The City of Berlin
It’s been 7 months since we arrived in Berlin. We arrived here in autumn, we survived to the freezing winter and we are finally enjoying the spring and looking forward the summer. Little by little we are discovering and getting to know this captivating city. So it’s high time we finally write a post about Berlin in general.
We still have many questions and things to learn about the German capital though. So we got the opportunity to talk with a German friend of us, Elisa, a Geography student from the Humboldt Universität in Berlin. During our chat we discussed about how has Berlin changed since the Mauerfall (the fall of the Berlin Wall), how the city might evolve, the differences there are between other German cities… We found it so interesting and that’s why we wanted to share it with you!
We have heard that the city of Berlin is very different from the other cities of Germany? Is it true? How come is that?
Berlin is different because throughout the 20th century it has attracted counterculture more than any other city in Germany. Even in the 1920s, Berlin already had a reputation as a politically diverse and creative city. It was then (and is again since 1990) the capital of Germany, which means that many important political battles were fought here. The division of the city after World War II intensified the tension between competing political systems. One city was at the same time a showcase for both capitalism and communism. During the division, many countercultural young men came to West-Berlin because they could avoid the draft there. The high subsidies West-Berlin received during the division also made life affordable there. At the same time, East-Berlin attracted many people critical of the communist system, either working to change the system from within or waiting for permission to leave the country. After the fall of the wall, cheap housing and the opportunity to be part of a changing city that had to reinvent itself attracted many young people who wanted a life different from that of their parents.
What differs Berlin from other European cities?
Berlin is more affordable, greener, less crowded, more creative than most other European cities (in my humble opinion).
We have heard that Berlin is the new London of Europe and even some people say is the new New York. Do you agree with that? Do you think that the German language could be a barrier?
I think both London and New York City have become much too expensive to sustain any kind of countercultural activity. In Berlin it is still possible to get by on relatively little and to do things that are exciting and important, but that might not make a lot of money. On the other hand, Berlin is not anywhere near as big or as diverse as London or New York. As to the language – I think you two would be better judges than me on how much German is needed to feel at home in Berlin. From my perspective, it seems that Berlin is still very much a German city and that there are quite a few things that are hard to understand/participate in if you don’t speak German.
Berlin has changed a lot since the Mauerfall. And it seems that it still has to change more. Have you got any idea of the possible changes that might happen?
I fear that Berlin is going to become more like other major European cities – more expensive, more homogenous, with less room for creativity and diversity.
What is your opinion about so many people moving to Berlin now? Do you think this enriches the city? Or not?
The things I like about Berlin have a lot to do with diverse people being attracted to the city and moving there. In particular, Berlin depends on the influx of young, creative people. To me, Berlin is a city in flux with people constantly moving there and also moving away at about the same rate. In fact, Berlin has not actually grown very much at all in the past 20 years, even though a huge population exchange has taken place. I think it could be a problem if the population suddenly started to grow a lot or if a disproportionate amount of rich people moved there. Both of these things could contribute to rents going up and life becoming less affordable – so far, however, I don’t necessarily see that happen. Fortunately, Germany still has Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and even Hamburg for all the rich people to enjoy safe, homogenous city life to their heart’s content. Hopefully, they’ll just stay there and leave Berlin alone.
Berlin is a young city with cheap prices for young people. But if the city keeps changing and the prices keeps rising, are you afraid of this affordable life might finish?
Yes, this is definitely a possibility. Housing speculation has already dramatically increased over the past few years. As I said before, Berlin is somewhat of an anomaly among large European cities – and anomalies have a tendency not to last very long before investors see their opportunity and move in to kill off all the creativity and diversity that has flourished in this unique environment.
People say that there’s a big difference between winter-Berlin and summer-Berlin. What’s your take on that?
Of course there is. Winters in Berlin are long, grey, wet, dreary. Berlin is incredibly ugly and inhospitable during the winter and it always feels like the winter is never going to end. Berlin during the summer is a completely different matter – warm, long days, people everywhere – in parks, bars, streets, outdoor movie theaters, concerts, at the many lakes…
Text by Sílvia Cabra and pictures by Silvia Conde.