Thursday, 10 January 2013

Berlin? No thanks.

You can just imagine the article in The Guardian. Written by some badly-paid part-time hack from a grim northern English town. She's probably lived in Berlin for a year, knows (very little) German, and is keen to earn a bit of money.

So here goes - how "the ruthlessly efficient Germans" have finally accepted that order and duty is not everything. How they're finally coming to terms with their chaotic inner self. How their tormented Prussian souls have suddenly learnt to love squalor, unfinished building sites and outdoor toilets. Berlin, the former Prussian capital (geddit?) as the new Capital of Chaos, yo.

So far, so boring, and predictable.

But what of it really? It's true that Berlin attracts millions of young people from every corner of Germany, and ooh - even Europe. People who are fed up with the one single bus that links their village to the nearest small town. People from remote places where the bus shelter is the trendy place to gather. People who's idea of a fun night out is to hitch a hike to a club (club?) called "NYC" in italic typeface which is behind the corn fields in a disused chapel. People who like hanging round graveyards lighting candles whilst wearing long belted black leather coats.

Of course they love Berlin. It's such a big town isn't it? Full of vibe (pronounced Weib.) It's cool, hey? (pronounced kuhl). It's really creative. (Posting a promotional photo of a café with an ironic garden gnome in the window.)

So of course nobody minds that the place is a tip, and that nothing works. All part of that metropolitan feeling. Just like one imagines New York, or err,yeah... other big towns.

Berlin has become a mecca for international provincialdom. And just like other towns (the promotion of London at the height of the ill-fated "Cool Britannia" PR-campaign comes to mind) that are bankrupt, it tries to turn its run-downness into an asset. Which is fine, and has already worked wonders for property prices there. Just don't tell me all those broken-down trams, dysfunctional airports,and dilapidated concrete blocks is "the Germans" coming to terms with their inner turmoil.


  1. I've read a few articles written by young Brits who have fled to Germany to enjoy being a Hipster abroad for a period of time. I can't stand what they write; I find it tedious and pretentious, as if Berlin is all of Germany, which it certainly isn't.

    The British view also annoys because it tends to be both transient and metaphorical. Germany is ruthlessly efficient one moment, chaotic the next, drop in a word that conjures up a historical significance that can be linked, somehow, to the war and that's the snap shot by our savvy and intrepid reporter. It's bollocks.

    If these pretentious young things bothered to hang around and commit to the language and living here, they would see Germany in all its glory and grime. But, I expect the culture shock would get them first.

  2. Ben (British student in Germany)11 January 2013 at 04:59

    These annoying articles are characteristic of journalism which purposely ignores cultural diversity and complexities to make a tenuous but pithy comment.

    On that note, careful, Marie-Paule. Describing something as 'The British view' is equally as erroneous as attempting to use Berlin as a microcosm of modern Germany.

    I'm also fascinated by your phrase, Margit, 'ill-fated "Cool Britannia" PR-Campaign'. When you speak to young Germans, the cultural attraction to 'Britannia' and London (there is apparently no culture outside London...) is palpable. The 'PR-Campaign', if you want to describe a wave of cultural output in such crude terms, was far from 'ill-fated.'

  3. Thanks for sharing your opinions, Ben. I think you have a slightly jaded view of PR campaigns, though. They certainly can/will/should produce "a wave of cultural output" - that is their design and intention. A PR campaign can do a lot of good in all wakes of life by stimulating previously hidden talent and initiatives. (Says someone who works in PR:) - And "ill-fated" because that particular government-sponsored PR campaign ran out of money, pure and simple.

  4. I was referring to the view of Britain portrayed by the UK plc and the British media; the shop window, if you like, of which the article Margit has described is a part. It's the view that causes people to ask me why on Earth would I leave Britain? Cos, Britain is, like, so kuuuhl. The view foreigners have of the UK is as misguided as the article described and has nothing to do with what it's really like to live in Britain. What you've described, Ben, as a palpable attraction, has come about because of this composite view broadcast through various means.

    And as for being careful? No. That's what they want you to be.

  5. Hey, like Klaus Wowereit said: Berlin is poor but sexy. And part of the sexyness is that nothing works. Or part of the charm, I guess. It's a universe all to itself, and clearly out of control. And that's another reason why everybody likes it here. Hey, journalists have to write something. It's rarely accurate.


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