[…]That’s the way Wolfgang Scheppe sees it, at any rate. A 55-year-old German professor, Scheppe believes that Venice is the most dynamic city on the old continent, a city willing to take risks and to exploit itself to the hilt, a laboratory that offers the chance to study what could eventually happen in other cities. Scheppe is standing on the Bridge of Sighs, the place where, 300 years ago, convicted criminals saw daylight for the last time before being taken into the dungeons. Today the bridge is surrounded by enormous ads for Bulgari jewelry, insurance companies and Guess jeans. Tourists pose for snapshots in front of the billboards to prove that they were there, before walking into souvenir shops with signs on the door that read: “Enter only to buy.” For Scheppe, this sentence sums up the entire truth about Venice. Scheppe heads the “Migropolis” research project. For three years, his students searched for the flipside of Venice’s romantic postcard charm. Two nightmarish volumes of images are the result of their efforts. Venetians do not appear in the books, because they are no longer relevant. Scheppe says: “Venice is Europe’s most global city. The currents of worldwide migration come together here, including millions of tourists and tens of thousands of immigrants. Venice shows us the conditions under which we will live in 20 years.” A tour of the city with Scheppe as the guide offers a taste of what he describes. Russians in street cafés praise the “real Italian pasta” prepared in the kitchen by underpaid Bangladeshis. Vendors at souvenir stands quickly tear off the “Made in China” labels from their wares before luring in Chinese tour groups. Scheppe tells a tale of flows of commodities, parallel economies, exploitation and isolation, a tale of a city that was created to protect itself against invaders like the Huns and the Lombards, eventually turned itself into a global trading center and is now barricading itself against intruders again.

‘Trying to Save Venice Is Sentimental Nonsense’

Trade shapes this city. This was always the case, and today Venice abides by the laws of globalization. “Trying to save Venice is sentimental nonsense. It’s like trying to stop the course of history,” says Scheppe. “Venice can’t be saved, not with MOSE and not by citizens protesting. The future has already arrived.” That future, for Scheppe, has turned Venice into a shopping paradise. “Shopping against a romantic backdrop refines the act of purchasing,” says Scheppe, “even if the goods are fake.”