A very happy 2012 to you all, if it’s not too late to say that. And I’d like to, if I may, welcome myself back to Berlin. I’ve been away from the Hauptstadt off and on for the past five months, busy with a few other writing projects, which I’ll tell you about as we go along.
The last time I wrote here it was about the nightingales in Berlin and since then I’ve been a bit like them - flying all over the place. London (of course), Scotland and Sydney. I’ve seen way more airports than is normal in five months and I observed that despite globalisation, they are still a small reflection of the cities they belong to. Glitzy Heathrow Terminal 5 is an almost obscene temple to capitalism. And after passing through that it was refreshing to come back to good old unpretentious Tegel with its chaotic queues and gruff staff. As I got on the TXL bus, I read on Twitter that there was an anti-airport protest at Schoenefeld and a chorus of tweets worrying that it could cause flight delays. I had to smile. City of the demo, I’m ready once more, as the ad slogan goes, to Be Berlin.
Having said that, it seems someone has stolen Berlin’s ad tagline. Plastered around the city right now on posters advertising cigarettes, is the suspiciously similar invitation to “Be Marlboro”. Be Berlin or be Marlboro? Which one? What to be or what not to be, that is the question. And if you choose to Be Marlboro, how long can you expect to live?
Some might argue that it’s possible to be both Berlin and Marlboro simultaneously. After all this city was something of the last line of defence for the pro-smokers and anti-anti-smokers. Take British musician Joe Jackson, who quit England rather than quit tabs and moved to Berlin so he could carry on puffing. I’m not sure if he’s still here, or exiled himself to, say, Cuba to keep up his nicotine intake up. Then there’s the Rum Trader’s Gregor Scholl who fought the law (and the law didn’t win) to let smoke fill his bar.
I’ve got mixed feelings about smoking and the ban in Berlin. When I first came here, the relaxed attitude towards indoor smoking rules, indeed the blatant ignoring of the law, seemed refreshing, if that isn’t a contradiction. Just like the barbecues in Tiergarten (which have just been banned) and the “freestyle” Silvester fireworks (which probably will be banned), it was another example of the we-do-things-differently-here Berlin, live and let live, smoke and let smoke. And it reminded me of old times, when cigarette-smelling clothes were the sign of a good night out.
Now as the smokers become more law abiding (or is it that the law is a bit tighter?) the unforeseen negative aspects of the ban - which I remember from when it was first introduced in London - are becoming obvious. Seeing Palais Chambourg at the wonderful HAU 2 a couple of weeks ago, brought that home. The German New Wave of non-smoking and the lack of a smoke haze exposed the peculiar odours and gaseous releases from the enthusiastic (mostly male) crowd, which cigarette smoke would previously have masked.
But I was, in a way, shocked by seeing Berlin’s billboard cigarette ads. They’re banned in the UK. I can’t believe they aren’t here.
Mind you, Marlboro is big in Berlin. And I wonder if it has adopted the Be Marlboro tag line deliberately to tie in with the Be Berlin message. After all, it’s possibly more Berlin than any other cigarette: the company’s factory on Neuköllnische Allee is its second biggest manufacturing facility in Europe.
Besides the posters, I had noticed, too - or was it just my imagination? - that I’ve been to some stylish and chic venues where all the decor seems colour coded with red lighting, white tables and sandy wooden beams, all of which make the interiors feel like a pack of cigarettes and almost make you gasp for a smoke. I was in one such place, called Ressort, and my friend found herself, uncharacteristically, begging cigarettes off the clientele. It made me wonder if the decor was subtle cigarette sponsorship. Can anyone of you support or stub out my theory? Is interior design the new cigarette advertising?
At this point, I feel it my moral duty to point out that smoking seriously damages your health, that I am not a part of either the Be Marlboro or Be Berlin campaigns (whether they are joined together or not), but that I am very glad to Be Back and thanks to you all for your emails asking after me. You’ll hearing from me again soon.
You can email Mark at email@example.com and follow him @deutschmarkuk on Twitter