There’s a current push for Germany’s techno scene to be listed as a UNESCO heritage site. Berlin and Munich particularly are well known for their spontaneous raves held in unlikely venues.
When you think of Berlin, typically two things come to mind: the East/West divide care of the Berlin Wall and their world-famous underground techno scene. Love Parade, Berghain, Tresor: they attract DJs and dance afficionados from around the globe. Members of Berlin's biggest clubs, and the artists behind the Love Parade festival have united to lobby for UNESCO heritage status. They want the sites that have hosted hundreds of thousands of sweaty, ecstatic dancers and DJS for decades to be protected as cultural landmarks, in the same spirit as India's Kumbh Mela, Amsterdam's Pride and Jamaica's reggae have been recognised formally.
As Germany’s major cities become increasingly gentrified and unaffordable for the creative classes that were the cultural drawcard for tourists and new residents in the first place, there is an inevitable battle between the haves and the have nots.
In Echos, the clash of social classes and poverty contrasting with multi-million dollar property developments, infrastructure projects and major investors means sacrifices will happen. In this case, lives.
The first episode opens with Max, Nellie and Janosch joining crowds of besequinned, glittering, rouged and heeled party-goers crowding through the entry to a railway station to attend a secret techno party that has invited its select guestlist via WhatsApp message. They stumble and laugh as they avoid tripping over a rough-sleeping woman and her hungry dog attempting to sleep on a railway platform. Hours later, smoke pours from the vault as bedraggled girls and boys rush from the railway entrance, coughing and crying. Emergency services arrive to find a blackened, destroyed site and missing youth, Max included. The media converge on the story, titillated by local politician Anna Mahler’s son missing after a night of debaucherously partying.
It’s clear from early on that the fire in an underground railway is deliberate, but who did it, why and whether they’ll get away with it is the compelling question.
The site had been destined for conversion into a major residential property development lead by Lisa Limberger and her father’s property business, the conjoined project of government and private investors with a balance of private apartments and social housing. Grants had been assured, capital raised, and architects assigned. As the first episode reveals though, the politics behind the assignation of grants and favours is murky and those who appear to be living in luxury – the Mahlers - are on borrowed time, living in homes and dressing in clothes they’ve been granted in return for promises they can’t keep.
Echos reveals much about modern urban Germany, but it is relevant to Australian cities too. In cities like Melbourne and Sydney, artists have previously afforded to live in the city but private investors and gentrification has meant only the rich can afford high rise apartments. The days when Mirka Mora or any of the Heide artists could reside in Collins Street or afford studios overlooking Flinders Street are but a hazy memory. The question in Echos, as it is for any of us who reel at real estate prices is: at what cost will developers pursue the venues they want to demolish and rebuild?
The characters are not caricatures though – big, evil property developers versus hard-scrabble youth. There’s various stories that interweave gradually, keeping you hooked as you try to decipher the intentions of the tirelessly interfering policewoman seeking the woman in a photograph she presses to the noses of her interview subjects. Or, Janosch, the selfie-addicted influencer living with his single dad in an ageing apartment that never appears in the gilded, glittering Instagram stories he shares with his faceless followers. What are his parents hiding from him, and what lengths will he go to in order to maintain his social media façade? Would he exploit Max’s disappearance for his own gain?
A decade ago, Spiegel International labelled Munich's housing boom - complete with skyrocketing real estate prices and rentals - as "a ghetto for the jet set". It claimed only those with high incomes or hefty inheritances could afford a home in the Bavarian capital. As far back as 2011, there was organised resistance to the gentrification of Munich, with slogans and stickers across buildings and prominent public areas making clear that newcomers weren't welcome. Artists, students and low-income residents united to raise their voices about being pushed out of the places they'd contributed to creatively and personally for their whole lives.
In Echos, that clash is depicted with layers of personal stories, mystery, thriller and romance all enriching the addictive quality of the series. What is clear, throughout, is that no character is purely good or evil. Everyone has their intentions, and even when their gilded lives appear ideal from the outset, there is an internal struggle going on. Echos is the story not only of the characters, but the catacombs below Munich and Berlin – places that people call home, venues for spontaneous rave parties, and historically, a means of surveillance and defence. In Germany, history both personal and national is inevitably enmeshed.
Echos season 1 is streaming now at SBS On Demand.