Lisbon is the rising star of Europe. Many have been comparing the Portuguese capital to Berlin of the late 90s: housing is still affordable, and due to a weak economy, there is a lot of space for a vibrant creative scene. Throw into the mix a charming Mediterranean culture and the wonderful climate, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Other than that, Berlin and Lisbon don’t seem to have much in common.
For many (young) artists, space and affordability – despite the lack of a solid economic infrastructure – can be all the difference, especially as traveling within the EU has become so easy. Of course, this is coming from the perspective of someone who has all the social, financial and cultural mobility to traverse state borders without thinking twice about it. At the same time, Lisbon is struggling – “arm aber sexy” – with illegal immigration, tax evasion and a high rate of unemployment. It’s not as great when you can’t escape these conditions.
I was thinking about these things on my last visit because many Berliners I’ve known have made the transition to Lisbon over the past years. Some of them stayed for a summer or a season. Writers, producers, bookers, and other members of the creative industries (those lucky enough to work from anywhere) have used the relatively cheap European city as a new hub for their businesses, and it shows: start-ups, hip restaurants and cool expats mix into the hilly and narrow streets of the old Lisbon. Residents among yuppies among British pub crawls in Barrio Alto… many times, I’ve felt catapulted right onto Simon Dach Straße.
Except… if you can ignore these parts, Lisbon is magical. Life happens in quite different modes than in Berlin. The city is so small, which makes it easily accessible. People are very, very laid back. The explosion of colors (in the tiles, in the food, in the sky and in the sea) is nothing like the sterile grey of Berlins horizons. I find yet again that there is indeed a sweet spot when it comes to urban life, a golden triangle of exactly the right size, exactly the right time and exactly the right people. For now, Lisbon hits all the marks.