Why Berliners are so Grumpy

photo: Harald Hauswald

We all know the stigma: True Berliners are grumpy people. People who directly speak their mind, could not care less about unnecessary chit-chat and definitely have a strong problem with, well, for simplicity reasons, let’s call it hipster culture. Despite stereotypes being generally untrue, it doesn’t really take you long to see that person right in front of you, does it? But is there a reason for all the grouch? Has anyone ever dared to ask when you saw one of these rare True Berliners? It feels like in Berlin there is this ongoing, unspoken, not clearly defined tension pressing under the surface of the city; an unverbalized conflict between these who came and those who were already here. The “Neuberliner“ vs. the “Urberliner“.

In search of an answer for all this bad mood, we, the “Neuberliner“, need to go back in time. As finding the cause for these temper issues is just not that simple. This text is one approach, but of course there could be one hundred other reasons for grumpy Berlin people being grumpy. But let’s try…

Since the time when someone really clever decided to build a wall right through one of the biggest European metropoles, Berlin was not really known for groundbreaking change. In both of its parts, Berlin became quite slow, at least on the surface. An excluded democratic island on the one side, left alone in the midst of the grey Soviet workers’ and farmers’ state.

Both East and West Berliners who were born in this time grew up in this construct, this concept of slow change around them, and got used to Berlin being just the way it was. Yes, some punks might have put on a riot here, a few youngsters tried to start a revolution there, David Bowie produced some albums, and electronic music started roaring under the surface of the city – but the Berlin everyday stayed pretty much the same for thirty years.

photo: York Berlin / CC

Then, after decades of this bad joke being actual reality, suddenly, Germany got reunited, and West and East Berlin had their long-estranged sibling back. Still, for another decade, change stayed bubbling in the underground – illegal techno raves are not something the every man or woman recognizes as apparent change. But when the new millennium hit, apparently, the word had spread and the whole world had decided to make Berlin its new playground. Berlin – where there are cheap rents, and spaces to think, grow and explore. So, the creative people came; the artists, musicians, designers, bloggers… – the royal global hipness gathered, and everyone who felt like they belonged followed. They came, in waves, and brought along their vegan ice cream, soy lattes, vinyl stores and overpriced vintage shops. And suddenly Berlin, this torn apart, maltreated sleeping beauty, wakes up and behaves like she did too much speed at once.

When you’re used to steady but slow change in your city, your Berlin, this new doped-up version can be quite the shock. For most “Urberliners” it must have been exactly that. Suddenly, the place that you know, better than anyone, the place you grew up in, moves at a different pace, gets a new vibe and puts on a new face. But it’s like no one bothered to give you the memo. You want to move, but you can’t as it is your home and social background. You are stuck in a place that you identify with, while you don’t, and all you are left with are questions, like: “Who are these people? And could they NOT open up Brooklyn-style cafés in Neukölln – THANK YOU!”

And then, “we” came and still do, in wave after wave, all the “Neuberliners”, promoting gentrification, and basically being the reason for everything bad an “Urberliner” could see. From rents in Prenzlauer Berg being twenty-five times what they were in 1990, the city landscape being disfigured by new unnecessary buildings, and basically every neighborhood becoming an epicenter of a weirdly interchangeable urban yuppy culture – until the last resort is moving to Spandau!
Yes, it’s us, all the Hipsters with their Jutebeutel, Club Mates, black clothes and asymmetrical hair styles. It’s all our fault – while it’s not, which is the focal problem of this dispute, because we came to Berlin with a totally different mindset. While this stereotyped “Urberliner“ understandably does not want Berlin to change at all, we expect it to, we want it to, as we came from all over the world to call one of the most thriving metropoles our new home.

photo: Sascha Kohlmann / CC

So, what it comes down to: There are two Berlins – sharing nothing more than a place and a name. Now, there is no border, no wall separating the two, still, it doesn’t seem like it makes communicating between the citizens of the cities that much easier. The one side seems to get grumpier and grouchier, while we, on the other side, just keep on dancing in circles like lunatics with a hedonistic “whatever” attitude. Truth is, you cannot contain change, and you never should. It’s just a bit overwhelming and frustrating for some that it happened in that breakneck speed in Berlin. And this beauty might actually need some tranquilizer from time to time.
This city is tough for all of us. For them, the “Urberliners”, it’s the basic fact that there is such a thing as rapid change, for us it’s desperately trying to keep up with this rapid change (or giving up and moving to Leipzig).

If a group of weirdly dressed youngsters went wild in front of my door step all of a sudden, and wouldn’t stop for the next couple of decades – well – I’d have my grumpy moments too. So, true grumpy Berliners definitely have their reasons. But, in the end we all live here now. We’re all Berliners. This city is a crazy bitch, and will be. Let’s all just try to deal with that somehow and smile a bit more. The sky is grey enough already.

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Text: Andy

Andy D. studies communication and film studies at the Freie Universität. He is a classic Neuberliner: born close to Düsseldorf he got drawn to this crazy city like a moth to the flame. He is a part-time music maniac, wannabe film expert and aspiring writer, always eager to find new stories in this inspiring whirlwind of a city.

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