The Detroit-Berlin Connection: A Model D speaker series event

So just who are these Happy Locals from Berlin and what motivates them to travel across the ocean to share ideas of creative entrepreneurship with Detroiters?

The lead organizer says he can explain better what the group is not, to start.

"We are not interested in being 'conquistadors' from Europe coming here telling people what to do." says Dimitri Hegemann, a Berlin businessman with a history of success in the German underground music industry that can be traced back to the 1970s. "We want to have a conversation, a forum for economic growth based on the lessons we learned in Berlin."

Hegemann's Tresor Club at Kraftwork

The group is behind the Detroit-Berlin Connection, a one-day conference to be held May 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). Eight community, business and media leaders from Berlin will give 8-10 minute presentations. A Detroit panel will react to the presentations, there will be a Q&A and a chance for the audience to mingle with the guests afterward. Food will be available for purchase at the Topsoil Cafe and the museum cash bar will be open. A mystery DJ will spin classics (this is Detroit, and the guests are from Berlin, right?) that should fit the program to a T (for techno, natch, though the music will be varied and cross genre lines, we're told).

The Happy Locals is a collective made up of Berlin-based organizations helping to make alternative projects happen. They are enablers, in the best sense of the word, and collaborators working on behalf of the common social and cultural good. They want to share their experience -- successes and failures -- with Detroiters, with whom Berliners have long held a creative relationship. None stronger than the bond between the techno communities in each city.

"After the fall of the Wall, in the early 1990s, it was Detroit techno that was the common language of Berlin unification," Hegemann says. "It was the coolest music on the planet. We created parties and businesses that made the parties work, which drew more people to Berlin, creating an exciting environment to live, to work, and invest."

Over the past 25 years, Berlin has reinvented itself as arguably the subcultural arts capital of Europe -- maybe the world. There are a multitude of separate and distinct art, design, music, fashion, and food scenes. Creative people from around the globe have migrated to the city, lured by affordability, opportunity, and community. Ex-pats from Detroit and Windsor, many of them top-tier techno producers and DJs, have been making Berlin a second home since the 1990s.

The group has a serious Detroit champion in Hegemann, who started a record label and a club -- both called Tresor -- inspired by Detroit's underground electronic music currents of the late-1980s and early-1990s.

"We met Jeff Mills, Mike Banks, and Rob Hood (of Underground Resistance), and put out their (X-101) record as the first Tresor release in 1991," he says. "We have kept the friendship all these years and believe UR to be the iconic Detroit techno brand, something we can continue to build upon."  

More recently, Hegemann and Tresor have moved into a former East German power station, which now houses a dance club, venues for concerts (the Berlin Philharmonic has performed there), and fashion shows, with plans for food, bars, coffee shops, and learning centers. Check out this mind-blowing video of the reconditioned space, called Kraftwerk Berlin:

"We are thinking beyond just the party now," Hegemann says. "There are bigger plans for Berlin, for other cities in Europe, and ideas we think can also work for Detroit."

Who's coming

The Berlin presenters include Mario Husten of Holzmarkt, a cooperative, sustainable urban development project combining nature, economy, and culture -- creating new spaces for creativity. It generates a field of tension between modern architecture and a Holzmarkt (timber market) in the true sense of the word.

Katja Lucker is representing Das Musicboard, a national institution in Germany that aims to support pop music in an innovative way. Working closely with Berlin-based music companies, Das Musicboard encourages collaborative projects and awards scholarships to support the further internationalization of Berlin’s pop cultural scene.

Katja Lucker

Detroit-area ex-pat Jennifer Dautermann returns home to talk about WOMEX, the C3 Festival and Classical:NEXT. Womex is an international world music support and development project based in Berlin, integrating a trade fair, showcases, conferences, a film market, networking sessions, and awards; the C3 Festival presents new music that falls into the grey zone between contemporary classical and electronic music; and Classical:NEXT is the annual meeting of classical and art music professionals from all sectors.

Lutz Leichsenring will talk about the Clubcommission Berlin, an association of clubs, party promoters, and organizers of cultural events in Berlin. As an incorporated society founded in 2000, the association supports its membership in advanced business training, public relations, networking, and contracting matters. The group is a mouthpiece for Berlin's club scene by supporting the interests of its members.

Andreas Gebhard represents newthinking/republika, a conference in Europe that deals with web 2.0, especially blogs, social media, and information networks. It annually takes place in Berlin. During three days, talks and workshops about various topics are held, ranging from media, and culture, to politics, technology, and entertainment.

Also presenting are Max Dax from Electronic Beats, a Berlin-based music publication; Sven von Theulen of online music and technology pub Das Filter (formerly De:Bug); and Hegemann himself, who will talk about Tresor and the converted power station facility.

Cornelius Harris

The Detroit panel is made up of Martina Guzman of WDET 101.9 FM. Guzman will present an overview of the project via her award-winning series, "The Detroit-Berlin Connection," broadcast on National Public Radio in 2011; Cornelius Harris of Underground Resistance is also on the panel, as are Dominic Arellano of Forward Arts Detroit, Francis Grunow of the New Solutions Group/Global Detroit, and Tresor recording artist and Detroit native Mike Huckaby. The panel is moderated by Walter Wasacz (full disclosure: also the author of this piece, one and the same).

The Detroit-Berlin Connection event is May 23, 4-9 p.m. at MOCAD, 4454 Woodward Ave. in Detroit's Midtown. To register for the conference go here

This story first appeared in

The Detroit-Berlin Connection is sponsored locally by MOCAD, Model D, Movement, Ponyride, and WDET. International sponsors include Electronic Beats, newthinking, Holzmarket, Womex, C3, Classical:Next, Das Musicboard, Berlin Music Commission, and Tresor/Kraftwerk Berlin.

Walter Wasacz is a Hamtramck-based freelance writer, editor, and consultant, as well as Model D's resident electronic music expert.
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Read more articles by Walter Wasacz.

Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.