From the beginning of the article:
Berlin and Moscow are two cities that have undergone profound changes in their urban and social structures during the past ten to fifteen years. Representing both East and West, global processes are converging on these cities and shaping their specific profiles. The shopping mall and the shisha (the Arabic pipe with water and charcoal) – two relatively new trends in these cities – are themselves emblems of East and West, the Orient and the Occident. The form in which they appear – or rather how they are being used – in these places is a representation of the local manifestation of the global.
The understanding of urban culture used in this context emanates not only from the anthropological concept of cultural practices (culture in the sense of cultural and everyday practices) but also from “the cultures of cities”, as promulgated by Sharon Zukin (1993, 1995), denoting special urban forms of culture linked with architecture and buildings as well as ideas of “cosmopolitanism” (Hannerz 1993; Vertovec 2000) that refer to the cultural capital that a city’s visitors and immigrants bring. The city is the space in which culture(s) develop very quickly and have great impact. This is especially true for societies in transition, where major cities can be considered to be “laboratories” of the new political, economic and social orders.
In contemporary cities, consumer cultures are as central and effective as they are transitory. “The post-industrial city is the location where globalization is distilled into its local froms in the most intensive and wide-reaching way” (Clammer 2003:100). Global and local meanings are appropriated via consumer products and (re)produced in urban space. In the main it is products with ethnic connotations that symbolise the interdependence of the local and the global (e.g. in the shape of the knowledge that consumer cultures require and produce) and the attributes of a world city. In Berlin, consumer products with an ethnic reference, such as the Döner Kebab, form part of the everyday life of the city. In Moscow, such products have increasingly started to appear in the last few years. While in Berlin it is the “Turkish” cultural products – which on close inspection are actually Berlin products – that dominate, in Moscow it is the products from the Caucasus and Central Asia that dominate the street scene, reflecting the culture of the variety of the former Soviet republics. Recently Asian – and especially Japanese – food has become very prominent in the urban picture. Sushi is offered in the most unlikely places, thus indicating an infatuation with Far Eastern culture/food and its adoption into local food practices.
Nowadays, consumption cultures contribute to both the uniqueness as well as the uniformity of large cities (see King 1995). This is particularly manifest in shopping malls that highlight the tension between public and private space, global uniformity and local practices of appropriation. At the same time, urban spaces are being turned into emblems of globalised consumable cultures. In this (everyday) context, culture with ethnic connotations (e.g. in the form of restaurants, markets, music scenes etc.) promises a variety of different cultural commodities and experiences (Welz 1996). “Ethnic culture” needs to be incorporated into profitable contexts in the shape of consumable resources/products if it is to contribute to the city’s image.