by Quinn Slobodian, Michelle Sterling (2013)
It’s easy to talk about lost Golden Ages in Berlin. Everyone has their own romanticized era: louche Weimar Berlin before the Nazis, Iggy and Bowie’s seventies Berlin before the Wall fell, or maybe the squatter’s Berlin of the good old nineties. So when people start complaining that something has changed in the city, it’s tempting to dismiss it as insider one-upmanship, the old game of “I was here when.” And yet something has felt different in recent years.
Berlin has always hosted poverty better than other European capitals, but this time around, Berlin has embraced an economic model that makes poverty pay. The idea is to cash in on Berlin’s cachet by branding it as a “Creative City”—but it is also, to judge by what has happened, to gut public services, to sell off public housing, and to strategize about new ways of turning taste into profit. This new Berlin is a city where imaginative expression supports, directly or indirectly, a grand scheme for making a small number of people rich. One of these days, some lucky Berliners and expats will finally attract venture capital from London, Palo Alto, and Boston. But the others—the scenic poor and the clever unemployeds who make the city so attractive—will find it ever more difficult to make ends meet.