The Blog

25 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Who Are the Real Berliners?

Step foot in Berlin in 2013, and what's the first thing you see? A red army invasion? More like an invasion of red skinny jeans and cloth tote bags. Kreuzberg under American occupation? More like infested with American shaggy-haired guitarists.

Step foot in Berlin in 2013, and what's the first thing you see? A red army invasion? More like an invasion of red skinny jeans and cloth tote bags. Kreuzberg under American occupation? More like infested with American shaggy-haired guitarists. A war to expand a colonial empire? More like a raging war on gentrification. Chained by communism? Shackled by globalisation!

Next year marks the 25-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's no mystery that times are a-changin' in the German capital. Back in 1989, east and west Berliners flocked to the wall chanting "Die Mauer muss weg!" for it to be torn down, and in 2013, 6000 people protested against part of the protected Berlin Wall being demolished. If that's not a 180-degree paradox, I don't know what is. When the wall came down, people hoped the "Us Versus Them" mentality would be demolished with it and Berliners could finally skip off into the sunset singing Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." Creating a bipolar city, the reunification generated a different divide, no longer between east and west, but rather between rich and poor, tourist/expat and nostalgic Berliner, German taxpayer and asylum seeker, ultimately cultivating a whole new anti-foreigner sentiment.

Let's face it, this is a city where you can now buy a "Welcome to Berlin - Now Go Home" lighter for just €1.49!

© Miguel Martirena:

Anti-Hipster Has Become the New Hipster in Berlin

"New Berlin depends on the foundations of the old Berliners. Students and artists come here for the cheap rent, and that cultural avant-garde destroys itself because they drive up prices." (Matt Shea, VICE)

Berlin today presents a catch 22 conundrum. On the one hand, it's a huge magnet for affluent tourists and international creatives, generating over 10 billion euros from tourism each year, making it the city's biggest industry. "This is money the 'poor, but sexy' city can't afford to miss out on" (Jonathan Gifford, Deutsche Welle). On the other hand, Berlin has become so tourist-ridden this past decade that rent prices have soared more than 32 percent since 2007 forcing old Berliners out and causing the city to lose its authenticity and original soul.

Simply put, nostalgic locals want their old Berlin back. In the suburbs of Neukölln and Kreuzberg, dozens of supposedly hunky-dory cafés selling soy lattes, Club Mate and avocado bagels have been attacked with bricks, bottles, eggs and spray paint over the last few months. "F*ck off tourists", "F*cking artists" or "Go home!" is scrawled on front doors in capital letters, and on a wall next to a broken window, there's graffiti that reads "Now the tourists will just have to freeze." (Matthieu Amaré & Danielle Farell, Cafe Babel) Two weeks before the 6000 people protest to stop the demolition of the Berlin Wall to build luxury apartments, 500 people gathered to protest the eviction of a family who couldn't afford their rising rent, leaving 15 cars burned and ten police injured.

Anti-hipster warriors are becoming more active by the day and the backlash is getting more serious and visibly violent.

© Hipster Antifa Neukölln:

Why the Hipster Bashing?

Hipsters make an easy target for prejudice, said online hipster boutique The Hipstery founder Adam Fletcher in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "The 'hipster' is a very interesting subgroup because no one will admit to being one; there is no 'patient zero' for the hipster," he said. "Since no one knows what one is, yet paradoxically everyone knows that they're bad, the hipster morphs to fit whatever prejudice one might have. So while it's not acceptable to be prejudiced against foreigners, it is okay to be prejudiced against hipsters." He explained that people need these kind of scapegoats onto which they can project their own problems, but it's dangerous when it spreads into the mainstream.

Online review giant Yelp even launched "hipster maps" this year featuring hipster-infested areas as flaming orange splotches - "the kind of markings you would imagine the World Health Organization uses to indicate Ebola outbreaks." (Iris Benaroia, The Global Mail)

© Hipster Antifa Neukölln:

Ich Bin Ein Hipster!

Anti-hipsterbia has become so widespread these days that it's even prompted "pro-hipster" advocacy groups like Hipster Antifa Neukölln, founded in 2010 by social worker Jannek Korsky and four others, to combat the "growing wave of foreigner bashing" and "anti-tourist abuse". (Oliver Stallwood, The Guardian)

Jannek said in an interview with The Guardian that people started declaring "we can't stand any more of these people," meaning tourists, hipsters or "long-time tourists," making no distinction between them. "Many of the aggressors are not from Berlin, they just got here first," said Jannek, who also told of a Berliner who attacked a "tourist" on the underground, and they both turned out to be from the city.

American author Tom Wolfe once said "One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years." This is not the case in Berlin, as it takes much longer to be accepted as a real "Berliner", begging the question - who really belongs to Berlin? Is it first-come, first-served? In that case, do you have to be born here? Or moved here from Munich or Stuttgart during the true "golden age" of the 90s? Or migrated here from Turkey in the 80s? Or is it actually less about cultural heritage and exact arrival date, and more about who contributes the most to the city today? If it's the latter, I place my bets on the so-called "hipsters" who throw their open minds, diverse backgrounds and fresh ideas into the melting pot and let it simmer.

According to Jannek, local punks from Kreuzberg, who once built their ideologies around a hatred of Nazis and right-wing thinking, are redirecting this same energy to blame tourists for driving them out of the neighbourhoods they love. "Sometimes, they can be dangerous. These people claim to be left-wing but commit violent acts which are potentially racist," he said.

Berlin = Fifty Shades of Grey

Just as the sky is almost always grey in Berlin, attitudes and ideologies are never black and white. Although extreme left-wing Berliners might appear disgruntled at times and bare their utmost intolerance and unwelcoming side to the tourists they consider mollycoddled "rich kids", when encountering people in a more vulnerable situation than themselves, they can be relentlessly compassionate.

In August 2013, when word got out that 200 asylum seekers from war-torn Afghanistan, Syria and Serbia were moving into a newly opened shelter in Berlin's former GDR district Marzahn-Hellersdorf, 30 right-wing anti-immigrant extremists (at the command of the National Democratic Party of Germany) protested the facility, one even being detained for making a Hitler salute. The debacle was eerily reminiscent of the anti-refugee violence outbreak that occurred in Rostock in 1993. Thankfully, 600 leftist demonstrators turned up in Marzahn-Hellersdorf to counteract the prejudice.

Ich Bin Ein Berliner!

"Berlin is a city that is open to the world, and that's why we must allow no space for xenophobia," said Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit. Even German writer Jean Paul said "Berlin is rather a part of the world than a city."

Because of its unique and devastating WW2 history, Berlin is not stereotypically beautiful like the classic metropolises of Paris, Rome or New York that are dazzling on the surface. Its "unintentional beauty" lies underneath - beyond the out-of-this-world apocalyptic wreckages, abandoned radar stations, derelict amusement parks and open-air forest raves - and within the colourful underbelly of the city dwellers themselves: the nine-to-fivers in business suits drinking beer on the U-Bahn, anarchist punks hosting Volksküche in their squats, the born and bred Berliners who are probably more open-minded and compassionate than anyone claiming to be a "real Berliner", and the expat musicians singing "For once, I was myself" on Oberbaumbrücke, which wasn't even crossable 25 years ago.

I can understand people's resentment and frustration about gentrification and their desire to defend themselves against the Big Bad Wolf of capitalism, but "a culture of blaming foreigners is deeply misguided and should be resisted. Policies are to blame, not foreigners". (Jannek Korsky, Hipster Antifa Neukölln) At the end of the day, foreigners shouldn't be the scapegoats for the Berlin economy. Blame an investor, blame a politician, blame the entire supply and demand system before you blame a 24-year-old expat from Australia. Or, how about instead of playing the blame game at all, let's be proactive and brainstorm possible solutions, like "making laws to cap rents to help the poor" (Jannek Korsky, Hipster Antifa Neukölln), instead of throwing eggs, spraying "F*ck off tourists" on walls, and tearing up our welcome mats to asylum seekers desperately seeking refuge. Berliners should come together the way they did when they chanted for freedom back in '89. (Cue David Hasselhoff's "Looking for Freedom" song here - go!)

I think JFK summed it up perfectly in 1963 when he said, "Ich bin ein Berliner". Ultimately, who is a Berlin citizen? It's you, it's me, it's the globetrotter from Munich, the IT consultant from Thessaloniki, the graphic artist from El Salvador, or the chef from Manchester. Everyone is a Berliner if they want to be, because that's essentially what makes Berlin "Berlin" - a place where you have the right to be where you want to be and ultimately, who you want to be. Berlin will continue to morph like play-doh over the decades, with more and more cranes painting the city skyline, different music booming from different cafes which will serve different cuisines to people speaking different languages - and it will be a more interesting kaleidoscope of a city because of it.

Like Hipster Antifa Neukölln says, "Everyone is welcome. Party like it's 1945!"