Friday, May 30, 2008

Way Ta Go, Weltstadt!

Over the weekend, I ran into a couple of old friends, and among the info I picked up was a rumor that the plug was about to be pulled on Radio Multikulti, Berlin's absolutely unique radio station. Further research turned up an article confirming this.

Now, I'm in a bad position to defend Radio Multikulti for a number of reasons. First, I never listen to it. I never listen to any radio unless I'm driving. I've got too many CDs, and too little time. But that's neither here nor there.

Another factor is that I'm always uncomfortable with German multiculturalism as it's officially expressed. I've touched on this before some years back. And, for all the good work it does giving foreign residents of Berlin a touchstone, Radio Multikulti also fuels that syndrome.

A third, personal, factor is that when I moved here, one of my employers was a Big Honcho in the local world music scene who went on to become even bigger when he joined the staff of the brand-new Radio Multikulti. This guy was a piece of work: he was the first West German I'd ever met who hated Americans. There were three of us on the job, and he stiffed us -- and just us -- our last month's salary. Just because. I asked him one day where this bizarre animus came from, and he told me "It's because you destroyed a civilization. You did absolutely nothing to stop the Vietnam War, and this meant the destruction of Vietnamese culture, a very old culture." In this particular year, when the media is making so much noise about the events of 1968, the idea that Americans, especially young Americans, one of whom I was at the time, did "absolutely nothing" about the war in Vietnam, may seem a bit odd. But he believed it, he really believed it.

So I can't say I'm the biggest booster of Radio Multikulti, but I can say that this turn of events is both sad and unsurprising. Sad because this station, in both its avowed mission and its execution, is unique in the world, as far as I know. A radio station that both attempts to help immigrants integrate into an alien society (well, exotic immigrants, anyway; we Euro/American types are on our own), while seducing the locals into acceptance by playing them "world music," pop music from foreign climes (except, again, Euro/American styles, but I don't have any complaint against that: there's enough of most of that around), is, at least on paper, a good idea. And, since it's run by human beings, and, thus, imperfect, what actually comes out of the speakers has been pretty good every time I've heard it.

More to the point, pulling the plug on yet another unique, interesting, popular cultural manifestation in Berlin not only deprives Berliners of yet another of the things which ameliorate life here, it also proves that the people who make cultural policy here are totally unconcerned with Berlin's hip! edgy! image -- which is attracting who knows how much money to this city -- and only interested in supporting the most mainstream, culturally conservative institutions. Since another villain here seems to be ARD, the central public radio-television network of Germany, I'd say this de-funding also brings up questions of just how welcome immigrants -- particularly ones outside the Euro/American ambit -- actually are, not just in Berlin, but in Germany generally. Funny how that question keeps popping up.

Anyway, I'm glad to be leaving. At the rate this city is self-destructing, I can see myself coming back to visit friends in a couple of years and realizing there's nothing to see or do here while those friends are at work and I have free time. Berlin will have committed cultural suicide and become as fascinating as Bochum. Well, almost as fascinating.


Karl-Marx-Stra├če said...

My impression was always that Radio Multikulti doesn't actually exist for the "foreigners" in Berlin, but more as a tokenist figleaf, first by SFB and then by RBB, designed to show politicians that they're "doing something" that is meant to attract the "foreign demographic" to public-service broadcasting. At the same time the same politicians who effectively run SFB/RBB can claim they're doing something too. Hence their protests against the planned closure. The RBB's funding crisis caused by the relatively large proportion of the Berlin/Brandenburg population who are (due to poverty) exempt from paying radio and television licences isn't a theme they want to mention, though. And nor is the fact that Multikulti is basically, during the day, a German "world music" station with very little news or current affairs (and that that there is is unbearable if you can't stand the "world music" that makes up most of the programming) - and in the evenings a mixture of short programmes broadcast in other languages (which, for a while, have been partly in German, confusing most listeners).

And that's another thing. How many listeners does Multikulti have? Now that's a problem, as official listening figures only register, for whatever reason, German citizens. Ignoring that, the listening figures are direly small. Less than "Kulturradio". Previously this was (reasonably) blamed on the weak frequency, which could only be properly heard in a tiny part of Berlin. But since the closure of another SFB/ORB station, Radio 3, a few years ago, Multikulti got its frequency. So that's not the reason.

My main problems with Multikulti are a) this constant "world music"; b) this sense of do-gooding (probably well-off, middle-class Green voting) Germans talking at foreigners (with the odd "foreign" voice reading a script); c) and the lack of professionalism evident in its broadcasts.

If it goes, I won't miss it. If it gets completely replaced with WDR's Funkhaus Europa (from Cologne, who incidentally supply a good proportion of Multikulti's programming anyway - and the nighttime stuff - 100% music - is taken from other stations as well) perhaps something of much higher public-service quality will grace Berlin's airwaves. About time.

Other plans are to merge Radio Fritz and Radio Eins, the closure of Kulturradio (merging it with NDR Kultur, effectively re-founding the old Radio 3). And the merger of Radio Berlin with Antenne Brandenburg has been on the cards for years. Let's face it, RBB is crap; and only that fact can explain the number of identical commercial radio stations in this city. Thank heavens there's Deutschlandradio and Deutschlandfunk (though the closure of the former is permanently on the cards...)

Ed Ward said...

All good points, particularly about the paternalism, although for those who do like "world music," which has become a pretty big player in the European music biz since Multikulti started broadcasting and using its bureaucracy to promote that sector of the biz across the continent, it actually is a loss.

But, like I said, I don't listen to the radio here, any kind of it. It just seems that innovation in format is pretty unusual anywhere in Europe, and that it's a shame that this particular one is being shut instead of improved.

Bowleserised said...

The moral of the story is: pay your radio licence.

Ed Ward said...

Not entirely. Note K-M-S's cite of exemptions for the poor. Too many poor can mean not enough license fees to keep 'em going.

Bowleserised said...

Yes, but there are also a lot of people who avoid paying it deliberately.

Anonymous said...

That is so sad that you could so flippantly insult the home of the Opel Astra and the subject of a heart-tickling Herbert Groenemeyer song in one foul schwoop. Maybe you should dig tiefer in the word book next time you want to insult a German town. Remember: Bochum? Bo not.

Cyn said...

I am keeping my fingers crossed and I am waiting to hear your new address because if the package does not make it this time, the Germans may not be as efficient as the Thais.... I so hope this works for you. XOXOC