It's me, your old buddy Berlin! You may remember me from such important historical moments as "American president calls himself a donut", "here come the Russians" and "black man outruns white men to the annoyance of other white men". Yeah, that's right, Berlin! Brandenburg's noisy neighbour...
How are you? What have you been up to lately? Doing a lot of those fun human things? Arguing with your neighbours? Being cruelly overlooked for promotions by your idiot of a boss? Making selfies? I bet you have. You little cute, mobile, fun bag.
I'm sorry I've not been in touch lately. It's mostly because I've been very busy not caring about you at all, because I'm an arbitrary grouping of buildings, parks, and lakes, combined together in a manner that allows for simpler transport, sharing of resources and government supervision.
I felt compelled to write you now though, in response to all the many, many words you've been writing about me in recent years. If I had ears, they'd almost always be red. So many words, so much discourse. It's enough to make an eight hundred year old municipalities head spin! So much passion and frustration, anger and euphoria. I'm the best city! I'm the worst city! I used to be the best city but now I'm busy selling out everything that used to be important to me in the pursuit of small pieces of paper that can be exchanged for spa weekends and sports cars. Berlin, you're getting so expensive. Berlin you used to be cooler. Berlin, you're mostly now just full of Americans selling baked goods...
While I appreciate all the attention, let’s get a few things straight. I'm neither the solution, nor the problem. I can neither save you, nor set you free. I'm not an ace up people younger than thirties collective sleeve. I'm a collection of postleitzahls. Everything else that you like about me, is really just you, collectively. The magic of Berlin is just you, the people of Berlin.
Same for the "your Berlin is not my Berlin" nonsense. Well, of course it's not. That's the whole point. That's the reason you all packed up your shit, left your Kackdorfs and moved to me in the first place. Because here is the space and the freedom to find and create exactly the life that is meaningful to you. Cities give you the space, the options, and that anonymity to do that.
Meaning from your jobs, meaning from your homes, from your relationships, from friends, lovers, family, from those tiny little mini halfling dogs you all seem to like so much and let shit all over my wide streets. Where you choose to live your daily search for your daily meaning is up to you. No-one should be able to decide it for you. Tell you your choice is wrong. That you're too late. That you're making other people who already live there's search for meaning more expensive and that really everyone would just prefer it if you'd go somewhere else and search for meaning there, how about Russia? Russia is supposed to be lovely this time of year.
Whether you call heimat a beach bar in Cuba. A monastery in Laos. A favela in Brazil, or an alt-bau in Spandau. Each to their own. People want to live in me for the same reason you wanted to live in me. They are no less worthy because they are later to my no jobs, comparatively cheap rent themed party. Yes, even if they are Swabians.
When there are more things than people who want those things, those things go up in price until just one person wants them, or until someone makes more of those things available, when prices fall again. Sadly, you can't reason with the free market. You can't ask it to please be a little more rational and think about the little man, in his abject lowly poverty. He was there first, after all.
No, you can only regulate it, or pull up a chair and watch.
So let's all call a spade a spade, or at a minimum, let's agree not to call that spade gentrification. Words like that obfuscate the real problem, they stop you channeling your frustration at the people who could alleviate it. If there is not enough housing, or the housing is too expensive it's a failing of my government, elected by you, to represent you. Make them build more. Or stop privatizing what they have, so that richer people than you can speculate with it. Or both. Yes, do both.
Loves, hugs and techno kisses.
B (Deine Hauptstadt)
I recently entered this in a short story contest over at Iheartberlin and my entry was one of ten winners. It's entitled "an open letter from the city of Berlin". I had a strict word count, so their version is much shorter, I prefer this one.
Images: Tree - Credit: Karen Mardahl, Fuck Mediaspree - Credit: Barockschloss. Bicycle - Credit: Adrian Perez, More to this life - Credit: Leo Gonzales, Schwaben Raus - Credit: Dr.Schwob, Gentrification - Credit: Thausj