berlin

East Side Gallery, Berlin

Everyone loves a redemption story. Hobart’s transformation from dowdy backwater to hipster hotspot has an almost biblical flavour, with the slightly dishevelled figure of David Walsh cast in the role of redeemer. It is largely due to Mona, the museum he funded off the back of gambling winnings, that Hobart experienced a boom. Artisanal, sustainable, boutique, biodynamic. The city’s size perfectly played into the trend, emerging as a desirable destination for moneyed mainlanders. The media heralded its apparent makeover with a flood of articles and travel features celebrating Hobart’s cultural scene. It was official. No longer the daggy cousin, Hobart had become Cool.

Growing up, there seemed little hope that Tasmania would ever be anything other than a cultural desert and an economic basket case. Even I used to wince when my friends, the greenie dole-bludgers of popular imagination, called the money deposited fortnightly by Centrelink into their bank accounts their ‘pay’. This was back in the days of Hobart’s ‘dark past’, a go-to phrase in any narrative of Hobart’s triumphant revival. But the characterisation of Hobart as a fallen city of bigots and no-hopers ignores the fact that ‘cool’ – or the products later associated with it – is often created by marginalized groups in economically depressed conditions.

Think of Berlin. It’s no accident that the world’s coolest city has had a dark and turbulent history, but this has inspired art and creativity rather than hampered it. For example, the huge number of vacant buildings in East Berlin following the turmoil of reunification gave birth to the club scene of the early 1990s. Coolness is the currency on which cities thrive, though its trade is shifting and speculative. It is often resistant to government and born of protest. Cool develops in opposition to prevailing cultural norms, resistant to the tastemakers. It is worth remembering that Mona is privately funded. But by the time governments and tourist boards recognise economic potential, the original spark becomes a commodity, sanitised and state-sponsored. Hobart is Cool.

The capitalisation is important. The city’s climb up the social ladder has more to do with consumerism than creativity. The media, one of the engines of capitalism, runs on the fuel of novelty. Hungry for content, it sees money and declares Monet. Hobart is a one-legged ukulele player signed by Sony rather than an indie band scouted by Sub Pop. But its time in the sun will pass, and the caravan will move on. Apparently Leipzig is the new Berlin. Products will continue to trump ideas, and journalists will praise cities for their ability to attract consumers, forgetting that cool quickly becomes lukewarm when the media declares it fit for consumption.

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