Last night, I managed to go to bed and wake up at times that, though not normal for me, could be construed as a normal person’s schedule in this time zone. Progress! Got up at about nine, did my best to hide the fact that I had gotten up so late, and, it being Friday, headed off to the Turkish market. Imagine my horror when that most beloved haphazardly tented hurly-burly of women in headscarves appraising melons offered to them through the shouts of mustachioed men and people haggling over meat had been replaced by orderly rows of artisan jewelry, crepe stands, and textile vendors! Where were the sharp elbows? Why was it so quiet that you didn’t have to lean way across the basket of peaches in order to hear the vendor name his price? This was the kind of market where you have to apologize when you run into someone, and then try not to do it again–in short, it wasn’t what I’d been looking for. 

Native Berliners (and impostors) complain a lot about gentrification (more on that in a minute). Even in the six-ish years since I started coming here, rent prices have risen dramatically–people who know the city better complain about the influx of yuppies and foreigners (and the fancy boutiques and high-end markets that accompany them), arguing that such people not only price “real Berliners” out of their neighborhoods, but are ruining the city. Here’s a song about gentrification in Kreuzberg, an area of the city that’s a favorite for tourists and expats, and that’s suffered more than other areas from gentrification (this is hearsay–I have no figures to back that up, just word of mouth). The song, fittingly, is called “Anti-Turista.”

Since (a) the song is long, (b) there’s a lot of slang I don’t really understand, and (c) no one I know is going to listen to the song all the way through anyway, I won’t translate the whole thing. But this is the refrain: 

Herzlich Willkommen in Berlin und Tschüss
Wie schön du’s findest interessiert uns nicht!
Wenn du nur Ghettotourist bist nimm dein Geld mit und verschwinde
Du tötest mein Viertel, also nimm dein Souvenir verpiss dich!

Herzlich Willkommen in Berlin und Tschüss
Wie schön du’s findest interessiert uns nicht!
Du hast ein Stadtplan in der Hand, aber kein plan von dieser Stadt
Pack deine Sachen, hau hier ab, geh mal an Kudamm und sei glücklich!

Welcome to Berlin and bye.
How nice you find it doesn’t interest us!
If you’re just a ghetto tourist, take your money and disappear
You’re killing my neighborhood, so take your souvenir and [urinate on yourself].

Welcome to Berlin and bye
How nice you find it here doesn’t interest us!
You have a map in your hand but no idea of this city
Pack your things, get lost, go to the Kudamm and be happy (the Kudamm being the glitzy, affluent shopping district of the city). 

And here’s a translation of the message on the screen at the beginning of the video: “This song is directed towards all scene-, ghetto-, and party tourists, plus all long-term tourists/immigrants who contribute to the process of gentrification and thereby significantly change Berlin’s image [not a great translation, but literal] to the detriment of its residents.” 


“But Kate,” you may be wondering, “don’t you fit into that category?”




On a related note, today I got lost (wait for it…). Or rather, I got Berlined away from my destination. You see, yesterday I found a lovely collaboration cafe, i.e. a coffee house that’s specifically set up and intended for people to come there to telecommute to work, study, and hold meetings about their entrepreneurial ambitions. I went back today, intending to get some more work done, only to find … a bouncer. I’d forgotten that I was in Berlin, night life capital of the universe, where the parties continue until 2 or 3 AM on weekdays, and never end at all on weekends.**

So I wandered on, following my not-so-reliable memory of a not-so-reliable metro map across town to a micro-roastery that I’d read about but never been to. On the way, I started to hear what appeared to be truly appalling karaoke. It turned out to  be a kid’s rock band performing at a demonstration:


That girl just finished singing “Let it Be.” In German. Except for the line “let it be.”

Continuing among the tents, I saw booths set up by various refugee organizations and a lot of posters protesting gentrification. The three speakers (one for German, one for Turkish, and one for another unidentified but probably west Slavic language) were telling stories about sad people, mainly refugees, who were kicked out of their apartments because they couldn’t afford to buy them. 

A banner beside the stage read, “Living space is not a commodity.” Which is a nice sentiment, except that it absolutely is. We just call it “real estate.” I found it sort of sad and also very charming that the people there, who admittedly have their hearts in the right place, think that they can fix something like gentrification by holding a protest. It’s a nice snapshot of the outlook that continues to make Berlin special. 

The protest also served as a nice representation of (a) what natives hate about Berlin’s relatively new status as a hot tourist spot, and (b) why all the protests in the world can’t fix gentrification. I saw no less than 20 people on a guided Fat-Tire Bike tour through the protest, and for the first time since I’ve been here, I heard more English, Spanish, and French on the street than German, Turkish, and Arabic combined. We soul-sucking foreigners love us some protests–even when they’re about us.

 (edit: It looks like this is the tour that was passing through the protest. It sounds super interesting, but if it were being conducted on my turf, I’d be annoyed, too.)


*Although I do definitely count among the hoards of foreigners who are allegedly killing the city, I like to think that a person is more than the color of their passport. I also like to think that I tread lightly on places that aren’t mine so that the effects of my having been there, though inevitable, are minimal. 

** I suspect that this has something to do with the employment situation (according to yesterday’s news, Berlin has an unemployment rate of 11.1%, as compared to 6.7% nation-wide).