This past long, warm summer I was often in Berlin, my second Heimat, so to speak. For the record: it was the (first) summer of the 9-euro ticket. I had some odd jobs in the city and so I had a goal, but I’ll say right away that to go to Berlin, I usually don’t need a specific reason. If I haven’t been there for a while, it starts to itch. Then I have to go there again.
My relationship with the city dates back to the years I lived there. During previous visits, the first time years before the fall of the Wall, I became captivated by the city with its living history and I seized the opportunity to live there with both hands. That was in 2002, almost ten years later I left again and that divorce really hurt.
What’s it? Just fill in (1) yourself. The space, the greenery, the people, the towns in the city, the allotments, the excellent public transport, etc. etc. I feel at home there and know from Dutch friends in Berlin that it is exactly what they like in the city. attracts and pleases. The rawness, the frayed edges, the feeling that you don’t always have to color within the lines. I have thought long and hard about the present tense in this paragraph. More on that in a moment, first the after-the-fall history in a nutshell.
Full of expectations
In the period after November 9, 1989, there was an atmosphere of expectation in Berlin. People came from far and wide to see the miracle and, quite often, to memorize a piece of that Wall with their own pickaxe. Less than a year later, German reunification followed and Berlin became the official capital. What stood in the way of its development into a metropolis? As you know, that was disappointing. Companies weren’t queuing up to settle in Berlin, why should they? They were already in the financial center of Germany, in Frankfurt am Main, they already had headquarters in Hamburg, Cologne or Munich. What should you do in Berlin with its small airports? The city also quickly got rid of the fallen Wall, sold waste land to project developers (Checkpoint Charlie!) and thus robbed itself completely voluntarily of a potential tourist magnet.
The euphoria gave way to a hangover. Sky-high unemployment, the same debt. For years, Berlin lived too much, because a reunited city has too much: theatres, airports, zoos and so on. But don’t touch Zoo, because then West Berliners will stand on their hind legs. And stay away from Tierpark, because then you’ll get East Berliners all over you.
That was pretty much the state of things when I came to live in Berlin. It was a beautiful summer, one of the many Jahrhundert summers I’ve experienced there, but there was a lot of grumbling around me. In the meantime I know that Berliners are not smiley faces by nature, they just always grumble, but then I saw that people also had reason to complain. No work, a 2010 Agenda that promised little good for your benefits, 1-euro jobs, no, it was all not to make you happy.
When did the change come? Always hard to put your finger on exactly, Wowereits arm aber sexy certainly did a lot of good. The creative sector developed, was rediscovered you should actually say, because West Berlin has always had a great attraction for creative people. Cheap housing and studios, low living costs, people with vague professions who (re)discovered the city were sometimes laughed at, but that fell silent when it became clear that those people were making money, for themselves and for Berlin. The city council saw the light and realized that the remains of the Wall were a tourist attraction that no Eiffel Tower could match. That the insight came (too) late is clearly visible in the Bernauer Strasse, where an in itself beautiful concept is marred by apartment blocks: unfortunately, peanut butter – land sold to parties that have no interest in history.
Berlin became hot, the city where you had to be. Hotel chains set up branches there, and everything that smelled of the city’s history was turned into a museum. No more Kiez without a scooter or bicycle, no more ditch without a canal boat: that is Berlin in 2022. The expectations of the period after the fall of the Wall have been fulfilled, with delay. That does come at a price, and then I come back to the present tense that I used with so much hesitation in the third paragraph. During my last visit, I saw more clearly than ever that Berlin is rapidly becoming a ‘normal’ capital. The raw side, the so characteristic authenticity, is hardly there anymore. That was largely unavoidable. Ost stations such as Ostkreuz and Krijger Strasse simply had to be refurbished and modernized and that sooner or later a rough brush over the achenebbish mess at Bahnhof Zoo, no one should be surprised.
But something less rücksichtlos? With a little more feeling for the specialness of the city and a little less for commerce? Yes, that would have been nice. Or am I manifesting myself too much as a Berliner who always has something to grumble? Fill in yourself (2).
Margriet Brandsma is a Dutch journalist.
She worked for the NOS Journaal from 1994 to 2014. In the period 2002-2011 she was a correspondent for the NOS in Germany, based in Berlin. In the 1970s she started working in radio, via the IKON she was able to work for the current affairs program Hier en Nu of the NCRV. After a while at Met het Oog op Morgen she switched to the NOS, for which she eventually went to work as a correspondent in Germany. On December 30, 2010, her last report from Germany was shown in the news. From 2011 she became a general and investigative reporter for the NOS Journaal. This entailed that she had to ‘reintegrate’ in the Netherlands. Brandsma left NOS on 1 July 2014. She wanted to focus more on writing books.(www.margrietbrandsma.nl)