"Little Fires": New album by Paula Hartmann: Why love fails in the big city

“Love is dead,” sings Paula Hartmann.

"Little Fires": New album by Paula Hartmann: Why love fails in the big city

“Love is dead,” sings Paula Hartmann. The sentence hits. Existential finality. Her words are reminiscent of Nietzsche's famous sentence “God is dead”. And Hartmann seems just as disillusioned as Nietzsche; she looks at Berlin and the attitudes of young people in the capital with such disenchantment. Where love never fulfills, but always hurts.

“Little Fires” is a big city portrait with an emotional thermometer. It is Hartmann's second album, a mix of hip-hop and pop: powerfully eloquent, visually powerful and bass-heavy. Hardly released, Hartmann is already celebrating second place in the German album charts. “Little Fires” is a dark journey through Berlin nights, somewhere between Kantstrasse and Wittenbergplatz, sometime between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. Just before dawn, when the party ends - and the emptiness begins.

Their first album “Never in Love (and other bedtime stories)” was about life in the big city. And about growing up. It was released in 2022, the cover looks like a painted children's cassette: a shining beam of light, a little girl, the apron of her dress opened to the sky. Star coins rain down into her lap. It is a well-known motif from the Grimm fairy tale. As happy as the cover looks, the music sounds melancholic. It was already clear with this debut album: Hartmann dissects the tension between romance and reality.

On both albums, the setting for their songs is the metropolis, almost always the west of the capital, Berlin-Charlottenburg - Hartmann's homeland. Born in 2001, made her film debut in 2009. Hartmann works as an actress alongside school, shoots with Matthias Schweighöfer and can be seen in “Tatort” and “Traumschiff”. She moves from Berlin to Hamburg and concentrates on music. She released her first album when she was just 20 years old. One moment she breathes into the microphone, sounds vulnerable and intimate - the next moment Hartmann raps perfectly written lines like: "Feet on the seat, S-Bahn window seat / I'm a club mate awake, radiated like a radio mast."

On her first album, Hartmann sang that she had “never been in love,” but now she announces: “I’m in love. But know that it will pass.” It sounds as if she needs to calm herself down. As if her feelings were like a cold: unavoidable, but thankfully fleeting. This priced-in volatility permeates every emotion on the album; the euphoria of the party night, the shimmer of falling in love. Hartmann is always hyper-aware that night will give way to morning, that the on-off relationship will soon splinter again. Here there are feelings only with an expiration date.

It creates heaviness to always feel the end at the beginning. Hartmann wants to escape from this excess of gravity. And the hope, yes, the longing for connection still glows within her. “We are all psychos, you are just mirrors. Acting callous, but wanting love,” she attests to herself and those around her, because the need for love is not one of the cool feelings that one likes to casually reveal. “I want to celebrate, that means I feel alone,” raps Hartmann. Fight loneliness with company, numb the pain with drugs.

“Seven girls in the toilet in a bar in Westend. Miniskirt, and my friends draw chalk,” she sings on the brilliant song “7 Girls.” One is about to leave for Tinder, they say. “One ends up on the stretcher later. Nobody will visit her.” Here, too, Hartmann emphasizes the fleeting nature of the nameless encounter, with which everything seems possible, but which does not oblige anything. A superficial connection as artificial as the coke they do.

At dawn in Berlin, as the bus “wipes her up,” it becomes clear to her: all that remains is emptiness. “There is so much that means so little,” sings Hartmann. “I can’t feel anything right now.” A life between two extremes: overdose or deafness.

Hartmann is an obsessive observer; she knows how to locate every thought and feeling. This corresponds to the current ideal of the mindfulness movement: self-reflection in an endless loop. “Berlin air in your hair at half past three in the morning. “I’m not hurting anyone, I just want to play (oh, oh),” she sings at one point. But playing doesn't work. And that is perhaps also the result of dealing with feelings in an overly hyper-reflective manner: it promotes control, but costs lightness. Or as Hartmann himself recently said in a video interview: “It is not only beneficial to accessing love that you give yourself up to pain and describe it instead of repressing it. Maybe that would be better sometimes.”