Berlin protests against Ukraine War, by Lewin Bormann, CC BY-SA.
While probably many of us are still struggling with the effects of the ongoing pandemic, the world has been thrown another shocker of a curveball just a week ago: A violent war that is closer in front of our own doorstep than many of us ever expected to witness. The people from Ukraine had to deal with the aggression of the unpleasant neighboring autocrat for such a long time now that we in the West of Europe have already pushed this ongoing conflict into our subconscious. But now it can hardly be ignored and is a brutal wake-up call for the rest of Europe about how fickle the world we believe to live in actually is.
The response from the people of the other European countries has been overwhelmingly positive towards the people of Ukraine. It is touching to see how people have not only massively expressed solidarity and sympathy in countless freedom and peace marches across the continent (also from within Russia), but also how many organized help and support in terms of transport, supply, and accommodation for refugees from Ukraine. It might be a biased impression, but I can only hope the determination and efficiency of the PEOPLE, will also inspire more CORPORATIONS and GOVERNMENTS to follow suit.
Whether you just moved here yesterday or have been settled for several years, we are all well familiar with the joys of flat hunting in Berlin. I’m sure we’ve all heard the horror stories, scamming stories, funny stories, and even the nudist stories.
And now this collective flat search experience has been transformed into a hilariously cathartic online game known as Berlin Flat Quest.
Created by Bastien, the man who runs the Settle in Berlin blog, Berlin Flat Quest commemorates this rite of passage by combining people’s flat search stories gathered from the Facebook group berlin EXPATS.
In Berlin leftist graffiti dominates the streets. Unless you venture far enough into Pankow, which I cannot recommend, you’ll likely only find posters, street art, stickers, and graffiti that match Berlin’s politics: left-wing, queer, and pro-reproductive rights. Less than a two-hour drive away in Poland, it’s an entirely different story. There’s a Polish joke that goes: “if you’re standing on the street and there’s an anti-abortion poster behind your back and you don’t see one in front of you, it means you’ve reached the border.”
Since 1993, abortion has been illegal in Poland except in cases of fetal abnormalities, a serious risk to the life or health of the pregnant person, or rape or incest. In October 2020, the country’s Constitutional Tribunal struck the first of those–fetal abnormalities–from the list of permitted cases. And although this law only came into effect in January 2021, hospitals began refusing people last fall. Contraception is available in Poland but can be refused on the grounds of a “consciousness clause,” meaning medical staff can deny access based on their beliefs.
Rice and Shine, photo: Valerie Siba Rousparas.
Following the tragic shooting in Atlanta, Georgia that killed 8 Asian-Americans on March 16, 2021 the topic of anti-Asian racism has been in the spotlight around the globe, an issue that does not exclude our very own Berlin.
Especially due to the pandemic with phrases like “Kung Flu” and “China virus” being thrown around, Asian communities have become wary of increased anti-Asian racism. For myself, this past year has forced me to be aware of my Asianness more than ever, leaving me to wonder if the person who just moved away from me on the U-Bahn only did so because of my almond-shaped eyes smiling at them from behind my mask.
While COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, racism towards Asians has been around long before the pandemic. Here in Berlin, I have had men fetishize my “exotic oriental beauty” and “ching chong” gibberish shouted at me on the street, just to name a few mild remarks. Attention needs to be brought to such experiences not to complain of our beloved Berlin, but because we care about this city and want to help make it feel safer for the communities that make this place so special.
photo: Lindsey LaMont.
Growing up, the meaning of March 8th has changed a lot for me over the years. When I was younger, Women’s Day was simply when my father would bring home flowers for my mother, myself and my sister, a Soviet tradition my parents had brought with them from Kazakhstan.
Later as a teen, it was to feel a sense of sisterhood as I texted my best girlfriends “Happy Women’s Day!” and exchanged with them words of encouragement after yet another day of navigating high school sexism from boys in our class.
Now today as an adult, March 8th reminds me to take a moment to reflect on women’s issues I care about, whether personal or systemic, while also celebrating myself and the women around me.
How do you show unity and togetherness in times of social distancing? Berlin’s queer community ventures into virtual spaces to find answers.
2020 has been rough so far – for all of us, but especially for the global queer community. With Hungary trying to strip trans people of their current rights to legally change their gender, the UK and US just recently attacking vital anti-discrimination laws against queer people and Poland declaring one-third of the country a “so-called” LGBT-free zone”, institutionalized homophobia has arrived right at Berlin’s doorstep.
Now, more than ever, queer people need to show resilience and celebrate a month of pride, resistance and solidarity – yet we find ourselves in the midst of the biggest pandemic of the last century.
A couple of weeks ago, on the hight of the lockdown tension, I had a curious conversation on a late-night ride with a driver that I simply can’t get out of my head. It was related to one of these “wonderful” new terms that came up in the course of the pandemic that has been once thought up, maybe not as considered, by politicians, but then spread wide and far by the media. The first one that comes to mind is, of course, Social Distancing (coincidently, the German version “Kontaktverbot” is as misguided a term as the English one), but the one I’m addressing here is “essential jobs” (or as we call it in German “Systemrelevante Berufe”).
I was on my way home, responsibly avoiding public transport, using one of the available ride services. It was during the period, where Berlin was actually pretty empty, both on the streets and on the sidewalks. In those weeks there was so much uncertainty and fear, that you could tell people actually didn’t dare to go out.
UPDATE: We wrote this piece at a time when certain information was not known yet about the pandemic and was just about to come out. Only a few weeks later we would have written the piece a lot differently. While a lot of the measures turned out to be necessary after all, we still stand by the part that the media handled the situation badly and that freelancers and artists were strongly affected.
As a kid born in post-socialist Poland, I only associated empty supermarket shelves with distant times of communism only present in the memories of my parents. It’s quite ironic that the first time I actually witnessed a similar image was through the eyes of my German flatmate, who documented her struggle of shopping for toilet paper in Berlin just last week. That instance was followed by countless others, making Coronavirus the common denominator of practically everyone’s social media feed. But there are more serious economic consequences to this general panic – some of them especially perceptible to freelancers and small businesses.
Jokes involving the sudden scarcity of toilet paper and the sales drop of Corona beer could be regarded as funny if they hadn’t been indicative of an unprecedented hysteria surrounding the virus outbreak. A hysteria that is way more widespread than the virus itself, and so far affected greater numbers of people.
With the imminent closing of beloved Neukölln nightclub Griessmuehle coming up soon, the oldest cinema of Berlin, Moviemento, fighting for its survival and the iconic Clärchens Ballhaus already shut down the current mood of the city is pretty much set. Is the Berlin that we know and love gradually going to shut down now? Did the commercial powers that be finally win and swallow the alternative, untamable, free-spirited Berlin? I’m not gonna blame you if this is how you feel.
As someone who has been observing Berlin for 20 years now, I have seen many cherished clubs and cultural places go, some are even dearly missed today. The division of the city, the unwanted and abandoned places, relics of the industrialization, they all offered so much space for the underground and nightlife scenes to develop and thrive, especially since the wall came down. It created an ever thirsty and unflinching spirit to re-invent, re-purpose and experiment with spaces, objects, ideas. It created a city that turned its lack of pompous sights into a virtue and made its lifestyle into the magnetic quality that brought countless people here over the past couple of decades.
Last Saturday around 1 Million people came to the streets in Berlin to participate in the 40th Berlin Pride Parade. It was a big anniversary for Berlin and possibly also the biggest turnout in terms of people who came to walk or watch. But it was also a meaningful anniversary for the entire Pride movement worldwide. Exactly 50 years ago the Stonewall Riots took place in New York which started the entire LGBTQI movements and all the Pride Parades in the rest of the world in the years and decades that followed.
Even though the parade might seem like a big colorful and joyful street party that celebrated sexual liberty and hedonism there are still important messages sent out into the world with such events. We don’t even have to look very far: Hate crimes against LGBTQI people have gone up in Berlin in recent years. In many countries in the world, Pride Parades are suppressed by governments, such as in Russia, Turkey, and Poland. And most dramatically, many countries still criminalize homosexuality – in the worst cases even punish it by death.
So when we go to the streets in Berlin, we don’t just march for our own accomplishments in terms of LGBTQI rights, but also in solidarity for all those queer people in the world who are still fighting for acceptance and equality.