Berlin is a big city, and Facebook has been a great platform to share overviews of what’s going on in your network of friends. Whether someone is hosting an exhibition opening or playing a set in a club, if you have friends who’re in the cultural scene of Berlin, you’re probably drowned in Event invitations all the time (and the spawn of hell that is their notification system).
Sometimes, people add you as a friend just to be able to invite you to their things. It’s the new economy. In my statistics, food-related events have overtaken dance-related events by a large margin between 2013 and 2015. My newest favorite ridiculousness: the food-dance hybrid that merges the old partying scene with the new market for gluttony (Burgers & Hip Hop, Thai & Techno).
The spirit of these events sometimes borders on absurd. Like, whenever someone prepares a sandwich, there’ll be soft opening with 3000 people attending. What grinds my gears isn’t necessarily the inducement for these events – hell, I don’t care even if you’re socially celebrating your first solid poop after a hangover – but the actual destruction that these openly communicated get-togethers can cause, and how people on both ends are being careless about what their behavior does to the general public perception of and active life in Berlin.
I went to Burgers & Hip Hop and it was so ridiculously overcrowded that I let out the obligatory “why the fuck can’t we have nice things anymore” groan and went back home again. If I want to queue up for hours just to be potentially disappointed, I might as well try Berghain, because I sure won’t waste my time squeezing myself through rude people and obnoxious tourists for a mini-size sandwich that costs triple the price of the Berlin standard. My attitude hasn’t changed; I still think that Berlin is for everyone. But since when do so many people like Burgers AND Hip Hop? What seemed like a medium-large niche event at best became a monster immediately, and trust me, it was neither for the good food or the good music. I mean, sure, it’s a novelty thing, I was drawn to the idea just as well. But when I saw that the second or third event in their series suddenly had like 5000 people who attended on Facebook, I honestly thought I’d rather be stuck in that lousy, sad transit area of Schönefeld Airport for a whole week than endure one night of Burgers & Hip Hop again.
I’m not sure if the series still exists. My instincts tell me – like with most of these events – that only tourists find novelty in them anymore, and the locals have probably moved on to the next “underground” thing that hasn’t blown up yet (but it’s only a matter of time anyway). The next thing could’ve been Spargel, my second example, but alas, we killed it right after it’s conception.
The story of the Spargel International is quite intriguing, actually. It started with an invitation to Refugium Beelitz. I think the creators of the event are a food related start up, and they wanted to bring people over to Beelitz so they could teach and preach, and visitors could taste and waste.
It was all well in the beginning, until more and more people started attending and the whole thing actually became somewhat of a joke. I mean, I like Spargel just as much as anyone during the season, but that sudden interest seemed a little out of proportion. It’s all fun and games though, right, and those 5000 (it was 17k at the end of count I think) people attending could be a great benchmark of success for those who’re invested in the occasion, right?
Turns out the Spargel International Festival had to be cancelled due to that threatening number of attendees. There’s simply not enough space to warrant safety, and the Ordnungsamt / Police eventually couldn’t give their okay. Even if the Organisatoren aren’t unhappy about the results of this dynamic between Facebook and their plans (because maybe now they are able to move to a bigger space and capitalize on their options), what’s so heartbreaking is that everybody who’s ever created an event OR if you’re guilty of clicking “attending” when you weren’t planning to go at all know this simple fact: the number is a lie.
People attend for many various reasons: to support someone by making their event seem popular (DJs and club-related gigs being the most popular in the support/hype category); to save it for their calendar; or simply because everyone’s attending and it sounds like a nice idea and even though most have zero interest in actually going, well, why not? Suddenly, all of my friends are going to visit the Bonsai and Cacti exhibitions of the Botanic Garden in Steglitz. Really? Are you really going to do that? REALLY THOUGH? Some of these clicks just seem random. I see that it can be a good thing: people get well interested beyond their horizons, simply because these events and places get more attention now. But like always with great expectations, there’s great disappointment just waiting ahead. I went to the Botanic Garden the other day and you know what it’s just a Botanic Garden, get over it.
I know this is not a new problem. Overhyped events in the city have always had this distinct dynamic. At first, nobody knows about it, whether it’s a restaurant or a party. Then, some of the cool people enter the premises for a while, drawing attention until they have drawn too much and the space gets crowded by “outsiders”, tourists or simply new folk who finally see the attraction. Ultimately, the cool people move on to find new or better things. Remember when we used to have all those “secret” Open Airs that could last for hours without police interventions, and only people who were part of a certain group knew (and cared) about it? Well, I remember when those occasions disappeared more and more as Facebook and online networks became more popular, starting to spread the info. Suddenly, an Open Air was either too overcrowded to be kept secret (and destroyed immediately by the police), or it was handled with so much care that people (who relied completely on Facebook to tell them what’s up) didn’t find out about it. A sad dichotomy of the fast networking world.
Those processes aren’t probably as linear as I am describing them here, but I am sure that we can acknowledge the fact that there used to be something like a half-life for cultural events and places. Sometimes, they grow with their visitors or are scalable so that people will find a way for an enduring compromise (like the institutional clubs, museums, galleries, restaurants, and commercial open airs that sell tickets beforehand, etc). So the use of Facebook really isn’t the source of something becoming overhyped and then being dropped again for the next best thing, but it enhances the problem to a degree where the first step of the process is completely erased.
Expectations and Overcrowding
For the owners of some places and creators of some events this can be a game breaker. The worst thing is when an event has to be cancelled because of expected count of visitors.
But what about the people who want to test something small in the field, without committing to anything? When a restaurant that seats approximately 50 people prepares an opening that draws 3000 attendings in, then how are they going to survive their first night? It’s an economic disaster: if you prepare for 3000 people (but HOW), it’s going to cost you a lot; and if indeed 3000 show up and you don’t have enough food, your first customers will leave disappointed.
From a marketing perspective, this creation of hype used to be something to wish for. But when you take a close look you will see that in 2015, this is an automatic process, self-driven and over-inflated. If any redundant event (this IKEA hide & seek idiocy is a real gem) can garner such a count by an unspecified public, then what’s the hype worth anyway? And on the other hand: what about the Events that have no resonance at all on Facebook, but a loyal crowd? Anyone who uses Facebook as a compass for success will be turned off immediately by the thought of stopping by.
And that’s not the only thing to consider when dealing with the consequences of our co-dependency of Facebook Events. There’s also the marginalization of all the other places and things that happen in the city that aren’t publicly marketed on Facebook.
Of course, the people who have special interests will be knowledgable about their possibilities, but I know many, many people who don’t even consider something an activity or an event if they don’t know how many (and which) people are attending, when it starts (and ends), what the exact details are, or the timetable of a line-up. It’s become an annoying habit when people start shaping their weekend depending on a schedule of events. It’s a circle-jerk, and even worse, it’s always the same people who show up just to be bored after two seconds or to complain about how densely packed it is. I am one of them. I love the idea of going to a cool “thing” and reviewing it for the first time, but how do I measure success if not by the count of people who are standing in my way?