Jerusalem for hipsters. San Francisco in exile. New York, when it was still cool. Berlinistan, to its Middle Eastern inhabitants. Poor but sexy, according to its former mayor. The German capital is many things to many people, the majority of reasons of which are decidedly unglamorous. For a major European city, it’s still relatively inexpensive.
That is, if you’re one of the many exiles from the Quartier Latin, Isola, or Shoreditch, to call it home. In the midst of a half-decade old property boom, getting more expensive, in central neighbourhoods by the minute, Berlin bears witness to some of the most intense debates about gentrification in Europe, if not the World.
Without a doubt, it’s warranted. For decades the city stood largely empty. Massive, imperial apartment buildings and factories, damaged from the war, left vacant by tenants fleeing west for work, and better infrastructure. It’s an ideal place for property development, microbreweries, organic grocery stores, tech startups, and the like.
But Berlin also remains home to left-wing militants, both intellectual and activist, for whom the city’s post-Cold War, neoliberal direction, is ruining the fabric of a semi-utopian, experimental community, which grew uninhibited for the better part of five decades, besting, by a long shot, the hippie communes and liberal college towns of the American West.
After all, Germans weren’t just working out creative openings in the spaces of Cold War capitalism, to make art, and plant urban gardens. They were also putting themselves back together, amidst the debris of WWII, and the genocide the country had inflicted on its minorities, and neighbors. Being a leftist, in Germany, remains heavy.
Thus, the kinds of debates about the political significance about the domestication of Berlin, as though it were wilderness being arrested by civilisation. Gentrification is not so much about a hatred of outsiders, as it has been criticised for indulging, but a sign that the freedom of the post-WWII era in the city is over, and with it, the utopian possibilities it once promised.
The following flyer translation is a perfect example of such aspirations, and why, despite how hopeless the situation in Berlin seems, some radicals still think its possible to buck the status quo.
We can be dangerous too!
The city in which we live is in a permanent state of modernisation or restructuring. It’s going to be renovated, upgraded and demolished, with expensive new buildings being thrown up.
We are expected to observe the changes around us as mere passive spectators and accept that the profitable projects of the future will not be risky, but inevitable. But we are also expected to toe the line with the consequences of these developments; whether in the form of exorbitant rents that displace more and more people from the city or more repressive structures that ensure that these developments are not endangered and their smooth progress is guaranteed. Digital surveillance, increased police presence and private security firms protect the wealth and property of a certain few, while others are kept in check by having the threat of punishment dangled above them. Politicians try to buy us with empty promises and to nip conflict in the bud. Don’t be dazzled by it!
Until we finally leave behind the role of obedient and submissive, democratic citizens, which we are expected to play, we will continue to carry the tag of passive spectators who put their life in the hands of others.
But what if we take back our lives and begin to make decisions ourselves?
When we think independently and the consequence of this reflection is direct action, then we are able to directly influence our environment, at arm’s length from the spectacle of politics.
If life in this city is impossible for many, this is not destiny but the result of capitalist equations which only have profit as their bottom line.
The people who benefit from the restructuring and upgrading of the city, and who are therefore responsible for this, is obvious. Landlords and architects, letting agencies, brokers and construction companies, city administrators and politicians, these are the people who consider our homes to be tradable goods.
Let’s make it clear what we think of them. With our own ideas
Translated from the German by Samuel Morgan. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.