BERLIN (Reuters) - If you could go back in time to change your city, what would you do? What kind of a place do you want to live in? Would you try to stop gentrification?
These are some of the questions being posed by a Berlin-based collective of artists, called copy & waste, in a performance inspired by the way Hill Valley changes during the 1980s "Back to the Future" science-fiction comedy films.
Titled "Knick-Knack to the Future", by day the artists run a fictional "concept store" selling coffee, cupcakes and "Back to Future"-themed bags, shoes and T-shirts in a bid to encourage people to discuss how much they're willing to pay for products.
At night the group uses the space to offer "time travel workshops", theatrical performances in which the audience follows the cast from room to room as they use English and German in music, speech, clips from the movie trilogy, and filmwork to explore issues of gentrification.
"First come the artists and studios, followed by the students and the cupcake cafes and then the well-to-do and boutiques. And this process takes place over increasingly shorter periods of time," the group says on its website.
Gentrification is a hot topic in Germany, and especially Berlin. A sharp increase in rents of as much as 30-40 percent in cities such as Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt since 2007 prompted the government to act, introducing a cap on rent rises to prevent tenants being priced out.
The location of the copy & waste project near the Kottbusser Tor underground station in an up-and-coming area of the city is no accident. Once an almost-forgotten area home to Turkish immigrant workers, just a couple of streets away from the Berlin Wall, the area is surging in popularity, causing rents to rise.
"Here, the process of gentrification is so obvious, it's so in your face," Steffen Klewar, director and actor at copy & waste, told Reuters ahead of a performance last week.
The artists decided to make a fancy store part of the production to highlight the changing nature of the neighborhood, where concept stores selling sweaters for hundreds of euros (dollars) sit across from stores selling items for a euro apiece.
"We're not here to make money, we want to talk to people, see how they react," writer Joerg Albrecht said.
American actor Daniel Brunet, who is Producing Artistic Director of the English Theatre Berlin, said affordable housing was a basic right.
"I can barely picture what New York will look like in 2045, could it be like the worst version of Hill Valley, with some people living in luxurious penthouses and others cramped in on the edge of town and just not given enough?" he said.
After a run in Berlin until Sept. 12, the artists will take their performance to the rundown former industrial town of Muelheim an der Ruhr in western Germany, and then to wealthy Graz in Austria in September and October.
For more information: here
Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Michael Roddy and Mark Heinrich