Maybe Berlin Really Is Just for Old People

Also: Salisbury University's compelling approach to ethics

Berlin Town Hall
At the risk of dating this photograph, it was taken before the permanent “America’s Coolest Small Town” banner was permanently installed over town hall.

A local punk band ran afoul of the town this week after they were booked to perform before anyone asked their grandkids to show them a YouTube picture of this “punk music” they’d been hearing all about.

The difficulty, for me as much as for Todd, is that you either have an arts scene or a curated shopping scene. Berlin has for years been drifting toward the latter, even as its arts and artisans community has grown.

As someone who barely made a living wage working as a reporter and then content-curator in Berlin for more than a decade, I can tell you that the problem isn’t the arts. The problem is (as it always is doomed to be) people for whom not just art, but the idea of an art scene is a commodity, a 3-D bumper sticker that transports people back to a time when America was Great.

From the Fiddlers Convention to Victorian Christmas to the unfathomable attachment to a 1990s B movie, the town seems to have slipped from a place willing to try anything to make people feel welcome to clawing desperately to cling to what worked once until it is beaten to death and twee.

I was working there during the runup to the boom and, when peak Berlin occurred (I’m guessing in 2010 or so) I had a colleague that came up with an ad:

Berlin: It’s not just for old people

Of course, we were all a decade younger then, so it stands to reason that, like “America’s Coolest Small Town” and the annual pig races are some people’s “Freebird” and they’re going to keep shouting themselves hoarse trying to remind the rest of us how cool they used to be.

An Ethical Quandry

I got to see Salisbury University’s Ethics Bowl via Zoom and it made me feel confident or at least a little hopeful about how the students approach moral quandaries. Unlike “debates” where people try to demonstrate how clever they are while laying waste to any moron who holds an opposing view, the Ethics Bowl featured a real-world problem that the students had to critique. The opposing team is then charged with evaluating their arguments, not countering them, which is key.

As opposed to “You’re wrong and here’s why” students ask thoughtful questions and proposed alternative ways of looking at the question in a mutual attempt to find the best way to approach the issue. Grownups can’t do it, but it’s good to see that at least some kids still can.

Dragged Into the Light

My book is available for preorder here, and my book launch event will be 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, June 5 at The Greyhound Bookstore in Berlin. I have hired a drum and bagpipe corps to play in an attempt to keep in line with the town’s traditional music sensibilities.

If you’re watching the Vice documentary, The Devil You Know Season 2 and like it, I think you might like the book very much as well. Although the same event, the same evidence, and a lot of the same people are in both the book and the documentary, we have different takes on what it all means.