Literature and the Barbican

Why is the Barbican so amazing?

Because it is the LARGEST multi-arts and conference venue in Europe.

The huge, towering concrete jungle that looks rigid, militant and BRUTALIST in its architecture is actually home to a cultural flowering of art, music, theatre, dance and film!

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Built in London, upon an area desecrated by the Second World War, during the 60s and 70s it began as a residential estate. But it is now so much more than that…

It houses the Barbican Arts Centre, vast libraries, the Museum of London, The City of London School for Girls and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (where one of us got her ‘Grade 8 Performing Arts’, and ‘Shakespeare Award’. Ahem).

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In 2001 the Minister for the Arts awarded the Barbican Grade II listed status.

One can see why.

It is colossal in scale – you can easily get lost inside it. Plus it occupies such a cohesive and all-consuming place in the London skyline. The whole complex is so distinct and seamless that it easily sits apart from all the law firms and towering glass banks full of city boys surrounding it (eww).

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It is also pretty cool that some of the buildings are named after notable British historical literary figures (we are literature geeks after all…) Examples include:

Defoe House – after Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders)

Johnson House – after Ben Johnson (the playwright behind satirical plays Volpone and Bartholomew Fayre)

Bunyan House – after John Bunyan (writer of The Pilgrim’s Progress)

More House – after Thomas More (Tudor period author of the Latin-Utopia)

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AND OBVIOUSLY SHAKESPEARE TOWER…the bard who needs no introduction!

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Rating: ****

Anne x

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Warum haben wir diesen Namen?

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“What’s in a name?” // “Was ist in einem Namen?”

(from Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet – Act II, Scene II)

Explaining our name…

WIR KINDER FROM LONDON = WE CHILDREN FROM LONDON

You might find yourself asking why this website is not entitled in the conventional German of “Wir sind die Kinder vom London Stadt” (“We are the children from London town”).

Well, aside, from the URL being ridiculously long and confusing for anyone who can “nicht sprechen Deutsch” it is to do with one city, one book, one film, one song (Bowie’s Heroes) and one woman. That woman being the protagonist from Ulrich Edel’s cult film Christiane F – Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo (1981).

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Yet Christiane is no fictional character, living in West Berlin during 1975, during the height of the divided city and the wall, she became embroiled in a world of drugs – hashish, LSD, pills and heroin. What makes this tale so shocking is that her decline into depravity began when she was only 12 and by the time she was 14 her heroin addiction was so strong that she was a full time sex worker. This was a decade, documented in both Stern magazine and Edel’s film, when teenage drug use and child prostitution were rife.

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The pivotal axis upon which the film turns is that of David Bowie and his input – both acting as himself and providing the musical soundtrack. Christiane maintains that her first heroin experience was at a Bowie concert – a scene that is re-enacted in the film and which exposes a 14 year old girl’s adoration for the singer.

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There is also a fucked-up but tragically emotive love story between Christiane and the (gorgeous) Detlef who she meets at the infamous nightclub Sound. It is her love for him the leads her into a whirlwind of drugs and crime – all in an attempt to be closer to him. Detlef introduces her to the sordid underworld of the sex and drug scene at the Bahnhof Zoo train station – yet it is here that she learns her lover and best friend is also engaging in homosexual prostitution behind her back – his yearning for heroin is stronger than his love for her.

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Be warned – Stealing from family, performing underage sex acts, junkies overdosing and graphic withdrawal is shown in lurid detail.

Modern day Berlin is not typified by this film – where the cinematography is dark, unclean and rundown. Former landmarks used in the film no longer exist and the child actors used in the film (most of whom were still in school) have never gone on to great fame.

David Bowie’s Heroes is a song that resonates through the soul, however, very few know of Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo and the warning that Bowie was trying to give – having struggled with his own demons during his Berlin Years of 1976-79.

Christiane F. is not an easy watch, despite the unfounded promise that the real character went on to live happily ever after…

This is a gritty bildungsroman, showing that life is never easy, but this film is a piece of history and an artistic expression that is not to be ignored. Indeed, it is by observing literature, music and cinema (in this cult classic and in general) that one sees reflections of life – both the highs and the lows. Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo stays with you long after you have finished watching it. Perhaps it will inspire you in some way to make something of yourself no matter what life throws at you.

“At 12 it was Angel Dust. At 13 it was heroin. Then she took to the streets”

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“The Image of a Generation”
Anne x
Photos: Stills & promotional shots from Christiane F © Euro Video

Best Books (part 1)

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My favourite books, from top to bottom (and in some kind of vague chronological order): Evelina by Frances Burney, Maria: Or, the Wrongs of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, The Adventures and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse, Room at the Top by John Braine, 26a by Diana Evans, and In Other Rooms Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin. (I am actually quite devastated that another of my absolute favourites seems to have disappeared into the depths of my house – The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. I am going to go on a manhunt for it – I am very precious about my books. They are my babies.)

As you can see, I have a thing for tragedy, and the gothic – basically, the genre known as Fin de siècle, which is the stream of books written in the 1890s. At the turn of the Victorian century, people got paranoid and scared about the future, and what resulted were classics by Hardy, Conan Doyle and Wilde – books obsessed with disease, degeneration, crime, and decay. Totally depressing, chilling stuff. I love it.

Apart from that, I am a massive fan of the Victorian (Dickens and the Brontës, especially), and prior to that, the eighteenth century, which I am quite obsessed with as a period in general. I love strong women (Woolf and Wollstonecraft) and the angry young men of the 1960s (Braine and Waterhouse). I also like contemporary black and Asian writing, such as Diana Evans, and Daniyal Mueenuddin.

I’m obsessed with Oxford Classics – Penguins will not do. Oxfords are white, and they always have the best covers (i.e. the Woolf, Burney, and Hardy above). Penguins are black, and the spine always gets cracked and they end up looking shit after a few weeks (again, you can see that above. I didn’t buy those Penguins. I wouldn’t ever buy Penguins).

My English degree and really opened my eyes to literature. One of my favourite things about reading, apart from the feeling of peace and calm I get I lose myself in a book, is identifying parts of my life with certain books – I’ll always associate reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles with a magazine internship I once did, for example, as I’ve been reading it again over the last few weeks. And Jude the Obscure reminds me of winter: it’s a thoroughly depressing book, and I read it in January, when it was snowing and London was at a standstill. It was very eerie. I really feel like I’m living my life more when I’m loving a book.

Rosie x