The band ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful’ struck a nerve in 1966. With the summer hit of the same title as this editorial, it made it into the charts all over the world. Singer John Sebastian tells there of the hot, unbearable summer days in the city, marked by dirt and sweat. However, the night is when life begins. You put on your glad rags and go to a disco, find a stranger to dance with and fall in love, at least for a few hours. The narrative is about dispelling everyday stress, a little pleasure in a hectic life.
If we think of luxury, we often envisage big names, houses that are too big for their occupants, a life of excess. At the same time, luxury can also mean making your life easier through conscious decisions. A bunch of flowers on the table, an ice cream in the midday sun or reaching for a more expensive product because you feel better with it: this is how everyday luxury can look. Your own perception certainly plays the most important role here; only those who live consciously can experience luxury.
The fact that this comfort faces rejection is rooted deeply in European intellectual history. Even Plato identified a healthy society only as one that lives strictly according to its minimum needs, whilst Thomas Hobbes actually believed that human desire for luxury inevitably leads to violence and anarchy. For puritanical and ascetic Protestantism, according to Max Weber, prosperity is ethical only if it is the result of hard work and used frugally. However, a life of excess also has the very real result of social inequality. Those who flaunt their wealth exercise power over others.
We must therefore rethink luxury: not as waste, not as an instrument to express our own superiority, but rather as self-care, as a way of forging an identity. Finding out what is good, for yourself and others, and enjoying these things and moments – that is where luxury can begin. Luxury is not only if I can spend money but also if I take the time to spend a hot day by the lake with a friend and we can soothe each other’s souls. The opposite of excess is not sacrifice but rather the search for a better solution – such as planes that make the atmosphere cleaner rather than polluting it. Luxury means making good things even better.
In 1973, Quincy Jones released a cover version of ‘Summer in the City’, which also became a hit. Low strings mix with rustling percussion and playful keys. The lightness seems almost oppressive, like rising heat, before the vocals begin only in the final section, almost like an escape from the choked atmosphere of the piece. The slow-down offered by the piece is exactly what we need in the heat of the frenetic city.
In Berlin’s Bergmannkiez, we take our time. Yannick and I amble through narrow streets and courtyards. When we see the waterfall in the Viktoriapark, we breathe deeply. You can find rest here. Later we have lunch, whilst lorry drivers demonstrate 50 metres away with a convoy and horns, whilst hundreds of people rush up and down the street around us. Nonetheless, we are able to enjoy the moment. This is no ostentatious holiday, just a lovely morning of good conversation and plenty of laughter, offering emotional relief.
This summer feels different. Because of the global pandemic, many of our plans have been shattered, holidays this year are taking place not on Mediterranean islands but on the balcony or nearest campsite. Anyone who is working day in day out despite this year’s disasters must pay particular attention to taking time out. The city holds almost endless possibilities and the surrounding area offers even more space and tranquillity. Getting away from a busy schedule to take these opportunities is the first step towards everyday luxury. You will then find it where you can consciously enjoy the little and the bigger things.
Yannick is wearing our new sneaker Ash in Off White Nubuck
Text and photo by Till Wilhelm