“In Berlin, You Never Have To Stop”

Thoughts on an New York Times article about living as an expat in Berlin.
26 Nov ’12 by Sara Berlin Community, Other

The New York Times have recently published an article about Berlin describing the experiences of a temporary expat in the city. As always, whenever Berlin gains international attention, Berliners feel somewhat flattered. It’s nice that New Yorkers might think our city is interesting enough to publish words on it. But the article in question does not only reflect the uniqueness of Berlin. It’s more or less a critical analysis from the perspective of someone who moved to Berlin with high expectations, and who realized that he might not find what he was looking for in the first place.

Still, it seemed that everyone we met was creative-minded and drawn to Berlin for the same reasons we were: to pursue their art. Except that very few of them seemed to have any coming exhibitions or book launches or gigs. “I spent a lot of time talking about the arts over beer or coffee, or at 4 a.m. over a mirror,” Pat ruminated recently, “but I didn’t see a whole lot actually being created.” I found it difficult to disagree with him.

There are important things about this article which I really appreciate. The perspective of the author shows us that Berlin has been reproduced as a hub for art, creativity and laissez-faire. Although I’m sure these perceptions are true, they’re not necessarily right. What the author failed to mention is that Berlin might have the perfect infrastructure for (almost) every kind of life a person would like to live, but that most of it’s shell is a shallow myth.

It’s not the exceptional creativity that is currently drawing people from all over the world to Germanys capital. It’s marketing, be it word of mouth and subconsciously, or the economical/political agenda of the citys government. Berlin is a huge party, a great platform, cheap and exciting – go tell that your friends and don’t mention the downsides. They will all come and join you in the fun. Escapism from the the rest of the world to Berlin might work for a couple of weeks, months or years even. But as the author said: at some point you’ll want to grow up and get back into “real” life. That’s sad, because it leaves a bitter aftertaste for everyone. Those who held on to twisted dreams about a city finally depart with a bitter taste in their mouth – and leave nothing behind but destruction for those who have to stay.

There are people here who live here, period. They can’t just up and leave once they’ve decided they aren’t comfortable with the people, the language or the job situation. Not everybody is partying 24/7. Not everybody can afford to lose control for a while of their financial situation or of their family responsibilities. Ballin’ is cool and all – but those who come temporarily often underestimate the footprint they leave.

Berlin is not Neverland, not Alices Wonderland, not Hedonist Paradise. It’s a city like any other. If people keep sticking to their ridiculous expectations, they’ll end up disappointed. I hope that our readers can appreciate the wonderful things about the city and don’t leave resentful because they’d been mistaken about a myth.

Eight comments

  1. i know lots of artists type people that come here expecting to be discovered and they forget to work and show what they can do and they get stuck. berlin is what you make of it.

  2. Sorry Guys, you are part of the Gentrification…where do you live? Neukölln? See…why are the rents going up there? Because People like you live there.

    Dont get me wrong, i see Gentrification as a part of the Process, as sad as it is..it happens all over the World.

    What i dont like that you complain about it and in the same time being part of it.

    Also you say that you are pointing out beautifull things, wich are in Danger…so why you point them out? Because you want traffic on your Blog…if you really want to protect those things then be honest to yourself and dont promote them…the people who want to find those places will find them anyways, the other can go to Oranienburgerstrasse and get wasted…

  3. Felipe’s right, it’s what you make of it.

    Berlin sure has a long tradition in escapism, as does any larger city. Yet, it can be more than that if you are ready for it.

    When I read that NYT article I though: Who told these kids art was something alongside spring break? Bukowski loving high school teachers?
    I mean, how could anyone assume artistry is a matter of place? A place who’s language I am not in command of? I am impressed with the exuberant hopes that international youngsters seem to link to Berlin – the place to be, as the official facebook page promises.

    While marketing promises are one thing, Berlin’s economic failure is legendary, and any resident will tell you: I prefer Berlin for its cultural options, but career and income moves are made elsewhere: Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, London or Beijing. While this may not be equally true for the arts, I still feel aspiring artists could know if they read more than just pitchfork articles or fashion blogs.

    All this said, I would like to point out that I believe my city greatly profits from the international impact we’re experiencing today, and I highly welcome anyone who’s here to start something, create, invent or simply live a life. In my mind the whole discussion is not so much about xenophobia, as some argue, but about mutual basic respect.

    My clear advice to anyone planning to achieve more than temporary pleasures in Berlin, the place to be: Learn German. Anybody who wants to make it in NY or London is expected to speak decent English, and I am not even talking about Paris.

  4. David: Thanks for your answer. I want to reply to you specifically because you raised an expected point about FindingBerlin and our role here, and I want to clarify some things.

    I am not complaining about gentrification. While I don’t think the issues at hand are positive for everyone, I understand gentrification to be a complex process that will take place in an economic city, whether we like it or not. It is up to us to ask our representing politicians to make the process as smoothly as possible by whatever means, but I don’t think promoting the beauty of the city is the cause of the harm. I think promoting it for *the wrong reasons* and in a damaging way can be harmful, yes. Reproducing the techno hype? Selling the laissez-faire drug lifestyle and the cheapness by the citys marketing chiefs?

    Because as we are witnessing: people who come to Berlin are expecting something out of the ordinary. While it might be different in contrast to their respective homes, those visitors will have to face reality after a while. This is not just an individual thing, this is not something that one person alone can take responsibility for. I do understand that you want to keep certain secrets because they will not work if they’re overcrowded or infiltrated by people who don’t “understand”. But that’s the whole point I’m trying to make: MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS CITY IS ABOUT. Because neither I nor you will have the power to actually make them stop coming without suffering ourselves. Berlin is not only a major city, it is THE MAJOR CITY of Europes most powerful country at the time of writing this. Even if Berlin wasn’t super cool and culturally loaded, people would STILL COME, albeit they’d probably not find what they were looking for because jobs are NOT just lying around here. So instead of telling the tourists to get the fuck out, why don’t we teach them how to appreciate the city for what it is – not for what it ISNT.

  5. Hey Sara, thanks for your answer…it explained your point of view and i totaly agree with you…i´m just not sure that people coming to berlin see it the same way…

    but there are so many things to see & go, so i for myself just dont go anymore to places wich are overcrowded.

    Keep on with your work, i love your blog and read it daily!

  6. that was pretty amazing :) Just moved to Berlin from San Diego and I have to say this website kicks ass!! Thanks for all the hard work and great writing!

  7. they just needed more mcdonalds and starbucks.