Festplatz ohne Kirmes

Voices Offstage: Fairground without the Fair

by Boris Sieverts

What comes to mind about public space in the time of corona? Maybe that the public realm is at last also allowed to be empty without being considered as underused, wasted potential or simply an eyesore, or land waiting to be built on. This functional measure of the public value of places according to the intensity of their use was always blind on the aesthetic eye. Now that all the representative spaces in our city are not only allowed, but even meant to stay empty one can finally put them on an equal footing with other public spaces that have always been empty, which in spite of this, or maybe precisely for this reason, are beautiful and important: the abandoned and fallow industrial sites, the DIY store car parks empty at the weekend, the uppermost decks of multi-storey car parks, the places under the bridge, the secluded path between arable land and railway embankments, the land tip long since filled in, the small copse planted as a noise barrier, the fairground when the fair has departed.

What distinguishes such places is their suggestion of vast expanse, eeriness, transition, memories of exotic pleasures, of the echo of a broader landscape. What I consider a good city needs such places as compensation: in the long term, participation in the public sphere cannot happen without the possibility of stepping out of it. Urban “free spaces without public life” are in many cases the only available possibility for such withdrawal beyond retreating into one’s own four walls. Thus they offer spaces for regeneration to an exhausted general public and, in contrast to institutionalised public spaces, adopt all the functions of alternative worlds. These counterworlds range from being places of aesthetic experience of the other, which keep the senses alert and the mind agile, to the assumption of activities and forms of life for which there is a lack of room in institutionalised public space. So my post-corona dream would be this: now that representative public spaces have become just as elegiac and thrown back on their spatial charm as the old “eyesores”, maybe we can learn to view both on a par. When at some point public life surges back into the one type of space while the other remains just as empty as it always has been, we will realise that both kinds of space are complementary to one another.

Irrlichter tour in Steele

On a Saturday morning, under the heatwave called El Niño, I went on a walk in Essen-Steele with seven people and visited public artworks created specifically for places you wouldn't normally enter ...

Beyond the imaginable

Eva Koťátková in conversation with Britta Peters about the exhibition My Body Is Not An Island

Loss of Control Is the Necessary Condition for Sleep

To what extent do working conditions influence our sleep behaviour? In the post-industrial era, do we sleep better or do digitalisation and the unboundedness of working conditions deprive us of sleep?