Opinion: Is Berlin Losing The Battle With Racism?
When I first moved to Berlin I ended up living in a rather particular location – a flat right above a Chinese Imbiss on Warschauer Straße. My house was right on that common pilgrimage between the terminus of the U1 and the East Side gallery, an all-time tourist favourite. Coming from London, I didn't mind the noise so much, the view onto the U1 flying past our windows was nice and most times I actually quite liked feeling the buzz of the area. Of course, most of the passing folk were tourists who had little understanding that some people – even on Warschauer Straße – had to get up in the morning. I felt like a prude when one night I leaned out the window and shouted at some Brits to “pleeeeease, fuck off” and to set off their fireworks in front of someone else's window. Yet, I knew I couldn't really complain. I was new to the city myself and often enough had also been a tourist (even though I can't remember there being many fireworks at my hand).
Quickly I noticed, however, that not everybody in Berlin shared this rather relaxed attitude towards visitors. In fact, it seems to be a common sport among Berliners to complain about the crowds of tourists driving up prices, jamming everyone's favourite club/bar/street and in general being obnoxious. Depending on whether the person you talk to has been to the city all their life, ten, five or two years, you often hear various degrees of remembering the “good old times when there were fewer tourists here.” For a good few years now, stickers claiming “Berlin Doesn’t Love You” can be seen everywhere and there are discussion groups “against hipsters” all over the show. A couple of times I even saw a T-Shirt with the friendly greeting: “Welcome to Berlin, now go home!” Charming.
I was often asked how I could possibly live in a tourist hotspot like Warschauer. Some of my friends were confused when I replied that I found the question just a little racist. Indeed, I keep on asking myself who people think they are to judge tourists for coming to the city we all love and enjoy. Yes, tourism changes a city. But so does migration. Berlin became what it is today (or what it was 5 or 10 years ago), because it is an open city, a place for those who want to innovate and create something new. And now some of the people that came here ten years ago complain about those that come to visit? I will never understand this attitude and I can't help but being annoyed by it.
We are all tourists. I seriously doubt that anyone of those who want to keep Berlin clear of the travelers coming to experience the vibe of the city never travels themselves. Do they think that the beach towns in Spain, the yoga retreats in India and the other capitals of the world did not change because of their visits? How can they now complain about those who come and change their beloved home town? And even the people who were born and raised in Berlin can hardly claim to never have set foot in another place, and yet some of them judge those who dare taking a cheap flight to one of Berlin's unfortunate airports (a story for another time, me’thinks).
Unfortunately, the answer to “how can they possibly think that?” seems to be the same in this case as it is in other situations in which racist attitudes prevail. People are afraid of change and of the other. Berlin is their home and they don't want it to become like Amsterdam, Paris, London, Barcelona or any other city in which you can feel the impact of tourism. Many things in Berlin are changing; tourists are an easy target to blame for those changes. But it’s not their fault. Each one of them is just intrigued by the city, just as you were when you first came here. Give them a chance to discover Berlin. Hating tourists is easy, but it is also dangerous. In the end it only means hating yet another group of visitors to our city, which is supposed to be a place open for everyone and not just for those cool enough, or local enough, to pass muster with the self-appointed Berliner-judges.
In the end we have to face it – blaming specific groups of people, most of them foreigners, has never been a good idea, and it’s high time we address this attitude for what it is: nascent racism.
Niklas Kossow is a Cologne native who has been flirting with life in Berlin for over three years. If he’s not fighting corruption or writing a PhD, he’s likely to be found hanging around in a hammock by the Kreuzberg canal. Having had many love affairs with other cities in the world he glad to be back in Berlin. He tweets @niklaskossow