photo: Dominik Pascal
While right-wing populism is spreading over Europe like a virus, we have to ask ourselves, is Berlin still the liberal and international safe haven we thought it is? Do we keep on doing what we’re doing or is this our wake up call?
Berlin doesn’t have a nationality. My next-door neighbor is originally from Slovenia. The flower shop in my house is owned by a lovely Korean lady. My Späti is run by a quirky mid-forties guy who was born in Romania and I buy my favorite Döner from Muhammad who grew up at Kotti but still visits the rest of his family in the East of Turkey twice a year. Every time I jump on the U1, I hear five different languages, but that never made me assume they were spoken by foreigners. These people live here. Nationality: Berlin(!?)
While knowing that I live in Germany, that’s what I always liked to tell myself…
Is iHeartBerlin political?
As a Berlin-centric lifestyle and culture publication, we mostly leave the political work to our colleagues in classic journalism. That’s not the content you followed us for, right? But when people with foreign heritage are being assaulted, attacked and chased in a city just three hours from Berlin, it’s about time to speak up! In the Berlin we heart, there’s no room for xenophobia.
The rise of right-wing populism, not only in Germany but also in the rest of Europe, is the cultural headache of the 2010’s. As a kid born in the post-cold war era I grew up in what now seems like a short momentum in fluffy pink. Already in 2001, George Friedman wrote in the Stratfor Worldview: “The post-cold war era has ended”. I grew up thinking we’re united, at least in Europe, but, according to Friedman, the EU missed the reality of what kind of individual sacrifices being united actually implies, …
History repeating itself
So far, so complex, but we all know what followed. Brexit, the Greek economy and the refugee crisis are just the first buzzwords that come to mind. It felt like suddenly everyone just got so damn frustrated. In these times, the people yelling the loudest (and dullest) political slogans are always heard the most. “Are we even united? And why should we even be?” Berlin might claim to be that vegan-loving, modern-hippie, left-wing, rave capital but the rise of the ultra-conservative German AfD did not just pass by. The AfD reached 34% in parts of Hellersdorf and 37% in northern parts of Pankow in the last election – more than a third. It’s hard to believe that this party hiding behind pseudo-liberal morals and a ‘savior of the small people-mask’ is not even six years old.
In their election programme, the AfD labels the women’s quota as a “too expensive social experiment” and supports a “classic German family model”. They position themselves against abortion, gay and transgender rights, minimum wage, against refugees and people with foreign heritage and support a tax model that will make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Is this a future I would like to live in?
I’m gay. My boyfriend is American. My best friends have roots in Ghana, Australia, Brazil, Afghanistan, Saudi-Arabia, Egypt, Croatia, and Great Britain. At work, I sit next to people from all over the world and, honestly, that’s exactly what I came to Berlin for! To me, post-wall Berlin had this aura of a utopian wonderland. Your passport might say “Deutsch”, it might say “European” or “Aufenthaltsgenehmigung erteilt” but we’re all Berliners. – The last election shows: Not for everyone! And there are people in this city who don’t tolerate the life I’m living.
Is it too late?
Am I just gonna bury my head in the sand and hope for the best?
Let’s focus on facts: Berlin has a completely unique demographic. Even post-hype, Berlin made it on the second rank of the most desired European cities for millennials in 2017 in a study launched by a popular apartment website. Official statistics released by the city of Berlin show that the German metropolis is not only growing annually by roughly 50.000 people over the last five years but is getting younger and more international each year. 54 percent of the population is younger than 45 years old and people from about 190 countries call Berlin home. And a study conducted by research institute Civey in 2017 shows that only 4,2 percent of millennial Germans voted for the AfD.
So, Berlin agrees: Why be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic when you could just be quiet, right? (To quote my new-favorite T-shirt slogan). We’re the majority. We’re young. We’re from all over the world. Now take a seat Mr. Gauland!
Out of the bubble
The problem with this young and international demographic in Berlin seems to be less what we could do but that we seem to be stuck somewhere in between complete unawareness and somewhat of a millennial political frustration. Life in Berlin can become a bubble going no further than the ring or Schöneberg. Caught in between Mustafa’s Döner, St. Oberholz, Humana, and a Gösser at the canal, it’s hard to see what’s beyond…
I know myself, for me and many young, German-born Berliners political awareness becomes an “I voted for the Green Party, I did my job” illusion. While many expats on the other side, are socially and politically still so rooted in their home countries that mother Merkel, left-wing activism, the rise of the AfD, and the refugee crisis become one obscure blur.
If you believe far-right activities are limited to Saxony, wake up! Even in Berlin, racist crimes are not just limited to the world beyond the ring. For 2017, the official Berlin registries documented 2,800 incidents with extreme right-wing, racist, anti-semitic, or lgbtiq*hostile motivations, 224 of these in Mitte, 269 in Neukölln, and 171 in Kreuzberg. It doesn’t get further into the bubble than that.
Especially Neukölln is struggling with its militant neo-nazi scene. The attacks vary from personal assaults, broken windows to burned cars and mailboxes. in 2016, refugee shelters were attacked 50 times. In an Interview with Tagesspiegel June Tomiak, a strategist against right-wing extremism explained that “for 53 crimes (in Neukölln), 89 suspects could be identified, but only two were arrested. This small number of arrests is really worrying.” Most suspects still run free.
Still, this does not imply all AfD supporters are neo-nazis. Not all these 37% in North-Pankow run around burning cars. Voting for the AfD symbolizes a frustration with the established parties, as Deutsche Welle writes, who failed to respond to the citizens’ needs. People fear unemployment, social instability, and poverty. “Just shut up!” is definitely not the best response to these fears.
What to do?
Doesn’t it come down to two simple questions, and as you are reading this blog, finding the answer to them might not even be that hard:
Why do I heart Berlin? And what do I have to do to keep on hearting it?
Looking back, the reasons why I heart Berlin have never been all about me, me, me. They were about that feeling of “us” created here, what this community enabled us to do and made Berlin so different from other cities like New York or London. Think ‘100%Tempelhofer Feld’, ‘AfD wegbassen’, or ‘Google go home’.
Also, read our article on how Berliners fight against right-wing populism.
While bragging with my cities activism, an activism that I benefit from every time I barbeque at Tempelhofer Feld, I have to ask myself how much work I actually put in myself or whether I actually just really love to point fingers?… Whoopsy. And when I’d pass that mirror around in my circles, I’d probably get the same answer.
No, that solidarity sticker on my profile pic does not count as political activism. I can’t be super proud of myself just because I went to a big demonstration. Once. In 2014. True, #wirsindmehr (#wearemore), but what is it that we are? I have to try to find a more substantial and long-term solution that is not limited to a singular event or a catchy phrase. Have I confronted that relative who voted for the AfD? Do I know people who share these fears that the AfD seems to have simple solutions for? Do I talk to them?
Post-wall wonderland is over, but Berlin has never been so young, so international, so diverse, so interesting, and fucking cool! Now it’s about building bridges, not burning them.
If we realized what a rare community we actually are, and stood up for what we believe in just that little bit more, – well, then we’re looking at golden 2020’s.
But can we do that?