Is Berlin Losing The Battle With The Tourists?
A couple of years ago I struck up a conversation with a middle aged traveler visiting Berlin from the Netherlands for the first time. I asked him what he thought of the city, he replied that "Berlin is like Amsterdam 20 years ago, it’s all for the tourists now." My answer was yes, this might happen here too, but this city was far too big to be hit as hard as a small city like Amsterdam by the slowly bubbling tourist trade.
Jumping forward two years and I am walking through Schlesischesstraße on a Friday night. Every step is jammed with pissed up 20-somethings from every part of Europe and beyond. "Man this is like one of those resort towns in Mediterranean" a friend shouts beside me over the din of a woman in her late teens yelling "Oh my god, the beer is so cheap!" We duck into a bar and order one. When it finally comes the price is 3.60€ with an eye for a tip. There is no tip.
Just before the end of last year Blu painted over his iconic East side-West side mural. I didn’t for a moment think that this was unjustified and smiled every time I went by the newly blank wall on the U1. But it was not until that night that I truly appreciated what had been done. What was now beneath it that night was not the city I had come to know and love; not even a parody of that! Getting home, all I could ask myself was what if this shows up on my street or bar next?
It can be said that Berlin has long been discovered by the cheap flight masses and the flash changes that inevitably comes with it are likely impossible to stop. New York, Paris, London have all dealt with it, either over generations or within decades. The results is that they have for the most part not been good and it doesn’t take a pissed up tourist to figure out that this city is next on that list.
Still, Berlin by its many quirks of history, has still maintained a character of its own despite the touring masses. Take someone from 100 years ago and put them here today, I am sure they will still recognize that feeling which drifts under the skin while walking the streets, if not much else. A city changes even if it did reach its zenith in our heads when we were most enjoying it.
As one kiez’s era falls, another tends to rise; it is up to use to make of it what we can.
So enjoy what is here now and don’t look backwards.
Francis T. Spurling