort of urban self-image are such models based on, what sort of expectations, what sort of new opportunities arise, what risks and potential limits are there involved? Is the Net replacing the city or will Berlin become a Net-City?
Bettina Vissmann
Bettina Vissmann
mikro.lounge #8 began with a lecture by architect Bettina Vissmann, TU Berlin, "Potsdamer Platz Mimicry - Theses on the Construction of Urban Surfaces," in which she described the debis portion of Potsdamer Platz as an aspect of mimicry. "The image of the past becomes reproduction of the present. The use of old structures is possibly a strategy, similar to the one in biology, which puts the advantages of mimicry to its own use in that new functions are encased in old, well-known structures. In this case, a privately owned company presents itself as a master builder for an entire section of the city; it disguises itself by using images that are already on hand. debis is selling its commercial interests under the guise of another, different architecture. What is at play here is the inability to design new complex structures, without relying on mimicry of structures or imitation."
Hilmar Schmundt, an editor and writer for Konr@d magazine in Hamburg, established a similar point with regard to berlin.de in the overall context of Berlin's project landscape. "We have in Berlin several competing systems. Many projects have been, parallel with each other, researching similar ideas of creating a model of the city as well as enhancing contact among citizens or between citizens and public authorities or companies.  Hilmar Schmundt
Hilmar Schmundt
But the mutual networking remains somewhat underdeveloped. Another tradition is probably the subcultural one. On the one hand, Berlin's subculture is up to some unbelievably intriguing and multifaceted projects, and on the other, if a pronounced heterogeneousness takes note of too much variety, it tends to miss the opportunity to produce synergetic effects." According to Schmundt, this could be a reason that the contract went to debis. Schmundt argued for the creation of a meta search engine or a mutual platform on the Net that would make the various heterogeneous Berlin projects navigable and comprehensible. Such an independent initiative would be preferable in any case to an imitation on the server of a private company.
The provocative question as to whether berlin.de could be such a catalyst for the hetergenous structure of the Berlin Net landscape triggered responses from Horst Ulrich of the Office of the Berlin Senate responsible for the city information system and online services and Sascha Korp, director of marketing for debis, primus online, berlin.de.  Sascha Korp
Sascha Korp
Horst Ulrich
Horst Ulrich
The Senate placed the creation of the virtual city in the hands of a large company. The Public Private Partnership between the Senate and Primus Online (a joint venture of debis, the Metro-Gruppe and the Berliner Volksbank) should be realized as fully as possible at www.berlin.de. 
The Senate decided to choose debis after a Europe-wide competition. On the one hand, the Senate hoped that debis would deliver the greatest exposure, while on the other, berlin.de should be, according to Ulrich, an "open platform", a "quality brand representing the variety of the city" and this would make it "easily accessible". Sascha Korp clearly differentiated berlin.de from the "static architecture" of Potsdamer Platz and defined berlin.de as an "open platform" upon which the role of debis would be reduced to making a technical and navigable infrastructure available in order to create space for potential opportunities. Content is explicitly not to be produced by debis (debis would only exert minor editorial efforts), but rather, come from the projects themselves. berlin.de should be "as controversial and heterogeneous as the city," and in the end, "what becomes of berlin.de is up to the city, not debis."

The questions which arose during the discussion related primarily to the question, "centralization tendencies or heterogeneousness?" Within the framework of berlin.de, does a certain centralization take place with the help of the Senate? Should the confusing and multifaceted online culture be stamped with a "berlin.de" logo and should a centralization, a top-down model be created?Hilmar Schmundt: "Whoever sets up a competition and offers a domain name (berlin.de) and public information for free is going to receive offers from global players such as Telekom, IBM and debis, and so, already has a pretty rigidly defined selection. Smaller projects would need a bit of money in order to get started, seed money, but that wouldn't be a real investment. There are very many, very clever projects with a future which came about from this heterogeneous structure with very little money (Stadtplan.de, developed by Kulturbox, Fireball and the online version of "die tageszeitung", a daily paper, developed at the Technical University). And not supporting them is a big problem, and it will be for some time. berlin.de, on the other hand, will have a severe credibility problem due to the editors who select and compile the information. If the editorial team is built by a large investor from the real estate and telecommunications businesses, then the value of the information that offered will have no value at all."

If the discussion that followed took on the "character of a cross-examination," as Gunter Becker wrote in the November 6 edition of the Tagesspiegel, there were a variety of reasons: "Among those in the audience were Net activists who had already negotiated with berlin.de about taking part in the community online platform but then decided against the free delivery of their content. The logic of distribution system that would call for the free delivery of content in return for a portion of any eventual income from advertising seemed to some of the participants like the selling out of the information and content they had worked hard to produce. When Ulrich and Korp repeated again and again that they simply wanted to make an open platform available with space for any and everyone for their activities, to create a "living system," they were met with skepticism. The suspicion that those financing the project would prefer a streamlined presentation of content for reasons of commercial viability to an authentic reflection of the hetergenous Berlin landscape was palpable. And the announcement that municipal services, such as the re-registration of a car, would be offered online for a fee as part of the city information system was also met with little enthusiasm, as Horst Ulrich couldn't help noticing. At the same time, the persistent questions concerning data protection and the possibility of political participation showed how suspiciously many Berlin online projects view the virtual community."

(Excerpts from Gunter Becker, "Berlin.de in the crossfire: The model for the virtual metropolis has more than friends alone," in Der Tagesspiegel, November 6, 1998)