Calling All Hipsters: Hipster Olympiad Kicking Off in Berlin
Enlarge image In Berlin (© picture alliance / dpa) Less than a week to go before the start of the London Olympics, a rather different measure of athletic prowess is kicking off in Berlin. The Hipster Olympiad will pit teams of up to five people against one another, competing to best each other in events such as the “Cloth Tote Sack Race,” “Horn-rimmed Glasses Throw” and “Skinny Jeans Tug-O-War,” announced the event’s organizer, internet magazine Kultmucke.de. The champion earns a trophy cup, and the honor of being titled “Hipster of the Year 2012” – quite a distinction in a city often considered to be a hipster mecca.
The term “hipsters” in common parlance has many associations. It often refers to people who wear today’s über-trendy or ironic fashions, such as often-oversized horn-rimmed glasses, skin-tight jeans, or low-cut T-shirts, and make use of accessories such as simple, eco-friendly cloth tote bags, ironically unusual hats and hairstyles, or fixed-gear bikes, frequently in combination with one another. In a 2010 feature, New York magazine noted that “a key myth repeated about the hipster, by both the innocent and the underhanded, is that it has no definition.” Indeed, while the word is bandied about a lot in the German capital, it is a term that has had various associations and re-associations over past decades, often tied to cultural movements in the transatlantic space and the efforts of youth to invent and reinvent their individual identities, sometimes while rejecting the sociopolitical status quo and shaking off the shackles of expected cultural norms and practices from past generations.
Roots in ‘60s America
Enlarge image Does Berlin not seem like it might attract the young and the "other"? (© picture alliance / dpa) The image of the “hipster” as a subcultural figure seems to have particularly grown out of various generations in America coming to terms with their cultural identity through reference to their uniqueness. Influential Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Norman Mailer’s conception of the “hipster” in 1960s America was that of individuals trying to assert their “otherness” by distancing themselves with post-World War II dysthymia, the apex of American hard and soft power, and especially with “whiteness,” at a time when the term was fraught with negativity due to the civil rights movement taking hold throughout the country.
New York Times cultural critic Anatole Broyard argued that hipsterism was developed from a sense that minorities in America were subject to decisions made about their lives by conspiracies of power they could never possibly know. The hip reaction was to insist, purely symbolically, on forms of knowledge – “hipness” that they possessed before anyone else.
Since the 1940’s, Berlin has seen decades of transitions, the likes of which few cities can claim: it has gone from being a war-ravaged capital to a divided metropolis, to the center of the world’s attention during the fall of the Berlin Wall, to a recovering economy, to the “largest construction site in Europe” as it was known in the 2000s, on its way to becoming the flourishing artistic and cultural scene it is today, along with being the capital city of Europe’s largest economy.
Fixture in Berlin youth culture
All this has led to a proliferation of youth culture in Berlin that has profoundly transformed the face of Berlin and in particular its gentrifying eastern side, during which time “hipster culture” has emerged as a fixture of the city’s modern identity. Whatever the hipster is, in Berlin the word is an oft-cited term, sometimes even an insult, aimed at an abundance of the city’s young, trendy, intercultural residents, many of whom have played an integral role in the city’s culture revival. A popular Berlin current events and culture magazine, Zitty, recently featured a piece on “Our Most Beloved Concept of the Enemy,” the first section of which was devoted to a satirical description and caricature of the “Neukölln Hipster” – a reference to the many hipsters living in Neukölln, a formerly working-class but now up-and-coming district of Berlin.
Enlarge image A cafe in Neukölln: Along with Brooklyn, London and Portland, Berlin, and especially its Neukölln district, is a hallmark of hipsterdom. (© picture alliance / dpa) Devotees of hipster youth culture in Berlin and other big cities have for some time been a target of derision and stultification, sometimes even from their peers. Literary scholar and Professor Eckhard Schumacher, who explores themes of modernity and pop culture in his work, says that one reason for this derision could stem from the “uniformity” of their fashion. Because of this uniformity, it might seem a bit strange and perhaps even ridiculous to observers if they associate themselves with a claim of being something really special, Schumacher said in an interview with dapd.
As for the accusation that hipsters contribute to gentrification in blighted urban areas, and as such are partly responsible for crowding out socially disenfranchised people from their districts –Schumacher finds it to be unjustified. The hipster is “more a symptom of such processes than their cause,” he says. Schumacher is co-author of the book “Hipster: A transatlantic discussion” about the hipster scene phenomenon.
Enlarge image The Fixie - a fixed gear bike, is part of the Hipster culture. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) The Hipster Olympiad organizers told the news agency dapd that the competition intends “to hold up a mirror” to the character of hipsters in the youth scene. The first “Hipster Olympics” were held last year in Berlin. However, the event is hardly exclusive, as hipsters and people who do not belong to the “scene” are reported to take part.
The second Berlin Hipster Olympiad will be held on the grounds of the Postbahnhof events center, located in the eastern part of the city next to Ostbahnhof, one of Berlin’s major train stations. Organizers expect attendance of up to 3,000 participants and spectators, and in addition to the sporting events, plans include live shows, a creative market and various exhibitions.