Poor but sexy. So they say.
I had the opportunity to visit Berlin for five days. It was not my first visit but the last time I was there, I was too young to truly understand this city, its people and its society. One thing that was really striking: Berlin is poor. Not just a little, but very poor. I work in Bremen every day. Bremen, like Berlin, is a city state. It has the highest debt- to inhabitant ratio in the nation. But somehow, Berlin manages to appear much poorer then Bremen. How did I get this Impression?
Prices are really low in Berlin. Especially food prices. You can have Pizza for dinner with a soft drink in a good Italian restaurant (not cheap looking at all, great food quality) for just above 12 EUR. That’s the price for two people on pizza Monday, where every pizza is just 2,70 EUR! I have no Idea how they pull this off. The only explanation I have is that the entire restaurant staff must be volunteering and is not getting payed at all.
I had similar experiences when buying everyday goods in a supermarket. Although the differences there are not as staggering, they are still noticeable. For instance: I was able to get a shampoo about 30% cheaper than at home.
In any major city, you do encounter poverty in form of homeless people. While this is unfortunately not uncommon at all, Berlin did stand out here once again. I did not keep accurate count but I did have the impression that there were quite a lot of people in need. More than in other major cities here in Germany. And certainly more than in Bremen.
This one is really mind-boggling. Imagine, you are in a very poor district (namely Kreuzberg). Most buildings are run down. Not ruins but you can clearly tell that many of them had seen better days. You are with a tour guide who is telling you this: People are fighting back gentrification by setting cars of wealthy people on fire in order to make the area unattractive for developers and keep rents stable (low).
You would expect that there must be some solution to this problem – Maybe the goverment will step in and provide some affordable housing? Well – this is one of the solutions:
What you can see there is called a “Car loft”. The right part of the building with the glass panels is an elevator for cars. You drive your car in there and it will take you up to your apartment where you can park your car right in front of it. You can see this to the left of the building. One of these flats is a mere 1 Million Euros – easily affordable by everybody. Isn’t it? If it is not, at least no one will be able to set your car on fire that easily.
You can clearly see that there is a lot of conflict going on. The industry of Berlin is nearly completely dissolved. Jobs are now in the media and IT business. There are many startups there, young and talented people are working there and many of them are well payed, driving the indigenous population out of their former homes by rising rents and property costs.
But still, there is hope. The city is a petri dish for citizen participation. Take Görlitzer Park for example. A former railway yard developed into a beautiful park with the participation of the community. Everybody had a say in what the park should become. Yes, it has its diffeculties too but I think it is a really beautiful park and a great way to threat citizens.
Berlin is a diverse city. There are many areas that are buzzing with life and people of all trades. Those are the poorer areas of town but they certainly are more alive than these sterile, already gentrified places. I do hope that Berlin will find a way to become wealthier, without loosing its own identity.
You can find some additional pictures I took here.