From Germany

Der Spiegel: Santiago transforms into “new cosmopolitan star”

The leading German daily lauds Chile’s art scene and marvels at the progress of the South American capital in the last 30 years.

Thursday, May 05, 2011  
The New York Times ranked the city the top destination to visit in 2011. The New York Times ranked the city the top destination to visit in 2011.

By Daniel Sander
Published in Der Spiegel, April 14 2011


Santiago de Chile has reinvented itself since the dictatorship, from the most boring South American capital city to a pulsing cultural center. Today, it scores points with galleries, festivals, and top chefs. Take a journey to the new cosmopolitan star.


Someone visiting to Santiago 10 or 12 years ago would have felt a certain urge: leave as soon as possible. Pollution, bad food, quiet people behind closed doors, and nothing else.


Tourists rarely used to venture beyond Santiago airport before heading off to other exciting destinations like the Chilean coast, Patagonia and the Andes. Business people stayed in their hotels. Residents of other major South American cities like Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Lima asked with pity how a city of 6 million could be so boring.


Visiting Santiago today, you are more likely to wonder what to do first - the Chilean capital feels alive with energy. People linger in Barrio Bellavista, enjoying a coffee in the sunshine or a beer in the evening. Young couples lie kissing in the grass of Parque Forestal or on the slopes of the city’s hills such as Santa Lucia and San Cristobal.


In the uptown area of Vitacura, the top chefs are outdoing themselves with spectacular creations in order to satisfy the increase in appetite for gourmet cuisine.


Designer hotels are sprouting up next to the hostel chains. A few left-over colonial buildings sit comfortably in between skyscrapers. In the business district, builders are putting the first windows into the Gran Torre Costanera, soon to be the tallest building in Latin America.


On April 2 and 3, ten of thousands of fans attended the Lollapalooza festival, the first time the music festival left the States in its 20 year history. World names like Kanye West, Fatboy Slim, The Killers, and Jane’s Addiction headlined the Santiago event.


All this has left a lasting impression: The New York Times ranked the city the top destination to visit in 2011. Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Lima have reason to be envious.


Desire for arts and culture


“It’s impressive how much Santiago has changed,” says Reinhard Maiworm, who has led the Goethe Institute - an institute promoting German culture - with his wife for the last five years. “When we arrived the culture of using outside space barely existed. Hardly any cafés put tables outside. But today, people sit outside everywhere, which just puts you in a good mood.”


When the couple arrived in Santiago after living in New York and Berlin, it took them a while to adjust to their new home. “When we arrived, our daughter cried and I almost did too,” said Judith Maiworm, who is expecting to be transferred to Havana, Cuba in July, while her husband will be leaving for Mexico City. “Today I am sad that we are leaving Santiago soon. The people have a desire for arts and culture that you rarely see elsewhere.”


This desire becomes evident in the steadily increasing number of galleries and museums. Alongside classic attractions like the Chilean national gallery Bellas Artes, new attractions are also luring in the masses. The Museo de la Memoria opened in January 2010, and commemorates the victims of human rights abuses during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990. Private museum Museo de la Moda has been housing a gigantic and increasing collection of clothes since 2007, and fills a six story building with exhibits and showrooms.


Santiago is now discovering its identity


Nowhere else in Santiago has art found such a comfortable home as within the first six months of the newly opened Centro Gabriela Mistral (GAM), accommodated in a history-rich building: between 1973 and 1982, it served as Pinochet’s main office, and after a 2006 fire it was restored in detail. It now houses a large audiovisual library, a new concert, and theater hall, as well as large amounts of exhibition space where, for example, the fall of Allende and the rise of Pinochet is documented.


“The city is just awakening, but it is because of its history” says Center Director, Alejandra Wood. “The military dictatorship -- which caused thousands of deaths and missing people -- was never really addressed, in comparison with the Argentinean dictatorship for example. There was a transition to democracy, but never a distinct step. Many artists that used to be persecuted have only slowly moved into the public eye and begun taking risks. The people are slowly getting used to how important culture is; Santiago is now discovering its identity.”


A collection of artists from many different fields is contributing to this cultural awakening, such as the rock band Lucybell, one of the most successful bands in Chile. “We are in a valley, surrounded by huge mountains , which means you can feel somewhat isolated ” said Lucybell bassist Eduardo Caces. “I think today, artists here have a new self-confidence, maybe even the people in general, so they say, ‘Why not make it especially nice on this isolated island?’”


Der Spiegel: Risen From Sadness, April 14, 2011. By Daniel Sander.