Hard-Knock Life

To someone who lives in a less intensely intellectual environment than Berlin, the wordiness of the flyers pasted over the city’s walls is surprising. But activists wouldn’t bother to include so much fine print if they thought no one was going to read it. Frequently, the text adds crucial detail to the bold strokes of a flyer’s big-font message, revealing subtlety in its come-hither slogan.

Someone drawn in by the powerful design of this poster from a Trostkyist group would find, not an answer to the question it poses, but a shading-in of its socio-political contours. Although proffered under the auspices of revolutionary socialism, this is no call to arms, whether literal or figurative. Rather, it’s an invitation to discuss the plight of contemporary youth with others, to determine what is not being done for them and why. That open-endedness, characteristic of many of Berlin’s political flyers, helps turn the city into a place where learning really does happen, as the text here puts it, in “the Street.” Ironically, the conservative Chancellor’s dream of a Germany defined by its opportunities for advancement through education finds itself realized in the course of being harshly critiqued:

The Youth of Today?
More and more frequently, articles appear in the media about the loitering of thuggish youth. Although Angela Merkel has proclaimed the “Learning-Republic of Germany,” for as long as anyone can remember, it’s the parents’ wallet that has determined the educational success of their offspring. Shoved into a society and school system that they can’t expect a good future from, many young people no longer see any sense in “being virtuous.”

That leads to a refusal to attend classes and, not infrequently, to a drifting away into drugs and violence. The time that actually should have been spent sitting in school is used on experience of “real life,” that is, making it on “the Street.” There is no real possibility of working legally, as a person in this position is unqualified and often boasts an immigrant background. Youth centers can keep someone pacified for a while with Foosball and break dancing workshops, but eventually there won’t be any room there either.

Such a person will remain without perspective and dream, at most, of one day exchanging the curbstone for the skyline. But employment agencies, gambling debts and penal institutions will keep thwarting her or his plans until it’s eventually too late.

Why Capitalism always has less and less to offer (young) people and why it’s worthwhile to struggle against it, so that things go better for all of us, that is the theme of our event.


Preface and translation from the German by Charlie Bertsch. Photographed in Berlin by Joel Schalit.

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