An overgrown asylum, an abandoned power plant and a handmade village on a river: TED Fellows create popup experiences in Berlin’s secret spaces

A crumbling former asylum, a massive brick power station, and an alternative community built by hand by a river. In the hours before TEDBerlin Salon kicked off, three TED Fellows led conference attendees on a treasure hunt through the sprawling streets of sunny Berlin to these locations. Guided by the mobility appMoovel — which recommends the most effective modes of transport and route through the urban landscape – participants departed from the Admiralspalast theater with just an address, and were led into hidden spaces all over the city. There, they were treated by their hosts to performances and discussions around questions that the space inspired for them. We asked the Fellows to tell us more about why they chose these particular spots and what they did there.

Anita conducts an experiment of memory TK. Photo: Anna Kostuk

Anita Doron: Noli Timere
Not far from the modern bustle of Berlin’s city center in the ethnically diverse neighborhood of Wedding, a quiet secret garden grows among the ruins of a former asylum. Filmmaker and storyteller Anita Doron chose Wiesenburg — which once served as the set for The Tin Drum – to create an experiential installation about memory, dislocation, and the fuzziness of one’s defined inner borders. Here, Doron on why she chose this space:

“I love abandoned and decaying spaces. Wiesenburg was once a place where people — teenagers, escapees, refugees — were protected from the outside world. It’s been abandoned and taken over by nature. This building isn’t really a building, it really isn’t a forest, and it isn’t really an asylum. It’s a bunch of things coexisting at the same time.

To me, Wiesenburg beautifully evoked the world of the sci-fi graphic novel, Noli Timere, that I’m working on with TED Fellow Jessica Green, who studies microbiomes and their effect on us. If we’re 90% bacteria, and we’re all just overlapping clouds of bacteria, then what is it that makes us human? In Noli Timere, we tell the story of a bacteria that infects five strangers in a Parisian building. The symptom they experience is that they start remembering each others’ memories as though they had happened to themselves, removing the boundaries of what they had once considered ‘self.’ We are not really separate individuals, but organisms belonging to something greater.

So Wiesenburg was the perfect space for a sojourn into a question: Is there such a thing as pure individuality? One proposition is that we’re all made up of our experiences and memories. So I asked participants to share a certain memory that formed who they are now – something that shaped them. Unbeknownst to them, actors listened to and memorized their stories. Then, in the back garden of Wiesenburg, the actors surprised the visitors by retelling their stories as if they were their own, mixing them with snippets of their own memories, then weaving them all together to form one memory. A sound engineer mixed all the memories into an aural art piece — a single soundscape of memories. The idea was to shift perspective: what happens if you’re suddenly not sure, even for a moment, whether your memory is yours?”

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