The Commons Berlin

The Commons_Berlin is a performance documentary, which was presented at the Volksbühne Theater in Berlin for the Rollende Road-Schau festival June 2005. The piece consists of short documentary fragments created by the members of UnionDocs . These pieces were presented in a variety of media and were interwoven with a narrative in live performance.

The Commons describes the space where private spheres intersect – where the relationship of the one to the many, the individual to the collective, is negotiated. In The Commons_Berlin, each short documentary fragment was an answer to the question what is common? Through these brief examinations of public space, intellectual property, the language of political consensus, models of collective living, globalization, and the collective unconscious among other subjects, this inquiry attempted to paint the broadest picture of the myths and realities of what we share today.

The Commons_Berlin was conceived and directed by Christopher Allen. The script was created by Johanna Linsley and Christopher Allen. Original music was composed by Chicago-based composer Simon Fink, in collaboration with members of UnionDocs. Brooklyn-based DJ Mathhead contributed to the songs “Raum,” “So Far Away,” and “The City.” The videos “Stadt,” “Boden,” “Rohre,” “Alex,” and “Wurst” feature Berlin-based tenor Tom Allen and photographs from Stadtblind’s The Colors of Berlin. The project was a part of the Loving Berlin festival.

Special thanks to Sudhir Venkatesh (Director of the Center of Urban Research and Policy at Columbia University), Dolores Hayden (author of A Field Guide to Sprawl and professor of architecture at Yale University) Lawrence Lessig (creator of the Creative Commons movement and professor of law at Stanford University) for lending their voices to The Commons_Berlin and to everyone who contributed their thoughts in recordings at UnionDocs.

Selected Texts from The Commons_Berlin


By Paul Kiel

As the perennial “Man on the Street,” Greg Packer has been quoted or photographed at least 16 times on separate occasions by the Associated Press, 14 times by Newsday, 13 times by the New York Daily News, and 12 times by the New York Post. My own search came back with 58 separate articles quoting him, and the news outlets range widely: The NY Post, Daily News, NY Times, Newsday, AP, The Boston Globe, The Independent, The London Times, USA Today, etc.

Various different news outlets (Ann Coulter, NYT, WSJ, MSNBC, NPR’s On the Media) have done stories on his incredible ability to find his way to reporters looking for a quote. The AP even sent out a memo to its reporters urging them to avoid Packer, since he had been quoted in so many different AP “Man on the Street” pieces. Nevertheless, he continues to be quoted by unsuspecting journalists.

In these “Man on the Street” interviews, he has opined on such a diverse array of subjects as: the Jets, Giants, Mets, Yankees, Knicks, Cyclones, and St. John’s basketball team. He has been interviewed while at New Year’s in Times Square, the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, the first public viewing of Ground Zero, Hillary Clinton’s book signing (twice or three times), Bill Clinton’s book signing, Bush’s inauguration, the St. Patrick Day’s Parade, a Cardinal’s funeral, a special service after 9/11. He was also interviewed the night that the U.S. attacked Iraq.

Following is a pastiche entirely composed of quotes that Greg Packer has made in these various interviews.


I’m usually a T-shirt and shorts person. I’m proud to be an American. I grew up a sports fan.

Normally, if I see a beer, I’ll grab someone’s bottle and take a swig. I just want a simple answer. I’m not going to be controversial. The media doesn’t like me to be controversial. What I really want is to see Garth.

I’m for both teams. I’ve got to root for the Yankees. I’ll root for the Mets. The Jewish people are fans of Pope John Paul II. I’m a big fan of Hillary’s and Bill’s. I’m a Gore supporter. I’d like to tell bin Laden that they may have taken a lot of us, but there are millions more and we will get a piece of him.

9-11 was the catalyst. You feel violated looking at that, and knowing that thousands of people perished. It was rough. The thought of it angers me. Each time, it just gets harder and harder. I’m angry. I’m thoroughly disgusted. Having been in the city that day, and seeing how the streets were so empty and the sky smelling so bad, it really reminded me that we had to do whatever we had to do. I think we’re right on track. There’s been a lot of controversy about how the World Trade attack has been turned into nothing but a spectacle. This is different. This is a historic event. This is the representation of America. This is the best way ? to get ’em in person. Russia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Kenya – they’re all Arab countries America doesn’t like ? except for Russia. I was part of that chorus. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing negative. I took a nap. I can bide my time.

I’m disappointed. I wish we would’ve been celebrating now. It’s winter and nothing happens in the winter. I want to go to sleep, but the spirit is keeping me up.

On Not Documenting

By Johanna Linsley

Moments of useless magnificence – the magnificence fades with retelling. You had to be there.

Private moments. A small humiliation without the punch to be a funny or instructive story. A routine each incarnation of which blends into all the others.

Moments you forget.
Moments that cast you as someone you don’t think you are.
Moments that don’t translate.

Being a person means having thoughts and feelings and experiences and times that are not shared. That are lost. That are kept to ourselves. That are private. Secret. This is a privilege, I think, and it’s sad. It’s not something that should be mastered or contained or gotten over. Maybe it doesn’t even have to be acknowledged. Maybe it goes without saying. The functional response to these gaps is to take what fragments we can find and make something new, something we can share.

But I want to try something. I want us to share a container and keep the contents to ourselves. For the next minute sit still and don’t say anything.

Now make a promise to yourself to remember for as long as you can what you thought and felt and did in that minute. And make another promise not to ever tell anyone about it.