In June 2015 we asked the question: Is there such a thing as “feminine space”? The social space in Berlin’s Wedding district is dominated by locations typically perceived as “masculine” – kebab shops, barber salons and gambling halls. In what kind of spaces do women here spend their time and how do these differ from those “male” spaces? To investigate these ideas, Stefanie Gerke and Gilly Karjevsky guided a tour around the neighbourhood in conjunction with the Make City Festival.
Stefanie Gerke is one of the three founders of Niche Berlin Art and Architecture Tours. With much experience in guiding tours ‘off the beaten track’ in the city, Gerke was certainly well qualified to lead participants through this undervalued district. She is also an art historian at the Humbolt University. Her academic experience was invaluable to an analytical perspective on this cultural milieu.
Gilly Karjevsky is a cultural planner and independent curator working at the intersection of art, architecture and the politics of urban society. She is regularly invited to attend symposia, teach, and give talks and lectures on curating as an urban practice. Karjevsky was the ideal guide to help lead this tour, to interrogate the use of space and our expectations of a much-maligned neighbourhood in Berlin.
This tour was intended to explore the common spaces frequented by women. We wanted to see whether this knowledge could help to inform plans for development in an area of the city challenged by social division. Some of the insights helped us to progress the debate further and some were fed into the cartographical project alongside the Quatiersmanagement.
The participants of the tour came from Make City Festival and were therefore receptive to the urban issues that were presented to them, as experts. They were invited to fill out charts according to their intuitive feelings within the spaces. This interactive element allowed for a two-way exchange between guides and participants, thus enriching the tour’s capacity to produce interesting observations and ideas.
When visiting different sites, participants where asked to consider where women spend their time in this area, who dominates the public sphere in an area and how they do so. How can we “read” streets symbolically?
Stefanie Gerke found the process insightful in unexpected ways:
In organizing this tour, it really struck me how difficult it was to even find places by and for women in this area. The male domination is shockingly high. There are also only shops for daily needs; there is no possibility to engage with any kind of extravagance whatsoever. By taking a closer look at the streets of Soldiner Kiez, with my background as an art historian, it became clear to me to what extent the image of our urban surroundings is influenced and shaped by cultural habits and social status. In turn, we can "read" the image of a street, borough or city to draw conclusions about the social situation that led to its formation. This "reading" or analysis of a street "image" could in turn trigger re-thinking of the urban layout. In what way could an area be transformed to suggest more independence for women? What impact could this have? To have a closer look at these thoughts by working on a specific example was very rewarding.
Gilly Karjevsky has since said: