Countless signs hang outside people’s windows stating that housing should not be a commodity, along with posters and graffiti clamouring for a halt of Berlin’s fast road towards becoming ‘like London’. Local protests are held on a frequent basis and outcries are heard, for the city not to lose its essence, its character as the living of people who have made the city to be its multicultural, artistic, and ‘poor but sexy’ self, is tangibly being disposed of.
Evidently, the urban crisis represents an existential distress deeply embedded within the discourse on the dominance of capitalism and neoliberalism. Yet, what interestingly marks Berlin’s attraction is an impression that the city is precisely not that, that it is not as commercialised and ‘sold out’ as so many other places – that there remains an advantage to be taken not only of an alternative culture but an alternative way of life.
Such crises thus cannot simply be ascribed to the forces of venture capitalists and property developers but even more tangibly to the embourgeoisement of the ‘aspirational class’, allured not by business or financial opportunities, but rather by cultural and societal ones. A small bookstore owner in a particularly gentrified area of the former West-Berlin district so pointedly noted: “It’s a contradiction that people come to Kreuzberg for its spirit, but their presence is destroying it”.
“there remains an advantage to be taken not only of an alternative culture but an alternative way of life.”
Whether this spirit is destined to fade in the long run or would prove able to withstand the form of co-existence in which one group’s potential comes at the expense of the mere living of another, the once-divided city in due course faces new splits. As the rapidly developing gentrification has become so greatly pronounced and palpable, it achieves a particular acceleration of deep social vexation and despair.
The crisis raises the urgency of the propounding concern whether districts or cities in which seemingly everyone wants to live can be sustained without conspicuous socioeconomic and cultural alterations – or whether co-existence to such an extent can be reduced to merely a utopic ideal.
First published Online, March 2021. Volume 16, Issue 3. Image: Genius Loci Series, Berlin, Anastasia Savinova, 2014