Diary of an Expat, Part 50
Tourists, Tacheles, and the end of some eras.
Berlin is the third most popular city in Europe to visit, after London and Paris.

This isn't something that Berliners are happy about. There's a lot of anti-tourist (and anti-foreigner) graffiti about, and you catch people getting looks, or being shouted at. No violence — yet. Or at least, no endemic violence; I certainly know individual people who have been on the wrong side of an "auslander raus!" fit of pique.

It falls into a pattern of general behavior, to be honest, is not new to me. I've mentioned before that there is a category of people in Berlin who regard the city as the sole property of their own, and dislike what they feel is the commercial, gaudy side of it, whilst subsisting on what the city offers them entirely because of the taxes and money it's able to suck out of the expatriate class.

For these people, Berlin is a city of tenements. It's about squats and street art and making a little bit of scratch (or not) completely off the grid. I guess that's fair enough; the city certainly has its punk contingent. The problem, I think, comes in deciding that this is all that Berlin really is, or that "real" Berlin is the gritty parts of Wedding or Friedrichshain, as opposed to Prenzlauerberg or Schoneberg or Mitte or wherever.

I guess I've just never really understood people so wedded to the concept of "rawness" that the "real" part of any city is the part where you feel most likely to get stabbed. San Francisco was full of them, and I gather that New York is, and I'm sure any major city with its strong devotees.

The reason for it, I imagine, is that to get to a city's true nature you want to find the bits less likely to be overrun with chain restaurants and stores, on the grounds that chain restaurants and stores are what make all places feel the same. And this is a fair assessment — I knew someone once whose memory of San Francisco seemed to be dominated by Starbucks, and that is a little sad.

On the other hand, there are comparatively few areas of Berlin that are so commercially homogeneous. There are chain stores down at Friedrichstrasse or over by Hackescher Markt, down the street from me — international chains like Muji, say — but even in the most glitz-and-glamour parts of the city it only takes turning off one street to be back in something that is uniquely Berlin.

I suppose the fear is that everyone "discovering" Berlin will flood it without respect for its quirkiness or its culture. Perhaps that's fair, although to be honest it generally does seem to come down to possessiveness rather than genuine concern. More tourists in Berlin means more traffic, to be sure, but it probably doesn't mean that the street art culture goes away...

I say "probably," because it's undeniable that Berlin is changing, even in the time that I've been here. I think that it's trying to clean itself up a bit — the famous space at Tacheles, home to a bunch of unauthorized artists hanging out in an abandoned building — has finally been closed, for example. Tacheles will in all likelihood be bulldozed and replaced with condominiums, and that's sad. Berlin is worse off for that exchange.

In fairness it's also probably complicated by the kind of tourists that Berlin draws. Berlin does not draw the best kind of tourists — it has a reputation for hedonism, and being cheap, which is not particularly undeserved, which means that Berliner tourists are mostly 19 year olds throwing up on the street in front of my apartment.

Still, I don't know. I'm a little sensitive to this, as an expatriate. My German is not great, and I certainly couldn't pass for a native speaker. So I know that when I speak to people here, they are making some kind of sacrifice in order to carry on that conversation. On the other hand, I pay a lot of money in taxes, and I spend nearly all of what remains in Berlin, in local establishments, so people bitching that the influx of emigrants is destroying the fabric of the city can fuck right off, too.

Mostly, it leads me to wonder what Berlin will look like in five or ten years. Will it still have the crazy little shops, or will gentrification have priced the Polaroid store out from next to me? Will so much of the city still seem overgrown and wild, or will they have found developers to put up swanky new apartments in those vacant lots? Will every Sunday still be overrun with flea markets, or will a desire for order finally get around to shutting those unlicensed bastards down (or at least, finding ones who are more friendly to the tourist crowd).

I didn't move to Berlin for Berlin, but I like Berlin on its own merits, and I have to admit I'm not thrilled by every change I've seen. But I guess that's part of it — and I'm sure everyone believes the city they live in was better "back when." C'est la vie, I suppose.
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