By Carsten Hueck

Opens a new vision of our living space: “The city and the globe”. (Deutschlandradio / The other library)

How do we perceive the city? How does she perceive us? Will the city be missed by its inhabitants when one day they are gone? Gregor Hens explores our global urban world and finds amazing things in the process, says reviewer Carsten Hueck.

“Urbi et orbi” is the traditional formula of blessing with which the Pope grants each year to pilgrims the indulgence of their sorrows of sin. Nowadays you can also receive the blessing via the Internet or television, in which case the pilgrimage extends a few steps into the living room or the office, the city and the world purr together for a few square meters.

Protected place of concentration and reflection

Writer Gregor Hens also begins his exploration of the city and the world in an interior space. But instead of narrowing his eyesight, he enlarges it again, goes into the city and into the world.

Hens prefers to work in the reading room of the Ibero-American Institute in Berlin. For him, the library there is a protected place of concentration and reflection, “which opposes the increasing exploitation of public space” and itself represents something like a city – with streets. , markings, crossroads. The author goes through it using books, topics, footnotes and keywords and connects with other cities in the blink of an eye.

This is the guiding principle of his book: thanks to his imagination, his sensitivity and his readings, the author succeeds in creating a network whose individual threads touch and extend into the distance.

If you follow it, you can get from Berlin to Havana, Ottawa and Caracas, San Francisco and Buenos Aires in no time. Sometimes all you have to do is read a paragraph. You meet a beaming Simón Bolívar, Rem Kohlhaas and Michel Foucault, artists, photographers, passers-by. Gregor Hens takes on the role of tour guide, scholar and tour guide, but also makes many discoveries himself.

City, country and river are interdependent

Architectural or geographic conditions influence our experience and behavior. “Psychogeography” is the name of the process that explores the identity of cities. Described for the first time by Guy Debord in 1956, it assumes that streets or buildings, buildings or parks, parking lots or dead ends have their own history, which is revealed through careful and questioning observation as a sort of logic of the city.

“You have to think of the city, the countryside, the river, this old game, completely new and different, not as separate categories, but as something which plays with each other, which depends on and merges with one another”, proclaims the author.

Hens open up new perspectives on our living space

Gregor Hen’s book is an impressive undertaking, on the one hand playfully easy, sometimes dreamlike and abolishing the laws of space and time. Then again full of knowledge, attention to detail and taught. This is one of those books where you can learn something that inspires you to research yourself, that arouses curiosity.

It is richly illustrated, part essay, travelogue, autobiography and reading list. A dense fabric, into which the experience of the deserted city during the Corona period also entered. A book that opens up new perspectives on our living space and our own biography. Because it encourages you to revisit places of the past and perhaps see them from a different perspective.

Gregor Hens: “The city and the world. An exploration “
Berlin, The Other Library, 2021
306 pages, 44 euros