Aktualisiert: 1. Juni
@ the LAST MINUTE Festival in Rosenheim, July 31st, 2021
(see also @ www.metropa.eu/blog/categories/events)
What is METROPA?
At this point, I would first like to go into the history of its origins. I designed METROPA about 11 years ago, and it was born out of a sudden idea; it simply appealed to me. It has been conceived on a trip to Hungary together with a friend who bought a small farmhouse there in the hinterland. On the drive, we talked about all sorts of things, and among those, he told me about the Japanese Shinkansen trains that interconnect the metropolitan regions in great reliability already for decades. And we agreed that it would be great if something like this existed in Europe too – in ALL of Europe.
That is basically the idea of METROPA.
When I got home, I sat down at the table with a map of Europe and intuitively drew the first sketches (see left). Basically, there are two circular lines and a few tangents and cross lines that connect the large and a few smaller cities. Its first core idea was: it is an abstract graphic network and not a physical map on which some lines have been drawn true to scale. Hence, it was a deliberate creative act, with the same degree of abstraction that characterizes a subway system. My intention simply was to make a long story short, to turn something complex into something easy.
By the time, the number of lines increased, including a few absurd ones, e.g. the L8-extension over Bergen to Reykjavik. Of course, I deleted it again, but some of the others stayed, for example the sea crossings from Stockholm to Helsinki or the Gibraltar Strait crossing. Cities showed up and disappeared, as I went deeper and deeper into the geography and territoriality of the continent. And when I thought the whole thing was done, I just noticed that I had completely ignored the boundaries inside and outside! THAT is the second core idea of METROPA.
When the big European crises came – the debt crisis in 2012 and then, in 2015, the so-called refugee crisis – I realized the time had come to put METROPA on paper and distribute it. I just had the feeling that, as a conceptual framework, it could perhaps contribute something to the current discussions. So around 2013 I started to hand out a poster to everyone who came to my studio as guest. The smaller postcards I always had with me, ready to spread them as giveaways. I brought posters to the shop around the corner to say thanks for a favor. And so they kept on hanging there: on refrigerators, in flat share toilets, behind sales counters and also as an idea in people's heads. And shortly after, I took them to the first real shops on commission, too, including the long-established travel bookstore Freytag & Berndt. Today this is the publisher for the posters.
And so the time went on. I sold maybe 2 pieces per year and per store, kept tinkering with the plan, once in a while wrote to a journalist, but nothing else happened. But around summer 2018, I ran into the writer Robert Menasse – the author f the renowned Brussels book „the capital“. I gave him a postcard and he said: ‚Oh, I like that’, and, as for a receipt, he gave me his business card. A short-lived acquaintance developed from that during which he promised me to send a batch of postcards to his new friends in Brussels. And though he didn't do it then, the whole pile fortunately ended up at the desk of his campaign partner at the time, Ulrike Guérot, an extremely active and well-connected researcher for European affairs. And from that hotspot, the idea headed directly into the Internet, social media, Twitter, Facebook, etc., without my knowledge or assistance. That was summer 2019, so only two years ago!
In the autumn of the same year I put the METROPA website online, which my friend (the one with the house in Hungary) put together for me. He promised to do so in case METROPA continued to develop. And for some reason, I thought this time had come.
But still I had no clue what was happening with METROPA on the Internet. Reddit, by the way, was the most significant platform: there were extensive discussions about the map, led by thousands of real people, many of them hoping (or fearing) that it could become a reality at some point. Some of the numerous suggestions later directly entered my revisions, for example Bologna as a major northern Italian transport hub. Routes, technologies and cities were discussed. The fiercest dispute was about the L1 in the Middle East. Many simply found it unheard of to ignore the political realities in such a way. But that's exactly what it's about: today you break a habit of thinking, and tomorrow the whole boundary.
And no matter what opinion the people had – the Reddit people, Menasse, Guérot, the flat share residents: they all understood intuitively what METROPA is about: This future super high-speed rail network interconnects the regions and metropolises and overcomes the separating borders. And, as a side effect, it makes European air traffic and large parts of individual motorized traffic unnecessary. It is about a sustainable Europe without borders, inside and outside. A modern Europe as the pride of its inhabitants, no matter where they come from. A place of power, of diversity and innovation.
They understood that.
In March 2020, right before the first lockdown, at a time when refugees were shot at on the Greek-Turkish border, the preliminary breakthrough followed with a full-page article in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, followed by articles and interviews in other newspapers. What made me particularly happy was the METROPA-Centerfold in the Italian children's newspaper Internazionale KIDS. It aimed exactly at those who might build this network one day and for whom the poster could be an inspiration for the future.
An engineer from the Munich sent me a rough estimate of the costs, based on Transrapid technology and an approximate total route length of 46,000 km: 2.3 trillion Euros. That is a number with 13 digits, but compared to many supplementary US budgets, it almost looks manageable. And as a matter of fact: who might guess what all roads and airports have cost and still are at running costs?
While the world slipped into an unprecedented pandemic, traveling was fairly impossible and the broad necked heads of government were just doing their own political thing behind the borders closed, METROPA became, for a growing number of people, a guiding light of a new Europe.
So much for the story. After that, of course, many more things happened: I sent postcards to the MEP in Brussels, though without response. I opened the METROPA social media channels; I gave the Austrian Transport Minister and Arnold Schwarzenegger a T-shirt, and so on.
Much more important to me, however, is to think and talk about the impulses that can be derived from METROPA, and it’s these ideas that would like to talk about here today.
Since last year I have been working more or less intensively on METROPA, also due to the constant flow of news and the ongoing interest in it. On that journey, I got deeper and deeper in adjacent matters, such as: innovative transport, protection of the environment, sustainability, European integration and identification, youth education, etc. But still, I have to consider them from my point of view as an artist. Because, as I said: METROPA is not a representation of reality, it is above all a work of art, an idea, a utopia, and even just one of many. But if you think it through consequently, METROPA can advance into areas very different from its origin and where it can give strong impulses.
I therefore demand
• The communization of traffic (and other areas)
METROPA looks like a subway map - as if saying: „Europe is a city!“ And subways are public transport. And the more you think about future traffic, the more you become aware that the solution can only be: even more public transport. And I would like to extend the demand: in order to make the world a better place, we have to shift from the private to the public, to the common. On the field of traffic that means: No more own cars, but a widely accepted, omnipresent public transport, not even electric cars. (Personally, in this context I think switching to E instead of petrol or diesel is a big mistake and an unnecessary step. E-cars need just as much space as nowadays cars – space that actually belongs to everyone and that we could assign to much better use. Also the power supplies for this amount E-cars could not be provided without unclean energy. I tend to see e-taxis (at some point even driverless) that belong to everyone and circulate freely and constantly and that you can to order by call or online)
Back to communization: it is a kind of modernized socialism: it is about the fair redistribution of property and resources. More togetherness, less private. From here it is not far to the unconditional basic income ... but now to the next one.
I further demand:
• Mobility is a human right
- and it must not be denied to anyone, no matter where he / she / it comes from. The best possible conditions must be made available to people, i.e. they must be able to travel ecologically, sustainably and fairly. No more stupid cheap mass tourism, no more Ryanair, but fast, comfortable, safe, sustainable travel. Whenever and wherever you want to go.
But this basic right must also apply to those who do not travel for pleasure. This human right can also be the basis and a completely new approach for migration policy. Man is not a tree; he should be able to choose where to go, for whatever reason.
Next one, which I am very proud of:
• Holistic or ecological empathy
In short words: the harm to the world is our pain. This was not only a motto most of tribal life of our ancestry, it should become again the guiding principle of a new way of dealing with the terms progress and prosperity. It is an aptitude of transcendence, a kind of empathy beyond one's own kind, beyond one's own life form. Let me give you a simple, understandable example: You make your way to work by car, because taking the train or bike or no matter what would take you longer or it simply is too tedious. Instead, ecological empathy means: in order to protect the other part of myself, that is the environment, I accept this longer journey time. In a lager scale, that means: Am I flying to Florence or do I take the train? If I choose the latter, it is a good decision that I made consciously for myself, for my environment, and I will never regret it. I practice renunciation and no longer just define myself as just myself, but I transcend myself into my immediate and farer surroundings.
I urge you to establish the connection between yourself and the world. Between yourself, your actions and the world. The world is you, and any harm to is hurting you. The corona pandemic has taught us that we can actually change our behavior. Let us practice renunciation for the greater good and think in that bigger context. The more people choose this way by, for example, waiving a car, the pressure on decision-makers significantly grows. And the intervals of the buses, trains etc. will become shorter. That is change from below.
Now I come to a point that I and those like me are always accused of in this context: „You don’t have a clue, you’re just an artist. Have you ever built a train? Run a company?“ – No, and I don't have to either. I put ideas into the world and you can do what you want with them. You can take it up and think further.
I therefore ask for more
• Art in complex public decision-making processes
Because in its world, art can do everything. I can draw a line and whoop, two cities are connected – in my world. This world may not always be congruent with the real one, but the view of art can be a tremendous inspiration when it comes to „picturing“, imagining and creating the future. And I also call for our children to be more involved in this. May we sometimes be afraid of the future, but they have a completely different relation to it: our future is their present. That is the other side of Karl Valentin's famous saying: "Today is the good old days of tomorrow." Art can be very helpful in illustrating and conveying the future. It not only prepares the minds but also the hearts for it.
And finally, I demand:
• Europe's particular responsibility
Our position in rating the state of the world is a very comfortable, even paradisiacal one. We don't lack anything, we have everything: infrastructure, good food, jobs, prospects, etc. From that, I derive the particular responsibility and duty of Europe to do the big part of solving the world's problems. We and our children must set a good example for this. Because here in Europe we have the best conditions to master the challenges. In order to make this idea come true, however, we need the concept of the European Republic. I consider this to be necessary; we should finally put it into practice. No more small-state fiddling around. Great times need great approaches.
Yesterday I was still on very shaky feet with these theses. I asked myself: should I really say that? Put it like that? Isn't that naive? But then I read an interview with famous sociologist Naomi Klein. It strengthened my back because I realized that I was not alone with my demands, it basically said the same things as I do. The challenges are known, we could solve them. And there’s a relation between anything – climate, migration, Europe, mobility, socialization. And all they need a joint approach. METROPA is only part of the solution, but it can help. The way people react to it shows me that it has great potential.
Thank you for your attention!