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Interview with Tobias Trommer

Rummelburg and Stralau Sounds,  http://favouritesounds.org/map.php?projectid=31

Interview with Tobias Trommer; Halbinsel Stralau; May 29 2012
Peter Cusack, Valeria Merlini

Tobias Trommer lives in Stralau and has known the Ostkreuz, Rummelsburg, Stralau area from an early age. He is a trombonist and is very active in the community, involved in discussions about the local area, new building planned there – particularly the An der Mole proposals – and in the anti A100 campaign. (The A100 is Berlin’s new motorway extension that would run towards Ostkreuz and greatly  increase traffic, and noise, in the area. It is one of the most controversial developments in Berlin; the opposition is high profile). We met him to discuss his memories and views on the Rummelsburg and Stalau soundscapes and to find out what part ‘sound’ played in any of the planning discussions that he is taking part in.

TT – My name is Tobias Trommer, I have been living on the peninsula Stralau for 12 years. I am active in the civic forum of Stralau and a network of initiatives around Ostkreuz. I had my first experience of the the place as a child: as a schoolchild I had to walk down under the bridge on the main road to Ostkreuz from time to time. That was terrible for me because it was very loud: many trucks drove along and I was very uncomfortable.
The Stralau peninsula was an industrial area at that time. I was seldom there, sometimes with a bicycle or a bus, and sometimes to the end of the island, which was already very beautiful at that time and a small local secret. Occasionally I went to concerts at the Dorfküche Stralau. Once, as I was cycling back, I turned onto Kracht Street. At that time the road was closed at one end and there was this glassworks and the brewery. It was dark and spooky, and I said: if there is one place in Berlin where you never want to live, then this is it. And just on the corner, at the end of the Kracht Street where I once was so spooked, that’s where I live now.

PC/VM – When the Wasserstadt was built were you involved in any discussions about that development? (Wasserstadt is the name of the new housing development in Rummelsburg that is transforming the former industrial and prison site into a desirable residential area beside the river.)

TT – Shortly after moving here I landed in the so-called ‘Betroffene Vertretung’ (Representation of Concerned Parties) of Rummelsburg Bay. It was a representation of the citizens, prescribed by law during this development of Rummelsburger Bay. One topic of discussion was the noise of the Jugendschiff (Youth Ship), an unfortunate situation: a former container ship was placed in the middle of the water as a youth club, probably with the intention of being so far away from the residential area that it would not bother us, because it is exactly the point furthest away from Stralau and Rummelsburg. I think that everyone should be integrated into a neighborhood, so the youth club should really have been in the middle of the neighbourhood, but that wasn’t done. The trouble is, of course, that a ship is much less soundproof than a solid building. They constantly had trouble – on evenings when there was a party, the sound would spread for kilometers across the Rummelsburger Lake and people always called the police. As a result, the Jugendschiff can rarely hold parties, so hardly anyone comes and the place is pretty dead. It’s sad actually: it wasn’t well planned.
Another discussion was a low-traffic area that should be planned – but that wasn’t properly done.  Another was parking places, and so on. But not really a discussion about sounds. I miss that.

PC/VM – How did this area sound? Was there a specific sound of the area once?

TT – Everywhere there were industries, there were big trucks driving along. They used to be much louder than today and they would stink. Today everything is better.
You always have noise from road traffic and later construction equipment… but at  the tip of the peninsula? There was absolute quiet. Then, just like today, you could hear the sounds of Zenner (club just across the river) if there was a party in the summer…otherwise it was often very quiet.

PC/VM – In your job in this area, do people think about sound? Is it part of the discussion for local people?

TT – Yes, the sounds are… actually people don’t say “sound” or “ambiance” here, they only say “noise” .. and the discussion is about, how I can avoid this noise. There is even a ‘noise action group’ here which got together to try and prevent these annoying noises. I can understand that because some sounds are quite disturbing. The goal is to coordinate them so that not every weekend is noisy: Maybe on one weekend there are parties everywhere, and the next weekend is quiet.
I do think the discussion is one-sided, that people just talk about noise. And it is difficult, as a musician, if people perceive music as noise. It can be a problem. If all kinds of music were perceived as noise, then there would be no music anymore.

PC/VM – Are there other parts of Berlin that sound similar?

TT – I don’t know any place that is comparable, because of this water, and the position of the peninsula, a lot of things come together. You are just a bit further away, I think this is very rare in Berlin.

PC/VM – Many things have changed in this area.  Do you have the feeling that there are sounds missing?

TT – The more that gets built, the more derelict land is lost and the more unvaried the landscape and nature becomes. And if the landscape is unvaried then fewer animals and birds will be there, and fewer birds chirping.

PC/VM – Will the proposed A100 highway be overground or underground?

TT – The highway is already built up to Dreieck Neukölln (the triangle of Neukölln). Then there is a small tunnel, and then it will enter a so-called trough: it will be in an open tunnel, 9 meters deep, but open. The noise will always come out, though of course not so loud as if one were right next to it. It will also supposedly be on whisper asphalt, which means the asphalt quiets noise from tires…but only for the first few years since at some point the pores get stopped and then it is loud again. I myself have noticed that the disturbing noises are not from the rolling wheels, but rather when a loud car or a motorcycle clatters along, or an ambulance passes. These sounds are always on the highway, day and night.

PC/VM – Can you describe some of your favorite places in the area?

TT – If you consider the peninsula Stralau, there are two sides: first, the Rummelsburg Bay with the Rummelsburger lake which is, like the Paul Paulum banks, an enchanted place. There are a few corners there that are often completely quiet.
On the other, the Spree side, there is the railway and road bridge. When I walk under the bridge on the Treptower side I often have to start singing because it has such great reverb. On many nights someone sets up a small stereo and makes a little party, that means other people find this acoustic situation great as well.
Then there are still a few corners with fallow lands, empty plots. Rather near the tip of the island, for example, where lots of nettles and wild herbs are growing.
It is also interesting directly by the Stralau Glassworks, because there is lots of graffiti. People find this atmosphere so great that they stand around and do photo sessions. You always see really different models being photographed. On the other side is an empty plot where there are many wild herbs growing and accordingly many birds. Otherwise…it depends. People often perceive the sounds around us as noise since many sounds come to us from far away across the Rummelsburger lake, and the sounds can be disturbing. In the summer we  have fireworks almost every weekend.
On the Treptower side are many street festivals and we hear the music that drifts across. Many get upset about it and we are trying to organize so that it doesn’t get too bad, because it really is not so nice sometimes. These days there are often party boats that drive along the Spree. They play their Techno stuff and float along. You get that music a while and then it’s over.

There is a lot of construction here: that can be intense, when concrete pieces are taken out with jackhammers for weeks on end.

Very late at night when you walk along here it is totally quiet. You hear nothing. Very early in the morning you first hear the birds chirping and then the traffic noise begins from afar. You hear everything here from afar. You are in the city but not right in the city. You hear the train, subway, tram and road traffic, and a seaplane that flies over from time to time.

PC/VM – Do you like the sounds here? Are you happy with the soundscape or would you like it to be different?  

TT – Yes, I like the diversity of sounds very much. Of course there are some which I would call noise and that disturb me, but you always have a place to retreat. I used to live in Friedrichshain at Boxhagener street: there was only noise, always street and traffic and bars and trams and you couldn’t escape it. But here you have a variety of noise and silence. If I jog or ride bike I would never use headphones because I find the sounds here too interesting to need other music in my ears.

PC/VM – At the meeting last week, the discussion was about the development plans for An der Mole. There is a plan to make buildings here, what is the current position?
(An der Mole is the area of Rummelsburg very close to Ostkreuz Station that has so far been left unchanged. The discussions concern the amount of housing, how the buildings will be laid out, how close they will be to the water edge and how much of the existing riverside green (unusually biologically rich for a city) will be left intact)

TT – In that area there is also fallow land, there is a sports field that is already cleared, and houses and business are supposed to be built there. There were plans made for a rather dense construction very near the shore. The citizens didn’t want it. We had a town hall meeting, made a survey, and the vast majority preferred significantly fewer buildings. The shoreline areas, or area by the lake, were to remain free. If land like this is sold, usually the waterfront areas are most attractive and the first to be built on, and then later on the street. We want to have the opposite, so that there is construction only at the road.

PC/VM – Was there a plan to have a wildlife area?

TT – We are fighting for something that is at least a green space. “Wildlife” not just a “green space” would be a dream. When a park is made here usually it means all vegetation is removed and a lawn is seeded.  It has to be watered constantly and the place is relatively lifeless. My hope is that some of the vegetation that is already there will be preserved. At the moment a 12 meters wide strip along the bank is meant to be kept, and we want to have at least 25 meters preserved. There is a bicycle path and pedestrian walkway there, a beautiful Biotope where there are beavers and many animals at the water: all that should be possible.

PC/VM – Tegel airport is being closed and Schönefeld will become Berlin’s main airport. Will planes from that fly over this area? 

TT – As far as I know, not too many should be flying overhead. I am in close contact with the initiative in Friedrichshagen at the Müggelsee (lake). They learned that the routes were changed so that a lot of flights will be coming over the lake. I’m from Friedrichshagen and know the area well and I believe it is not a certainty because routes can change constantly: according to whether there is east-or west-wind the machines start from one side or the other. There will probably be days in which large numbers of flights thunder overhead–not here so much, but in other areas–and days where it is relatively quiet. I don’t think I could properly get used to aircraft noise, at least not if it were there all the time.

Translation: Elen Flügge

Sounds from Rummelsburg and Stralau can be heard here.
(http://favouritesounds.org/map.php?projectid=31″ http://favouritesounds.org/map.php?projectid=31)


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