Notes of Berlin: A Mirror of the City

Conversations, Street
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lionelYou spotted an incredibly strange flyer that you absolutely had to photograph and share on Facebook with your friends. You thought, wouldn’t it be great if an entire website would be dedicated to these postings. Guess what.

Notes of Berlin is exactly that. The incredibly funny, participatory blog is an homage to all the notifications that can be found daily all over Berlin. Stefanie Tendler chatted with its initiator Joab Nist. 

S2S: In October 2010 you launched „Notes of Berlin,“ how did the idea for the blog evolve?

Joab Nist/Notes of Berlin: The idea came to life in Berlin. In 2004, I moved from Munich to Berlin, because of the city, not because I was accepted to University or due to a job offer.  I was impressed by everything Berlin had to offer, even just riding on the subway. Everything was the polar opposite to Munich and since I always have had a passion for photography, I never left my house without my camera and came to Berlin with the intention to take a lot of pictures. I stayed alert when I walked around the city, stepping into corridors to get some insight, inspecting every place I encountered very intensively.

Notes of Berlin2So within this process it was a by-product that I bumped into the notes, and so I started taking pictures of them. You can’t really remove them, as it would ruin their function, only very rarely I would take down a note. So one day, I realized that there are really a ton of these notes out there and thought to myself that I alone wouldn’t be able to catch and capture all of them. So the idea evolved of needing comrades-in-arms, also in order to avoid a one dimensional viewpoint and also one kind of taste. Overall, I saw the potential in these notes.

I just couldn’t imagine that only I was appreciating the diverse subjects and messages you can find out there. Of course, in other cities you have similar themes: bikes are stolen as well in Hannover, people are looking for apartments in Munich, but they don’t transport their wants or messages and bring them to life in the same kind of way it happens here in Berlin.

The themes are not only Berlin based, and that’s one of the reasons why people from all over Germany follow my blog.

The day of the launch in October 2010, was actually the first day at University when I started my Master’s degree, which I wasn’t really convinced about, as I was unsure if I really needed to continue studying to go anywhere. I had sworn to myself to follow through with an idea I had parallel to my degree, as I had spoken about my ideas so often before but never proceeded with them.

Notes of Berlin

S2S: Over 75,000 people follow your blog on facebook and you are dependent on their participation and try to give everyone feedback on the notes they send you. How do you perceive this kind of interaction? How did you experience the beginning phase of your page?

Joab Nist/Notes of Berlin: My idea lives off of its audience. To integrate the audience was a major aspect behind the page. Notes of Berlin only works with an audience who interacts, who sends in pictures and who understands the message behind the blog. It is a collective. By sending in a picture of a note, I can’t guarantee that I will use it and publish it on my page, but I don’t believe that this is even the motivation for people in order to participate. The community participates as it has understood the theme, which is outlining a general picture of the diversity Berlin is about, portraying the city in a very wide spectrum and of course as they can identify with the notes.

Very quickly the blog received a lot of media attention, which helped develop it, but it wasn’t about the participation of the audience. However, already in the first week, during which I only had three notes posted, I was receiving the first e-mails and since that time I receive around 10 mails every day. I was very nervous in the beginning phase but the audience and followers understood that their participation is required right away.

carolina_friedrichshain-b-764x1024S2S: What is your personal motivation for this page, other than the interaction with your audience and the notes?

Joab Nist/Notes of Berlin: Well, it’s not about publishing an entertaining note every day to amuse an audience or for fast entertainment. There have been comments by people who are questioning my reason for posting something. I have gotten: “Why are you posting this? It’s not funny at all, the subject is treating a serious topic. Who is interested in people complaining about rising rents?” And yes, in that moment it wasn’t supposed to be funny and it doesn’t really generate many likes, but it’s part of the notes you will find in Berlin. For me it’s important that Notes of Berlin is a platform that documents the notes in a very authentic way, functioning as a mirror to the city.

S2S: Are there notes that you consciously decide not to post?

Joab Nist/Notes of Berlin: There are some notes that I tend to hold back, e.g. notes about the hatred towards Swabians [people from a region in the South of Germany]. The direction a post can head into can be very extreme and I can’t always moderate the discussions that evolve from certain posts, as I also don’t want to personally influence it too much. However, every comment that is posted on my blog is cross-read before it is published, to hinder very radical discriminating posts towards minorities. On facebook due to the connected profiles the comments are not as extreme, but also here you have people whose comments are completely unrelated to the actual message of the note, just because people want to prove a point, e.g. against the Southern Germans who move to Berlin, or Erasmus students, etc. So these topics I am trying to avoid a bit, as I don’t want to provoke intellectually undemanding and unconstructive comments below the notes I post. The comment function still has a very high importance to me, as it shows how people perceive certain notes and can create very good discussions, thus bringing the note to life.

Notes of Berlin3S2S: Has there been one note in particular that has caused a lot of commotion and provoked many comments?

Joab Nist/Notes of Berlin: In 2011 there was a note “Achtung ihr zugezogenen Ökofotzen,“ [Attention you organic produce shopping cunts who recently moved to Berlin“], a very rude and radical statement that generated 180 comments alone on my blog- on Facebook I don’t even remember. There were many comments I actually had to delete, but there also were many comments that were two pages long, including better arguments than any essay I have ever read, where people really sat down putting a lot of effort into their statements and opinion. This note and the resulting discussions is a treasure to me. The level of interaction was amazing. If you would print all the comments it would be quite impressive to see them all. To me the comments are very valuable so in the future I want to integrate a “Best Of” of the best comments of the week.

Karl-Kunger-Str-tania twele

S2S: In what other ways are you planning on extending Notes of Berlin?

Joab Nist/Notes of Berlin: There are always new ideas I have with this project. I doubt there are true boundaries. As long as Berlin is still plastered in notes, I will be able to keep Notes of Berlin going. As a matter of fact, the radio station “Flux Fm” is planning a new podcast called “Kiez Notiz- angezettelt von Notes of Berlin” which will be launched this week, where notes will be read out loud by voices fitting the notes.  The chosen notes will be a “Best Of” of notes from the last couple years but will also feature new notes that haven’t yet been published. Another idea also is to have the guests hosted by Flux FM read some of the notes, which will bring the entire idea even more to life.

S2S: Photography is a great passion of yours, do you also have a photo blog?

Joab Nist/Notes of Berlin: All my life I have had a passion for photography, having won several prizes in my youth, but haven’t really had the time to work on it because of this blog. It’s actually nice that you brought it up, as it is definitely something I want to focus on again. It’s one of my biggest fervors and I have neglected it now for many years. Of course, I take the pictures of the notes, but what I am talking about is creating shots of certain clippings that I see.

S2S: In 2012 you published “Wellensittich entflogen, Farbe egal” (Canary escaped, color whatever!) presenting a collection of the best notes you had found thus far. Currently you are working on your second book. What can we expect?

Joab Nist/Notes of Berlin: The second book I will publish follows up on an idea I had years ago while looking for a place to stay – the most absurd and obnoxious ads for shared living spaces. I myself have looked for a new room several times in my life and have come across quite hilarious requests concerning what the potential room-mate should be like. There are always those kind of ads where people tend to exaggerate and that sound kind of fake, but most of these ads are very real and honest and manifest some true flaws. Or there are some “WGs” (shared-flats) that produce an entire questionnaire asking abstract questions such as: “What would you have thrown at Hitler?” From my perspective these are probably flats I would not apply for. It’s interesting to get an impression of our generation and of the individual, as there are personal anecdotes in every application request.

S2S: Could you see yourself taking your project to another city other than Berlin? I assume large metropolis are good options to gather a collection of notes. When you travel, do you keep your eyes open for notes as well? It might be an interesting study to compare the similarities and differences between the notes you can find in cities.

Joab Nist/Notes of Berlin: I have done a lot of research and have found that it is a phenomenon here in Berlin. Of course there are other cities in Germany that have “copied” Notes of Berlin, “Der Spiegel” in Hamburg for example. But Berlin has a very special role with respect to the notes. What I am planning on integrating though is an additional rubric called “Notes of Germany.” Bringing it across the ocean or to another country would be exciting, however currently my focus lies on Germany. But you never know. In the States you have a website with a similar concept called “Passive aggressive Notes” but they are not only focused on notes.

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