Your “office for good living and freedom from ads” has made it its mission to free the city from all outdoor advertising. How would this improve public life?
Removing all outdoor advertising would help to re-democratize public space. After all, who does this city belong to? Right now, the cityscape is governed and defined by those who pay for what we see every day and thus determine the appearance of our streets. This is far from democratic. Instead, we could transition to a participative city design, return Berlin to its residents and ask them what they would like to see. Maybe nothing at all? Or local art. Not to forget that advertising invariably triggers additional consumption – a worrying trend in view of our world’s finite resources; we only have one planet, but our current consumption assumes that we have three at our disposal.

photo: Amt für Werbefreiheit und gutes Leben
photo: Amt für Werbefreiheit und gutes Leben

Abolishment of outdoor advertising would deprive Berlin of a key source of income.
That is true. But do the ends justify the means? Have we really gotten to the point where we could not envisage our own lives – or the city coffers – without commercial outdoor advertising anymore? Not to forget that those immediately affected, i.e. the people in the districts, do not benefit from these earnings at all. They all go straight to the city government.

Is there a difference between good and bad advertising?
We do not consider ourselves advertising police or pretend to decide what is good or bad. Generally speaking, we have a problem with all advertising as it relies on the same basic mechanism: Those who pay get to decide.

What kind of reactions are you receiving?
Surprisingly positive ones. We are in intense discussions with politicians and recently asked the local council about the amount of advertising in public space – and what happens to the resulting earnings. Many – and entirely different – population segments reject outdoor advertising, from parents with kids and critics of consumption and capitalism to “normal” people fed up with getting manipulated. There is huge interest in our cause.

Berlin Advertisement Opening
photo: Amt für Werbefreiheit und gutes Leben

What about criticism of your initiative?
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” is something we frequently get to hear. And something I find hard to understand. We are not about advertising as a means or end in itself, but we live in a society defined by a paradigm of ever more, ever faster, ever further – although most of us already have more than enough. Advertising suggests that I am inferior, as are my possessions, but never mentions the social or environmental impacts involved.

Hasn’t advertising become an integral part of the cityscape? Wouldn’t metropolises be boring and grey without it?
I often ask myself whether people have lost their imagination. What kind of society are we living in if we need commercial outdoor advertising to consider our city pleasant and livable? No advertising does not have to equal no color. On the contrary – you could paint houses or simply add more green with new trees and plants. In 2007, Sao Paulo completely banned all advertising from the city. And its residents continue to love the results.

Berlin Sao Paulo ad
“Sao Paulo, Berlin, the whole world”, photo: Amt für Werbefreiheit und gutes Leben
“Sao Paulo, Berlin, the whole world”, photo: Amt für Werbefreiheit und gutes Leben

Are you in touch with those who made it happen in Sao Paulo?
Not yet. The campaign was started by the city’s mayor with broad support from the populace. Naturally, we would love to get in touch to exchange tips and views.

It is your stated goal to abolish all outdoor advertising in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg until 2014. How do you plan to proceed?
Right now, we are trying to spread our idea through the district council assembly via members of the represented political parties. At the same time, we have started a resident request. If more than 1,000 residents of the district over the age of 16 sign our petition, the district council assembly automatically has to vote on it. And we are planning a citizens’ assembly in June. After all, we are not only about banning outdoor advertising, but also about living a good life. Together with local people and initiatives we want to come up with visions and ideas for improving our quality of life. This involves aspects like more community and more time as well as stepping back from the constant drive for optimization.

All photos by Amt für Werbefreiheit und gutes Leben