Interpretation of an object found

On the basis of the elaboration of objects of many thousands of years ago and of their historical context, archaeologists are able to reconstruct the function and use of such objects, as well as the way of life and mentality of the societies that used them. How will they interpret these never-before-seen objects, which were placed all over Berlin only two days ago?

1. In the society of Berlin of that era, when everyone was heading to some social event, especially after dusk, certain members of the middle class would go about on the streets and on public transportation with open bottles of beer in their hands. We know that in other societies of the period, this habit was considered uncivilized, but who are we to judge the customs of societies of many thousands of years ago?

2. When the bottle was empty, they would throw it out. The Berlin society of the age was, relatively speaking, rather clean and orderly compared to the European norms of the age, and therefore they would preferably throw the empty bottles into the street dustbins, which were generally arranged on the streets in sufficient density, with the exceptions of the immigrant neighborhood of Moabit, where the local norms were still in an incomplete state of acquisition, the yuppie neighborhood of Kreuzberg, where there was the conscious practice of neglecting these norms as a form of group identification, and the neo-nazi neighborhood of Köpenick, where internalized frustration directed at immigrants and yuppies elicited the response of symbolically breaking the bottles on the ground next to the dustbins. However, on the whole, these represented a small minority within the population of street beer-drinkers in Berlin.

3. A non-negligible segment of Berlin society of that era consisted of a sub-group of rubbish-hunters, for whom the beer bottles and beer cans, which were redeemable for ten cents in currency, were an important source of revenue. We deliberately do not use the terms “class” or “stratum”, because according to their origin, qualifications, livelihood and ideology, they could have been divided among many groups, which included a range identifications, from chronic alcoholics to destitute pensioners who would strenuously try to keep up their bourgeois image, and who, on their early-morning bike ride for good health, would stop at each bus stop, clean off the discarded beer can with leaves from a nearby rosebush, and, having carefully packed it away, would continue on their way (as observed this very morning).

“Many people are afflicted by poverty in our neighborhood. Many of them manage to conceal their situation, others withdraw and become invisible.”

4. Among the middle-class street beer drinkers of Berlin, bottle collecting as a source of livelihood was widely known. Therefore, to make the work of the collectors easier and more hygienic, by way of an implied convention, they would place the empty bottles next to or under the dustbins. Indeed, the principle of solidarity was a premium value of the Berlin society of the age. However, this practice thereby neglected the important “garbage into the dustbin” principle, on which a sustainable public state of cleanliness in the city of Berlin was based.

5. The Berlin magistrate, which considered its task not to discipline the citizens, but rather to satisfy their emerging needs, solved this incipient conflict by affixing next to the dustbins intended for non-recyclable garbage and on the same columns, a kind of bottle-holder expressly invented to serve this function, resembling canted stair treads with openings at a propitious angle to receive the unwanted beer containers. As for their aesthetics, they were somewhat undeveloped, but their function neatly fit the demands of the citizenry who sought to express their solidarity with the needy on the one hand, and those who aspire to create their livelihood by reducing street litter, on the other.

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