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Dispatch / September 8, 2011
By Tim Mohr

These days, tourism is worth about $15 billion and 230,000 jobs to Berlin, Germany, and with 20 million annual hotel stays the city jumped past Rome last year to become the third most visited European city, trailing only Paris and London. For a town that has struggled economically since the fall of The Wall, this might sound like welcome news. And it is for tourism industry types, but not for a lot of other Berliners, where low-cost bohemianism has practically defined Berlin, whose mayor famously described it as “poor but sexy.” The tourism boom has become such a problem for locals that today, the German capital is practically covered with stickers declaring “Berlin doesn’t heart U” and posters warning “Tourists face fists!” And there have even been public calls for attacks on the tourism industry’s infrastructure there.

Anti-gentrification agitation has been at a fairly constant loud-level pitch since unification in Berlin; organizers of large-scale street protests against the city’s 1993 bid to host the 2000 Olympics rallied East Berliners to their side after showing them statistics on how Barcelona’s rents soared following its Olympic games. Pubs in the early-1990s would post “no latte” signs in their windows in protest over the chic new cafes opening in formerly working class neighborhoods. Since then, though, the best-preserved sections of East Berlin, where attractive 19th century residential buildings line block after block, have been completely transformed by an influx of new menschen and money.

More recently, anti-gentrification sloganeering began in Prenzlauer Berg, the district of East Berlin that underwent the fastest and most dramatic changes after the fall of The Wall. In the space of a decade, Prenzlauer Berg went from a dingy haven for East German literary and art types to a luxury parking-lot for BMWs and Audis with Stuttgart license plates, as posh cafes and restaurants mushroomed around its leafy squares.

Domestic sources of gentrification were the first to draw ire; the most commonly identified culprits are Schwaben, people from a prosperous southwestern part of old West Germany near the Black Forest, mostly in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. By the second half of the 2000s, signs started sprouting up in Prenzlauer Berg saying things like, “Schwaben, what do you want here?” or “The country needs new walls,” and sarcastically thanking West German cities for all the parking spaces left behind when the district’s new residents returned home for Christmas.

Next came action: as Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte continued to see skyrocketing rents, and the restaurant and bar scenes took off in another central Eastern borough, Friedrichshain, a  website called tracked over 600 anti-gentrification car fires set between 2007 and 2010.

Though flames billowing from the writhing metal remains of cars has been a regular feature of Berlin nightlife for years, the rate of arsons in late August of this year attracted international media attention. In the space of a few weeks, nearly 100 autos were torched. Most reports either dismissed any political motivation behind the car-torchings (an AP piece quoted a police spokesman as saying “a political intention really can’t be seen,” for instance) or attributed the uptick in fires to the rioting in the UK earlier in August. But of course, the fires were completely in keeping with the increasingly rancorous anti-gentrification activism that also spawned the new anti-tourism movement.

Full-blown anti-tourism—as distinct from more general anti-gentrification—exploded last year. In December, 2010, an alternative paper called Interim published a piece urging readers to attack hotels and tour buses and to steal wallets and cell phones from the tables of tourist cafes. Then in February of this year, a local chapter of the Green party organized an event called “Help, the tourists are coming!” Even the businesses benefitting most directly from the tourist boom—hotels—are apparently not immune to the sentiment. Michelberger Hof on Warschauer Strasse, steps from clubs like Watergate and Berghain—key destinations for the EasyJet set—currently displays a sign describing itself as a place for “everyone,” everyone, that is, “except Schwaben, English, and Irish in groups numbering more than 5 or in Superman costumes.”

It’s important to note that the anger expressed in the signs, stickers, and calls for action against tourists comes from the opposite end of the political spectrum from anti-immigrant crowd. Still, you might think twice about ordering a bottle of Rothaus Tannen Zaepfle, the suddenly ubiquitous beer “imported” from Baden-Wurttemberg.

The coming weeks could have a major influence on development and the extent to which the city continues to court tourist dollars. September 18 brings a mayoral election and, despite recently downward-trending poll numbers, Renate Kuenast, a prominent member of the Green party’s parliamentary faction, still has a shot at taking city hall. Berlin, which is technically a Land, or state, has been run since 2001 by Social Democrat Klaus Wowereit, who is campaigning for a third term.

Though the these two front-running contestants are ostensibly from the same side of the political spectrum—that is, the left—the mayoral race represents a significant culture clash. After all, a Berlin chapter of Kuenast’s party staged an event echoing anti-tourist rhetoric. Meanwhile Wowereit is floating the idea of another Olympic bid—the very thing that first galvanized anti-gentrification forces shortly after reunification—and is apparently happy to let the transformation of the cityscape by hotel blocs continue.

Ironically, one criticism of the Greens—particularly in eastern Berlin—is that its membership is “too bourgeois,” attracting just the sort of people whose organic food shops sprout as working class residents are priced out of neighborhoods. They are, it would seem, Berlin’s version of limousine liberals.

Still, the Greens already took over the state of Baden-Wurttemberg this past April. That’s the election credited with forcing Chancellor Angela Merkel to reverse her position on nuclear power and support a ban she had previously overturned. So despite Kuenast’s sagging poll numbers the timing seems auspicious for a Green takeover in Berlin, which, to hear it from anti-gentrification activists, is overrun with people from Baden-Wurttemberg anyway.

Tim Mohr is an award-winning translator of German novels, including most recently The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, by Alina Bronsky.

Would you like to know more? Read Tim Mohr’s piece “How The West Hijacked The Berlin Wall Revolution.”


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Add your own

  • 1. my talkative ringpiece  |  September 8th, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Nice to see someone have the balls to stand up to gentrification.

    The working-class are being given a choice: Suddenly rise up about 3 class levels, impossible of course, or become homeless and live in the street, get rounded up or whatever they do with homeless people over there. And they’re saying, Nein.

  • 2. Klaus Dinghy  |  September 8th, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Touristen? Face pissen!

  • 3. Cum  |  September 8th, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Just to be clear about German anarchists – they don’t want anymore tourists, but squatting in other European states and undocumented immigrants are still cool right?

  • 4. Anarchy Wolf  |  September 8th, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I feel the same way about Californians. We don’t want you in Oregon. Fuckin’ refugees basically, three fucking right wingers moved up here and built the most abominable houses I have ever seen. They’re basically fleeing the mess they made out of their state and now there coming to fuck up ours. I mean Oregon ain’t no great shakes economically, but still.

  • 5. Jose  |  September 8th, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Great. Sounds like we’re going to have another premature ejaculation May ’68 ‘revolution’. This time guys if your doing it- heads on pikes.

  • 6. Hanna Reitsch  |  September 8th, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    In early summer ’63, JFK stood on the Rathaus Schöneberg, faced the fearsome Antifaschistischer Schutzwall and declared himself a to be jelly doughnut. The rabble went wild, drinking to excess and peeling off their ICH heart JFK T-shirts. The only jet planes over the city were MiGs. Berlin was a great city in which to be stationed, far preferable to the coldness one felt in downtown Frankfurt.

    Skip fwd 30 years. An employee of mine returned from a week in Berlin: “Dirty, cold, unfriendly, Chechens and dope, dope and Chechens. Couldn’t wait to get outta there.”

    And another 10 years forward to Montana, where I ran into a Berliner scarfing jelly doughnuts in the Safeway parking lot. An affluent techie, he bails the 4th Reich every year for a month of fly-fishing in the Rockies. Said the only cool areas left in Berlin are in the old Sov zone, where the German and DDR architecture had been left alone.

    Forward to 2011 –

    Yield: Makes about 16 doughnuts

    Active time: 1 hr

    Total time: 3 hrs

    1 cup whole milk
    2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
    2 tablespoons warm water
    3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
    About 10 cups vegetable oil
    2 large eggs, lightly beaten
    1/2 cup raspberry, strawberry, or apricot jam
    Confectioners sugar for dusting

    Special equipment: 1 (2-inch) and 1 (2 1/2-inch) round cookie cutter; a deep-fat thermometer.

    Place ingredients in a gallon-size Zip-Loc bag, toss the bag into the microwave, and cook on HIGH for not less than 4 hours.

    So much for progress.

  • 7. Duarte Guerreiro  |  September 8th, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    The Germans can never repress themselves for very long can they? Gotta catch them all!

  • 8. Mike C.  |  September 8th, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    @4. Anarchy Wolf
    Right wingers? Must be from the OC, or any of the drive-thru counties.

    I remember L.A. when it was still on the cusp. Where you could walk up to a parking meter in the warehouse district and have to sidestep a thirteen inch diameter puddle of loose human feces. The jerk-offs in their year-round scarves and Lenin hats had just started to lay their eggs, and now we’re infested with these yuppie “artists” and their blight. American Apparel stores everywhere, manual typewriters, terrible coffee, photobloggers, meaningless kitschy street art, flannel shirts, art walks, food trucks, ironic bacon on everything, Pabst, and an ocean of horrendous facial hair — I’m so fucking sick of looking at hipster scum everywhere I go!

    At least in some of the ethnic enclaves we (people who read, substance abusers, embittered weirdos) were safe for a while. Just a lot of xenophobic transplants keeping it real, casting hostile glances at outsiders. It really fucking sucks here now.

    If only there were some pathogen that worked only on caucasians with ironic beards.

  • 9. Old European  |  September 9th, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Oh, who gives a fuck about the whining of pampered Bundies? I have the misfourtune to LIVE in Bundieland, and I like to read the eXile(d) just so I can be reminded that elsewhere (well, Russia) there is still life. This place sticks of death. And Mr Timonthy Nigger can stick that in his pipe and smoke it.

  • 10. Jim Buck  |  September 9th, 2011 at 1:48 am

    Fuck em all! I’m going there whether they like me or not. Treptower park DDR disco is the coolest place on earth:

    …and then there’s this:

    So try to keep me away, Fritz!

  • 11. fuckem  |  September 9th, 2011 at 2:27 am

    i never understood why anyone visits berlin in the first place. terrible place. so ok, let’s leave it to the proud ‘berlin rebels’, busy cursing the schweinesystem while collecting their welfare check and punishing the rich by kindling old opel, nissan and smart cars. now thats what i call class war. what the hell do these people think… they want to be left alone? wall the place in and let the idiots burn their idiot city down. problem solved.

  • 12. Peter  |  September 9th, 2011 at 2:46 am

    I live in Berlin and I think I smell astroturfing lurking beneath this anti-tourism thing. Property management companies have big plans for key berlin neighbourhoods and bohemian-type tourists and long-term ex-pat residents muck those plans up by giving counterculture bars/clubs a cash flow to stay open and by helping to frighten off skittish middle class yuppies. Get rid of a certain kind of “tourist” in the bohemian neighbourhoods and yuppification will accelerate.

    I also note that the “Berlin doesn’t heart you” stickers are suspiciously polished for a DIY kind of neighbourhood. A far cry from older, more authentic, “yuppies fuck off” graffiti. And I find the stickers more suspect still considering that I ve never experienced/witnessed any kind of anti-tourist hostility. And I come from another country and speak poor German and I hang out in places where these “doesn’t heart” stickers have mysteriously appeared and which are filled with natives of exactly the kind who do not hide their political and cultural sentiments.

  • 13. Michal  |  September 9th, 2011 at 8:15 am

    I can’t really see why Berlin could be such a popular tourist place. I’ve been there once there for a concert of an artist who’s ostensibly avoided my country, and the place isn’t really that amazing. There’s concrete everywhere, the most favourite colour seems to be grey mixed with lovely tinges of grey, and the monuments seem to be spectacularly unremarkable. The Reichstag, the one for which millions of people died and over which million more men sacrificed their lives just to conquer it – it just makes you yawn. The most lively neighbourhood was the Arab one, which seemed to depict the fears of islamophobes in flesh: women veiled from head to toe, dingy filthy little shops, the most elaborate graphic design being the islamic rugs randomly laying about and in front of a carpet shop…

    I can clearly see why people hating on tourists would be welcoming immigration with open arms. It’s a seemingly paradoxical stance to take, but think about it for a minute.

    Also people who burn cars to avoid tourists are fucking animals and deserve savage punishment. Just give out more work permits to the Turks.

  • 14. Brick  |  September 9th, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    @ #6 Hanna
    “The only cool sections are the old Sov zone.”
    That’s about half the city, fucktard, including 3 of the most yuppie-gentrified districts – Mitte, Pberg, and Fhain. So obviously you or your friend don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.

    I lived in Berlin a couple years, thought it was interesting but I have to say it’s pretty much over. A local property report said that 80 units (on a single street about 3-4 blocks long, Graefestrasse) had been turned into vacation rentals in the last year or two. That’s fucking incredible; 80 people or families moved out so that Londoners and Scandis can have a weekend on the town. Even the “residential” districts are becoming tourist districts in disguise. Just because they’re filled with “Old buildings” doesn’t mean they’re not basically hotels. At this point, you’ll hear as much English as German spoken on the streets, and in lots of districts, English is about all you’ll hear.

    I lived in New York before Berlin and I can tell you that what happened in Williamsburg et al. in the 90s and 00s is happening right now in Berlin. It’s not pretty, and there’s really no way to fight it. And I hate to say it, but there’s not going to be any revolution there, just a lot of whining I’d say. There isn’t a single real squat left in the city; all of them have signed agreements with the landlords or been “abgeraeumt” by the police. And the average Joe might not like all the foreign money, but they’re not going to storm the proverbial Bastille because a bunch of Swedes are eating vegan tacos everywhere.

    In the end, Berlin is too nice a city not to be overrun by tourists, yuppies, and “alternative” types. It’s so good it’s bad, at this point.

  • 15. Ilona  |  September 9th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Nice article. Thanks.

    But… Fucking raus we fucking went to keep us away from your precious pissing ground! To this day.

    We spent the most of our time in East-Berlin and crawled back form our trips to our seedy hotel only to sleep in West-Berlin. For us
    Kreuzberg was the shit in West-Berlin. Yeees!

    The best part of our trip was that we saw Einstürzende Neubauten concert at Elektrokohle in East-Berlin. Wow! One of the best concerts e-v-e-r! Weep and… Do whatever you weepers do.

    The two week trip in East/West-Berlin was enough for me to establish an impression that the some/most Berliners/Germans are rude fucking screaming bunch of fucks. First mistake: try some human kindness and meekness. Outcome: screeeeam! What! Oh? No second mistake made. We pretty quick evolved from civilized human beings into… A German kind of fucks. Then it was fine. A kind of fine.

    But hey! We were just simple tourists. Young and naive. What did we know a shit about nothing?

    After East/West-Berlin Budapest was like a Sunday on an easy chair.

  • 16. Meh  |  September 9th, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    If Berlin DID love me I’d think I was doing something very very wrong

  • 17. Strelnikov  |  September 9th, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    The only possible way to win is to do as the Israelis do, and only rent to Germans….no tourists, Anglo/American grad students, yuppies, wealthies, whatever. That or firebomb the fuckers out.

  • 18. my talkative ringpiece  |  September 9th, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Anarchy Wolf – I honestly don’t understand why people leave California in a huff instead of staying and changing things, if they want them changed. And right-wingers have nothing to get disgruntled about here, we have strong gun control, keep that rabble in line, a huge rich/poor divide because the poor are just sinners, and we’re gonna make good and dayum shure them queers can’t get married. Let ’em move to Iowa if they want someplace progressive. A bunch of crypto-Nazi organizations are right here in California, from the Institute for Historical Review to Terrible Tommy Metzger’s outfit. Frankly, we’re right-wing as hell.

    I’m sorry some of our stray ‘wingers ended up setting near you. Maybe that good PNW climate will interact with the Chinese drywall in their McMansion and mold ’em out.

  • 19. Hey  |  September 9th, 2011 at 10:57 pm


  • 20. Henry  |  September 10th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    The “Electro” scene in Berlin is and has been good, music-wise. Too bad Germans are rude and unfriendly neurotics. And there are no women, really. They deserve what they get.

  • 21. Marx  |  September 10th, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    The East shall rise again!

  • 22. Giskard  |  September 10th, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Once a racist always a racist.

    But I agree with others, they should just bring more Muslims in.

    Once Sharia Law kicks in they won’t have any problems with posh cafes and restaurants.

  • 23. my talkative ringpiece  |  September 10th, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Now that the inimitable John Wesley,……., Rawles has declared the mountainous West to be the new ‘winger Homeland hopefully our nutzo ‘wingers will head to Idaho, to sit around polishing their guns (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and getting Welfare and Food Stamps as is de rigeur in ‘winger areas.

    Meanwhile, Portland has developed antibodies that are kind of annoying in of themselves: hipster kids on fixed-gear bikes.

  • 24. Timur The Lame  |  September 11th, 2011 at 6:09 am

    @ Hanna
    Priceless. You might want to explain the jelly doughnut part because I think that many don’t know it. It used to be a knee-slapper for me.

  • 25. Hanna Reitsch  |  September 12th, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    @ 14. Brick: “The only cool sections are the old Sov zone.” That’s about half the city.

    You figured that out by yourself? Amazing, or so your mom said when we dropshipped her at the free clinic. Emanzipation durch ficken, eh? You should check that drip.

  • 26. CensusLouie  |  September 12th, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Looks like someone beat me to mentioning Williamsburg (a Brooklyn, New York neighborhood for those not familiar). It was gentrified into a haven for hipster kids who want the “cultural experience” of Brooklyn without straying too far from the rich haven of Manhattan (it’s right across the river).

    Although since 2009 there’s really been a housing collapse there. Tons and tons of apartment buildings under construction/renovation that had their funding pulled and just sat there unfinished. There were tons of squatters, some of them even rigged up electricity, cable, and wi-fi.

    Maybe the same thing will happen to these Berlin neighborhoods.

  • 27. gary  |  September 12th, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    this is shocking…i was told that germans were warm and welcoming people…no maybe that was the mistake…..also hanna, you wouldn’t be related to another hanna who flew through a storm of russian to visit her friend adolph

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