In June 2010 I participated in a soundwalk conducted by Kathrin Wildner, an urban ethnographer reknown for her research in Mexico City and Istanbul. In Berlin, we were taking a walk at Oderstraße along the line of the fence which encloses the former Tempelhof airport. We asked ourselves if the fence may act as a sonic border and what – in general – a border sounds like.
In the meantime, the airport had been opened to the public which slightly shifted the focus of our inquiry towards the massive change of the soundscape in this area. Surprisingly, the Tempelhof Field today makes up an area of quietness in the middle of Berlin.
Compared to the former setting – when the airport was among the most intense noise sources in this area – the soundscape seems somehow inverted now.
I made a kind of a diagram with the average sound pressure levels as columns to express this change in the noise levels. Once the noise was spreading into the environment, with the airport at its center, now the noise is coming from outside, it is flowing onto the field. In terms of loudness the airport field changed from a peak into a crater.
We concluded that solid borders are different from sonic borders. Sound usually transgresses or overrides borders, walls and fences. However, there are various acoustic spaces in a city which may even be separated by some kind of borders, i.e. they act as borders only insofar as they are linked to the social life taking place in a certain region (see also Atkinson 2007). Sonic borders may not be tangible, but they are borders in its social effects.
Wildner, Kathrin; Schlüter, Fritz: Talk about the walk. Soundwalk at the Tempelhof Field. Published in: Bader, Markus; Baurhenn, Oliver; Szreder, Kuba; Voinea, Raluca; Koch, Katharina (eds.) (2011): The KNOT. An Experiment on Collaborative Art in Public Urban Space. Berlin: Jovis Verlag, p. 158–160. ISBN 978-3-86859-115-6
Atkinson, Rowland (2007): Ecology of sound. The sonic order of urban space. In: Urban Studies 44 (10), p. 1905–1917.