23 thoughts on “Blog: Week 3 (May 6th)

  1. Rieke Nachtigall

    While reading Dora Apel’s book “Beautiful Terrible Ruins. Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline,“ I was shocked because the situation in Detroit is worse than my preceding exceptions. The first chapter about the ruins of Detroit changed my image of the city. Before reading, I heard about the cheap houses especially in the context of “houses for sale for $1”. I thought only poorer areas in Detroit have abandoned buildings. After reading the first chapter my image of the city shifted to have more similarities with a city like Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. Chisinau has ruins all over the city as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In my mind, those images do not correlate well with cities in America. I was also shocked by the mistreatment of the residents in Detroit. The privatization seems to harm Detroit and its mostly poor residents a lot, in important sectors like education, transport, and water.

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  2. Acelya Ördü

    Having read just the title of the book, I was certain that the importance of the famous Packard Plant in Detroit is to be depicted and discussed. The first time I heard of the city’s most symbolic ruin was when I was doing research on one of my favorite artists called Banksy (if some of you aren’t familiar with him, you should really check him out). Banksy, a street artist from England and whose identity remains unknown up to this day, always creates artworks that are in interplay with the setting and cultural geography while provocatively addressing political and socio-cultural issues. And Banksy actually made an artwork at Detroit’s Packard Plant in 2010 (I’ll put a link of it under this comment): On a very shabby and decayed wall, it presents us a little boy, seemingly having been caught red-handed, in the midst of writing the words “I remember when all this was trees” with red paint. Being set in a place full of ruins, bricks and stones, the artwork reasonably implies the gruesome fate of many auto workers that were part of this once booming factory.
    In comparison to this artwork, James Fassinger (p. 85-86) depicts a specific political controversy that has been triggered in 2013 due to the Nazi slogan “Arbeit macht frei” that appeared on windows at the Packard Plant. However, for the Jewish community, this was understood as a racially and anti-semitically motivated act. But the real intent of this slogan was actually to compare the destructive effects and tragic conditions of both; the genocide of the Jews and Detroit’s industrial workers: both groups were seen as redundant and expendable.
    Therefore, impressive and remarkable to me is that both of these forms of art incorporate the location’s past and somehow create a certain awareness of the horrific effects of Detroit’s past that shows its traces up to this present day.

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  3. Acelya Ördü

    Having read just the title of the book, I was certain that the importance of the famous Packard Plant in Detroit is to be depicted and discussed. The first time I heard of the city’s most symbolic ruin was when I was doing research on one of my favorite artists called Banksy (if some of you aren’t familiar with him, you should really check him out). Banksy, a street artist from England and whose identity remains unknown up to this day, always creates artworks that are in interplay with the setting and cultural geography while provocatively addressing political and socio-cultural issues. And Banksy actually made an artwork at Detroit’s Packard Plant in 2010 (I’ll put a link of it under this comment): On a very shabby and decayed wall, it presents us a little boy, seemingly having been caught red-handed, in the midst of writing the words “I remember when all this was trees” with red paint. Being set in a place full of ruins, bricks and stones, the artwork reasonably implies the gruesome fate of many auto workers that were part of this once booming factory.
    In comparison to this artwork, James Fassinger (p. 85-86) depicts a specific political controversy that has been triggered in 2013 due to the Nazi slogan “Arbeit macht frei” that appeared on windows at the Packard Plant. However, for the Jewish community, this was understood as a racially and anti-semitically motivated act. But the real intent of this slogan was actually to compare the destructive effects and tragic conditions of both; the genocide of the Jews and Detroit’s industrial workers: both groups were seen as redundant and expendable.
    Therefore, impressive and remarkable to me is that both of these forms of art incorporate the location’s past and somehow create a certain awareness of the horrific effects of Detroit’s past that shows its traces up to this present day.

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  4. Kerem Celik

    Before reading into Dora Apels book I had a very simple thought of Detroit. I had the perception that the city was once big but fell down immensely. I always kinda drew parallels between the city and the cities sports teams. Once the Pistons were strong and aggressive in the past but now are somewhere around rock bottom, the Red Wings that once gave Detroit the name “Hockeytown“ are even worse, finishing off their conference at last place. Yet that was it. After reading the first and second chapter of this book I kind of got struck by the class division that exists currently, of which I had no clue. In the introduction it’s mentioned that the poorer people of Detroit are majorly black people and that this lower class has no relation to the upper folks. Further on in the second chapter privatizing education is mentioned and after reading I got curious and googled the wealthiest neighborhood in Detroit. The wealthiest neighborhoods such as Palmer Woods, Sherwood Forest, University District and a few more are ironically all around a golf club, around 10 miles away from downtown. Whereas the poorest neighborhoods like Forest Park, Poletown East and Milwaukee Junction basically build the downtown area. So what I take from this is that the classes are not only divided by money and wealth but also approximately by 10 miles of distance. Also the fact that the poorer neighborhoods are downtown, where the city was supposed to bloom but failed, symbolizes Dora Apels claim in the introduction that “the city is not just a physical location; it is also a project, a projection of imaginary fears and desires“.

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  5. Marlen Hahn

    I never really got deep into dealing with Detroit itself. My thoughts of Detroit as Michigan’s largest city was that it has its glamorous and less glamorous sights as every big city in the US I visited so far. But after reading Apel’s book passages for this course, I was shocked. At the beginning of the book I compared the described ruins with the ruins we have in the Ruhr area, such as the landscape garden in Duisburg or the area of Phönix West in Dortmund. Those are leftovers from the industrial times in the Ruhr area and nice places to visit, but also abandoned. Apel also compared Oberhausen as “Germany’s Detroit” which leads to a connection. By reading further, the situation in Detroit got my interest by using words like “postapocalyptic” or the comparison to war zones, alien invader destructions and so on. I used Google to search for Detroit’s ruins and I was shocked how dead this city looks on the photos even though one connects the automobile industry and the location of great musical influence while thinking about Detroit. Furthermore, I am terrified how government treats the population in Michigan’s largest and most populous city and how racial segregation is still a big issue there even though Motown music is a African-American genre with great success.

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  6. Cara Bierwirth

    While reading Dora Apel’s book “Beautiful Terrible Ruins. Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline“, I was shocked. I didn´t think that Detroit is in a such bad situation. I was really shocked at the living standards Detroit´s people have to deal with. It is unbelievable that the water was shut off in about three thousand homes each week. The fact that they were behind the bill payments is one thing but, in my opinion, shutting off water without any warnings is rude. Also, it must be horrible for the families that their children were taken away because they have no water at home. Because they were behind the bill payments due to the fact that they are too poor. I think nothing is worse than not having your child nearby.
    It was also shocking to get to know that many institutes get privatized. Such privatization seems to harm Detroit and especially the ones who are poor and mostly can´´´´t afford it.

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  7. Niklas Nitsch

    The image of Detroit I get from Apel’s text really one-ups even our discussion from last week – of how abandoned and deteriorated Detroit might be. In a way, Detroit appears to be a husk left to die amidst ‘prosperous’ (this is more a hyperbole to make a point, I’m not entirely sure about the situations in surrounding areas) cities.
    One of the most interesting aspects the text touches on is the whole idea of “Ruin porn”. I found it immensely interesting reading about an almost competition between “insiders and outsiders” (e.g. p. 23), as the local photographers lay claim upon the misfortune and “blight” (p. 20) of the city.
    Moreover, I felt Detroit being portrayed as something more than just a city, more than just a collection of buildings and infrastructure (or the lack thereof). The text gave me a notion of sentience attributed to Detroit – something I already felt was common from last week’s discussion and especially the short “propaganda” video we watched. It seems people dealing with or living in (or even just taking a liking to) Detroit inevitably ascribe it human (or at least a living being’s) characteristics. I know this is not uncommon for people to attribute such characteristics to cities and similar, but I feel this to a far greater extent with Detroit – even in the very short time I’ve now been dealing with the city.
    I’d love to touch upon this notion in one of our discussions some time (and even if I’m maybe the only one that feels like this).

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  8. Stefan Becker

    The book “Beautiful Terrible Ruins” by Dora Apel gave me further impressions about the city of Detroit but rather negative ones. It seems that they had and still have some big issues there on different levels, speaking of financial but also social/racial and issues about their reputation in general. For example, Dora Apel talking much about the imagery of Detroit and that the ruins are perceived as “embarrassing and ugly”. Furthermore, in the podcast you mentioned that Detroit has a huge number of African-American immigrants and also many Europeans which I really like because it creates a lovely diversity in that city. But when I read the text by Apel, I was shocked by the fact that many outsiders but also most of Detroit`s white population call it a “Black City” and refer to the city as the “Dark Other”. I think such a diversity is rather an extension than a flaw.

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  9. Bente Buschmann

    “Beautiful terrible ruins” by Dora Apel has opened my eyes concerning the importance of a country`s structure. Reading these different chapters promoted my gratitude of living in a city, where all necessary systems work without being scared of not having access to basic services. I am aware of the American spirit including the American dream, which underlines the different cultural way of life in connection to their different policies, but I have not realized the consequences that refer to it until now.
    I was feeling a sense of desperateness and anger, while I was reading these two chapters. Detroit`s citizens simply lost their quality life that they used to have many years ago. Through growing of uncontrolled capitalism, many disinvestments and the misuse of citizens’ money by banks, Detroit and its citizens have lost their sense of security on each perspective. I have realized to what extent several parts of a country`s system are interrelated with each other. When there is no money left, there will be no access to education or other basis services. This lack of money has changed a country, its attitude and its culture as well. Huge rates of unemployment illustrate the issue of not being able to pay bills and live in houses. In addition to that, privatizing several systems like water and public transports especially had consequences to the working class and African Americans. Those families, who couldn’t pay the high rates of their bills, had no access to water anymore which actually should be a basic requirement. This not only underlines the issue of creating huge gaps between rich and poor people, but also demonstrates the issue of racism in the city. The once strong belief in the American dream for everyone has been expiring more and more throughout the years and thereby supported discontent and crimes.

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  10. Patricia Riemer

    While reading Dora Apel’s book “Beautiful Terrible Ruins. Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline”, I was really shocked about the situation in Detroit because I never thought it would be so bad. I was shocked while reading the chapter of capitalism and city bankruptcy. The living standards Detroit’s people have to deal with were for some an agony. The fact that the water was shut off in three thousand homes each week without any warnings, just because the families cannot pay their bills, is in my opinion not fair. The families had no chance to pay their bills because they were to poor. The fact that the children were taken away from them for such a reason must have been horrible for the families. I cannot imagen how bad it is when someone takes your child away from you. But also the fact, mentioned in another chapter, that poor people should die rather than be safe in an empty house is incomprehensible.

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  11. Fabio Wortmann

    Before reading “Beautiful Terrible Ruins, Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline” I knew Detroit has suffered serious economical losses but I was not aware of the fact that their economical situation affected vital needs such as homes to live in or drink water. It is evident that losing one’s job enormously impacts your financial and living situation but the amount of people who were forced to move out of Detroit is extremely high which is hard to imagine: If I were to be asked to move out of my home town I would gratefully decline. After also googling “The Ruins of Detroit” I found an image gallery of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre who documented the disintergration of Detroit and it reminds me of cities that are show cased as apocalyptic in movies. It is unimaginable after looking at these pictures that this city has been a strong industrial and economical power in our trading economy.

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  12. Miriam Bieniek

    Before reading the first two chapters of Dora Apel’s book „Beautiful Terrible Ruins. Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline“ I was already aware of some facts about the automobile concern shutdown of General Motors. This relates to the closure of several headquarters of the automobile concern Opel few years ago in Germany. However, as having read the two chapters of the book, I realised there were much more issues to be taken into account considering Detroit’s decline. I was shocked by the fact that in the past the investment went into the richer part of the city, whereas the poverty reinforced and increased. Thinking about Detroit‘s current economic situation I assume an urgent reorganization of basic demands needs to be claimed. Otherwise those wealth inhabitants will carry on leading and shaping the city according to its own desires without paying attention to the other people from the working/ middle class.

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  13. Janek

    While reading the first two chapters of the book dealing with the decay of Detroit, I was not surprised that I encountered two of the major problems the US deal with today: An increasing gap between the rich and the poor and racism. What I found surprising was the paragraph which dealt with the monetizing of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The author claims that the discussion circled around the question of considering the DIA as a city asset to secure people’s pensions. If you define the DIA as a cultural institution and see it as a part of Detroit’s identity (the author draws the comparison to Greece and the Parthenon) some other questions come up which I find interesting: Can culture and identity be priced? If yes, how? And: Should culture be priced? The question of giving up culture or identity to gain money might be something worth keeping in mind.

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  14. Paul Spiegelberg

    Reading the first two chapters of the book I’ve got three major impressions – about ruins in general, about the mismanagement of the city of Detroit and comparing Detroit and the Ruhr Area.

    Ruins seem to represent a form of an obsolete system or an overthrown group of people. Classical ruins of the past, like medieval castles once were the homes of regents, lords and kings until social and political changes led to new forms of government. Similarly, industrial sites of the recent past once were symbols of booming industries and workplaces for innumerable people. Due to new technologies, completed exploitation (e.g. decline of coal) and automation these sites turned to ruins. What will future ruins be and look like? Is there something like digital decay? Are there symbols or monuments of consumer culture which could turn into similar ruins?

    The story of Detroit reads like a guidebook: How to ruin a major city in less than a century – for dummies. The situation of the shutdown of water supplies reminds me of practices of authoritarian and dictatorial regimes with corrupt leaders and unstable living conditions. Representatives of the state and senators seem to act very ignorant of social interdependences and cultural values. For neoliberal companies and corporations which strive to maximize their income with no remorse, Detroit probably is a blank state waiting to be written on. It reminds me of the exploration, conquering and exploitation of the North American continent after its discovery by Columbus.

    There are many comparable aspects between Detroit and the Ruhr Area. Just to name one, I think the bad reputation and the biased media coverage of both regions lead to a never-ending cycle in which neither new businesses nor different social groups want to move to the region. This eventually leads to a difficult economic situation and social tensions and consequentially the bad reputation won’t dissolve.

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  15. Maedeh Mizaei

    We read in the text that Detroit is regarded as demonstrating the historical inescapability of decline which makes Detroit’s downward unavoidable. Interestingly enough since the ideology mechanism oftentimes functions similarly, this resembles the same scene as the 2008 financial meltdown; the mutuality being how the unpredictability of the crisis was fathomed and swallowed as totally acceptable, as if the system can function even if it makes fun of itself. Another thing that comes to mind by contemplating these two is that, as the author says, whereas ruin imagery, underscores the inability of capitalist society to protect its citizens and its cities by highlighting poverty, urban deterioration, and economic and ecological crises Very much like how the capitalist state used Police to suppress the protests in order to hide the inevitable questioning of the recurring cause for such financial collapses.

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  16. Gia An Ernst

    Before having read the excerpt of Dora Apel’s book I never really dealt with Detroit or the topic of Detroit’s situation. The only connection to Detroit I had so far are not really noteworthy based on the fact that this connections are somehow not compatible with the reality. I never knew about its situation and felt kinda awful after reading this. I was really outraged of the kind of poverty the city implies and more outraged about the cruel behavior of the government “responsible” for Detroit’s people and furthermore, of the class and race divisions that are still so present in nowadays society. When I heard about the city Detroit I never really felt like getting deeper into detail because for me due to my lack of knowledge about its history I thought it was a rather popular, rich and very globalized city because of being the biggest city of Michigan. I think in general I have always sticked to my view of American cities being so globalized and wealthy. Moreover I think it’s one of the most evil and inhuman things to privatize institutions and not making education accessible for everyone or even cut off water sources, which for us is unbelievable in the 21st century.

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  17. Joe Troxler

    Reading Apel’s “Beautiful Terrible Ruins” has helped me see the bigger picture. I knew a bit about Detroit and it’s current state, though I wasn’t aware what story the city produced through images has been telling me all along: a story of decay. The images of ruination narrate restlessly and are so convincing at doing their job. But this is not only about Detroit. In fact, it’s about the entire nation, maybe even most parts of the Western World. Neoliberalism and it’s consequences has taken it’s toll. But Detroit’s story does not end right there. Beyond this, a part of the bigger picture I have come to learn about is the hope stirring in people’s hearts – a desire for change, an incentive to growing activism, a longing for healing. Maybe this spark needs more kindling which with time and growing support will certainly come about. The story of Detroit, as of the United States, as of humanity has always been an ongoing story!
    To be continued…

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  18. Falk Engberding

    I have heard of Detroit’s more glamorous days back then when it was the world’s capital city for automobiles. And, way more often though, I have heard about its subsequent decline after the oil crisis. But the presumed pictures of a decayed Detroit I had in my head so far were nowhere near the descriptions of actual Detroit given by Dora Apel in “Beautiful Terrible Ruins Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline”. The enormous expanse of abandoned factory sites, stores and former residential areas and futhermore the dramatic living standards (keyword “water”) many people, not only the poor but also people belonging to the middle class, have to live in are shocking and also frighteining. Frighteining because this failure is an example of mismanagement, racism and lack of social awareness and corruption by responsible authorities. Many decisions were made while only looking on dollar bills with short-sighted eyes or because of certain political goals, mainly aiming to suppress the lower class with its high proportion of afro american.
    Yet Detroit and its development can still be a chance for many other cities, states or societies in general. When taken as a subject of fundamental political and social discussions, Detroit can be used as an example. However only as an example of how not to manouver a metropolitan area, with all its facets, not only through golden, but also through troubled times.

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  19. Forosan Habibi

    While reading Dora Apel’s book I realized how deep the history behind Detroit actually is. When I heard Detroit before I had quite superficial thoughts – it is the largest city in Michigan, it is the home town of the famous rapper Eminem and a city with problematic issues. My image of Detroit expanded into a shocking image. I had absolutely no idea how bad the condition of Detroit actually is, it is quite sad that Detroit somehow stands now for “failure“. In my opinion Detroit should rather be seen as the example of how cruel and unfair higher instances, like corporations and the state, can impact the conditions of living and the general condition of a whole city, whether if it is intended or not. The burden is placed on people who you can not put the blame on. The city is labeled as irresponsible, a place of failure and a place for anxiety of decline. To me this is outrageous injustice.

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  20. Sabrina Schröder

    Before reading Dora Apel’s “Beautiful Terrible Ruins. Detroit and the Anxiety of Deline”, I did not think much about the city of Detroit. I never really knew that it was in such a bad „shape“ before joining this course either. Detroit, to me, was simply a famous city in the Northern area of the United States. I think it is very impressive and almost hard to believe that a city which once bloomed, because of its industrial success, is now in ruins. Furthermore, these ruins were not even the result of a war or an attack, but rather a „more gradual and hidden process of disinvestment, emigration, and racialized discrimination“. What is also interesting is, that there are mostly black people living in Detroit. Also the city is ruled by poverty and homelessness, only a fraction of Detroit‘s population lives in wealth. One thing that was very shocking to me, was the fact that the death of a man was not noticed in a month, because homeless people were afraid to tell the police.
    In generell, reading the first pages of Dora Aple‘s book made me see Detroit through different eyes.

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  21. Martina Grym

    Beautiful terrible ruins – already the use of these two contradictory adjectives in the title implies the idea of what Detroit is today. It was once the place where Henry Ford invented the assembly line for the mass production of automobiles, whereas now there is not a lot left from the former power house of the nation. Although there are more declining cities around, Detroit seems to be unique as it is repeatedly pictured in the national media for its “stark deterioration“. Nevertheless, writers and photographers try to take pleasure in it as they are fascinated by the urban decay – which is called “ruin lust“. This is probably a way to keep this place alive although there is no progress anymore. Trying to find beauty in decay could mean that people, especially residents, are still filled with hope and dream of a comeback of Detroit – the city that has a beautiful core.

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