Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How Hipsters Ruined Berlin

From The Baffler:
Sacking Berlin 
How hipsters, expats, yummies, and smartphones ruined a city

It’s easy to talk about lost Golden Ages in Berlin. Everyone has their own romanticized era: louche Weimar Berlin before the Nazis, Iggy and Bowie’s seventies Berlin before the Wall fell, or maybe the squatter’s Berlin of the good old nineties. So when people start complaining that something has changed in the city, it’s tempting to dismiss it as insider one-upmanship, the old game of “I was here when.” And yet something has felt different in recent years.

Berlin has always hosted poverty better than other European capitals, but this time around, Berlin has embraced an economic model that makes poverty pay. The idea is to cash in on Berlin’s cachet by branding it as a “Creative City”—but it is also, to judge by what has happened, to gut public services, to sell off public housing, and to strategize about new ways of turning taste into profit. This new Berlin is a city where imaginative expression supports, directly or indirectly, a grand scheme for making a small number of people rich. One of these days, some lucky Berliners and expats will finally attract venture capital from London, Palo Alto, and Boston. But the others—the scenic poor and the clever unemployeds who make the city so attractive—will find it ever more difficult to make ends meet.

There is nothing novel about this story. Berlin’s dream is the same fantasy that is embraced by out-of-the-way metro areas all across the United States. But the stakes in Berlin are higher than in most places. For one thing, when our story begins, Berlin was broker than almost any other Western European city, living on the life support of government transfers. In 2005, unemployment peaked at a Depressionesque 19 percent, and the city’s debt had doubled. In the mid-aughts, Berlin was not bailing out Athens. Berlin was Athens.

It was here, in this economically stagnant metropolis, that mayor Klaus Wowereit, affectionately known as “Wowi,” stood at City Hall and laid out a ten-year plan for the city. He began by denouncing striking transit workers for “attempting to cripple public life,” but went on to dream big for the city he called “poor but sexy.” He imagined a future when a hipper working class would thrive unburdened by unions: “I imagine one thousand women and men of all ages gathering for a World Congress of Creatives. The designers who live here will deliver their ideas to the world’s biggest corporations,” and “Berlin will be the mecca for the creative class.” A theme song for the city’s new ten-million-euro marketing campaign was available for download: an eight-second ringtone designed by a techno DJ with a vaguely Turkish trill and an echoing call to “be Berlin, be Berlin, be Berlin.” ...MORE
We touched on the Weimar and Bowie eras in February's "Sir Mick Jagger: David Bowie is 'kind of weird' (how 'bout Bowie as a Weimar Gigolo?)".
...As for me, the whole Isherwood, Caberet thing has about as much appeal as this pic of one of the demi-monde, "Koks Emil" der Kokain-Verkäufer (the cocaine seller), a nasty looking piece of work: