Berlin: Love it or leave it

by Guest Blogger

Sick of all those expats complaining about how Berlin is “so over”? So is Hannah Graves, the writer of this heartfelt article, and snapper of the accompanying – hipster friendly ;) – photos. Quit whining and read on…

399751_10151011221161736_987169636_nLast week I stood outside a tiny bar in Milan. It has a basement, which has become one of the last places in the city to put on small gigs. Talk turned to Berlin and, something I hear a lot these days, how it “used to be amazing.” Hang on just one moment my Milanese friends…

You’re standing there telling me how Berlin is “so ten years ago”, while drinking a plastic cup of beer that cost you five Euros? FIVE EUROS?! I’m not going to try and brew the very brilliance of Berlin down to the cost of a beer, but this makes me laugh. I’m tired of being told that I missed the party, or worse, that I’m one of the reasons why the party’s finally over.

Every day my Facebook feed is filled with embittered articles posted by expat friends that attempt to evaluate exactly why Berlin is no longer the creative, cost-effective centre of liberal attitudes and quality living that it used to be. I read, I yawn, and I wonder what it must be like to fall so out of love with a place that clearly used to inspire so much in these people.

523641_10151083310836736_1947451326_nThese articles read like letters to a lost lover, one that moved on and left the writer feeling, well, left behind. “Berlin, how could you, what happened to you? Why are you spending time with these hipsters, with their money and haircuts? You’ve changed Berlin, you’ve changed. Well I’ve moved on too”. Only they haven’t. Clearly they haven’t. They watch the city grow and evolve and they obviously resent it. The advice I’d give any of these disenfranchised expats? Move with the times or move on.

If you arrived in Berlin at a time when rents were much cheaper, and you felt like you had a monopoly on the place because you were part of a tiny minority brave enough to move here, then Bravo and Hooray for you. If in your mind you partied here as a pioneer ten years ago but don’t want to now, don’t go blaming Berlin for changing – when, over a decade, it’s pretty certain that you changed too.

I KNOW I’ve only been in Berlin for a year, but I’ve been through the intoxicating effect this city can have and already come out the other side. Admittedly it’s not all amazing all of the time. Berlin isn’t without its problems, and I can understand the importance of being aware of the wider socio-economic impact certain changes are having on the city and the people that live in it. I just don’t feel the need to let it influence my individual experience of the place to the extent that I’d encourage others not to follow me here. That’s not my hipster expat ignorance – it’s my commitment to making the best life I can for myself in an environment unlike any other I’ve personally experienced.


Many seem to argue that therein lies the problem – that people like me move here and expect certain things from a city they don’t contribute to, that it’s all about personal experience rather than shared consciousness. My own experience of Berlin is quite the opposite. I moved here to work a job I love but that I cannot afford to do in my home country. I have been fortunate enough to meet a huge variety of interesting and creative people, all contributing to the diverse culture offered by Berlin.

I’ve come to realise that If you don’t immerse yourself in the spirit of Berlin then it isn’t any fun to live here, and if all you do is have fun then you don’t REALLY live here. That’s the real appeal of Berlin, that you have to take the rough with smooth just the same as you would anywhere else. Only here, for me, riding out the rough times is ten times more tolerable.

I have friends who have come and gone, their love affair ended. They had their reasons; it was time to move on. Personally, I no longer feel the need to continually bang on to anyone who will listen about just how AMAZING Berlin is, but I also can’t imagine living anywhere else. If in the future we fall out of love, I hope I’ll have the maturity not to bitch to any other (un)interested party about how Berlin just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I’ll accept that it’s time to move on, and do so graciously. But not to a place where four beers cost me twenty Euros.


If you enjoyed this, then you should definitely check out “London: The Break Up” by Marie J. Burrows.

If you didn’t, let us know why in the comments below!

Video: überlin in 140 seconds

by James and Zoe

Here’s an interview we did recently for both German TV channel ZDFinfo and the web series 140 Sekunden (140 Seconds). We’re pretty mortified by our shifty eyes, the sound of our voices and the weird solitary “….yeah” that James says right at the end of the segment, but we’re still glad we did it! Check it if you want to learn a little bit more about us, our thoughts on gentrification and the Give Something Back to Berlin project, and – more importantly – SEE RARE FOOTAGE OF OLIVE. And, for the Germans, here it is auf Deutsch – just scroll through the guy in the orange shirt and the Nazis.

Ask überlin: Don’t you feel responsible for Berlin’s gentrification nightmare?

by James Glazebrook

As a Berlin blog run by expats, who try to help other internationals make a life for themselves here, we’re used to being targeted by locals angry about the gentrification of their city. But we were taken aback by the vitriol behind John John’s comment on our original Ask überlin… ANYTHING post:

Did you notice that the Graefekiez is now Berlin’s most expensive area ? That many people are leaving because they can’t afford it ? Did you notice that Kreuzberg is NOT cool anymore ? Don’t you feel responsible for the gentrification nightmare of your Kiez ? How much did you purchase your flat and how much do you expect to sale it ? Do you still feel welcome in Kreuzberg despite the fact that most people there obviously hate the kind of person you represent – long-term tourists with no connection to Germany or Berlin ? Are you aware that Berlin is QUICKLY losing all the things that made the city special ? How does it feel to be an english hipster caricature in a city where english hipsters are not welcome anymore ?

I’ve given a lot of thought to our response, because John John has a couple of valid points. Sometimes we do present ourselves (jokingly) as hipster caricatures – this comment came about a week after I dicked about for the You know you’re a Berliner when… photos. And, as people willing and able to pay higher rents than those who used to live in our Kiez, we are part of the problem… But the comment’s xenophobia, false assumptions (we rent, and have no plans to buy) and faulty argument – that we are responsible for an economic process much larger than ourselves – deserve to be addressed.

Ares Kalandides, the blogger behind Place Management & Branding, put it better than I could and kindly gave us permission to republish one of his posts. He may be talking about Neukölln rather than Kreuzberg, and responding to an old, notorious anti-Touri video, but what he says applies equally to our neighbourhood and  our situation:

This short film appeared about 2 years ago on the web. It is called “offending the clientele” and that’s pretty much what it does. But what’s the issue here? Who’s offending whom? And why? This is about Neukölln in Berlin and the story is not a straightforward one. It’s the story of a perceived invasion with strange aftertones of a very reactionary “sense of place”: “Help! We are being attacked by foreigners! They happen to be tourists, but just the same! It’s them against us“.

Once upon a time, not very long ago, Neukölln was a Berlin neighbourhood with the worst reputation you could get. Mayors and ministers stigmatized it as ghetto, poverty was visible everywhere, violence was supposed to be growing in its streets. And then a couple of years ago something started to move. Students who could not afford the more expensive areas of Friedrichshain or even Kreuzberg started discovering Neukölln for themselves. Bars, clubs, fashion shops and cafés began opening up – first catering to a local student community, but very soon to a broader international mobile scene of young discount travellers.

If you think about it, this is not really a unique story. Germans simply take it for granted that they are tourists, invading the whole world – every summer or winter resort. But also, there is no spot on earth no matter how far away, how hidden, how protected, that does not fall victim of these voracious visitors. Now suddenly somebody has turned the tables on them: Berlin in general, Neukölln in particular, have become a favourite destination for tourists who – let’s be honest – are very very much like the local student scene. Actually, what they are looking for in this case is not difference, but similarity. Neukölln feels so familiar for the creative party crowds no matter where they come from. Now Italians and Spaniards are “invading” Berlin as their countries have been invaded for decades (ever heard of Mallorca? Or Venice?..). It reminds me so much of the rhetoric of former European colonial powers, who now wonder what all the formerly colonized are doing among them.

So what’s exactly the trouble? In a sense, a very real one. Who wants to be the animal in the zoo, being watched, observed, scrutinized? Who wants her/his lifestyle commodified and consumed for somebody else’s pleasure? When the beer you bought yesterday for 2 Euros is suddenly 3, because your pub has become so popular with tourists, of course it’s an issue. Ask the Spanish, Italian, Greeks, Turks who’ve had that kind of thing for decades and they’ll agree.  So the problem is not that it’s happening, it’s just that now it’s happening to us. Weird logic…

Of course gentrification is not a joke. It means that people with a lower income will very probably have to move away and that does not only include students. It may mean the real urban poor, the ones who have very very little and not really a choice. Probably also the ones with the strongest attachments to the neighbourhood, explained by their relative lack of mobility. Gentrification produces very real losers. And it’s not just “the way things are”, as a desperately naive Neukölln caterer from Detroit put it: it is the result of political choices, laws and regulations put together to produce just that effect.

It’s just that this video is not really about gentrification, if you think about it, is it? It’s not about the poor and the rich, it’s about us and them. And that is what makes it so absolutely offensive.

What do you think? We’re interested in having a real discussion about the gentrification of Berlin, so please leave your thoughts, opinions and ideas in the comments below. 

The Gentrification of a Beirut Concert

by Guest Blogger

This is a highly self-indulgent guest post from Adam Fletcher, author of A Picnic for Perverts and creator of Berlin Bingo, a humorous guide to Berlin.

Beirut - Øya 09 by NRK P3

Beirut – Øya 09 by NRK P3, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence

My favourite band is Beirut. I say that not for your praise, for to me it is not special or noteworthy to say or know this particular fact. It doesn’t require thought, I know it like I know at the end of this sentence I’ll place a small circle to the bottom right hand corner of its final letter. There you go. There was a time when I didn’t know to do that. Then there wasn’t. So it is with me and Beirut. There were other bands, then there was Beirut. Now I don’t think about it, and here comes another circle.

I made a rule with myself at the last Columbiahalle gig I went to, which was Bright Eyes. I said I wouldn’t go to any more concerts at Columbiahalle, or any venue as large. Personally, it’s just too big a venue for my tastes. Plus by the time a band is big enough to play it, they’ll have attracted a large fan base of assholes, who will have just heard the band’s latest single on the radio and brought a ticket just to shout for that song and drink too much and stand on my shoes. I’ve been a Bright Eyes fan for a long time. Again, I’m not bragging here. It’s a fact and it’s relevant to what comes next. Oh, I remember now, since I discovered Fevers and Mirrors, so for about nine years. I’ve seen them many times. I’ve seen them live only once at a venue the size of Columbiahalle. I’ve also seen them only once at a venue in which, when standing near the front, a guy barged me out of the way, turning to his friend and saying as he past “watch this, this is how you get to the front, Brian (shouting to no-one and holding his drink up aloft) Brian, I’ve got your drink. Excuse me, excuse me, can I just get through to my friend”. After getting several rows closer to the front he then turned to his friend again and said “Who is this band anyway, Bright Star?”  That’s only happened once and it happened at Columbiahalle. Draw your own conclusions.

Columbiahalle by Bernt Rostad

Columbiahalle by Bernt Rostad, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence

I purchased Beirut’s first album Gulag Orkestar one week after it came out on a then small label called Ba Da Bing! When it arrived, it had a hand written note on the PayPal receipt from Zach, thanking me for the support. Again, I say this not to brag, well, not primarily to brag, but because it’s relevant to what comes next. I was thinking about all these things last night, as I stood to the right of the stage amongst 3,500 other people and tried to listen to the support act, Helmut. He was great, I think –  I’m not sure because everyone was just talking over him. He wasn’t Beirut after all. So he really should have just got out of the way and stopped blocking the stage. That only would have been polite. While trying to listen to him, I was thinking about how everyone secretly wishes they’d allocate concert audience real estate by level of fandom. Because everyone believes they should be right, right, right at centre front. Within licking distance of the mic. Last night I thought and believed that. Then I caught myself believing it. I started thinking that if a table was assembled of members of the audience last night, ranked by length of their Beirut fandom, I’d have been in top ten oldest. Possibly even in a medal position. Then something else happened. I realised what a prick I was being. It was one of those rare moments where you’re able to step outside of yourself, where the usual heavy fog of self-centeredness lifts enough that you can see you’re, well, actually, watch this video first then we’ll talk more:

I realised I was one of the bad guys. One of the people who believes I have a divine right to enjoy something more than other people because I discovered it first. Because it talks to me more deeply, more personally than it ever could to them, and I resent them for even trying. It’s a common human fallacy. Length of enjoyment is equal to depth and/or right of enjoyment. As is normal with passion, if left unchecked it has a tendency to slip towards possession. The same way we all know our partners are the greatest members of the opposite sex that we could ever hope to meet, yet we are arrogant enough to hog all that greatness to ourselves for as long as possible.

Is any of this starting to sound familiar and related to another hot Berlin topic that caused so much debate on The Guardian this week? It should, at least for the Berliners reading. Hearing Aüslanders complain about rising rents and the influx of yet more foreigners into this city is just the same. It’s cheap and it’s easy to think like that. It’s very hard to imagine a world that we’re not the dead centre of, that doesn’t pivot around our axis. I fail at it almost all of every day. To get angry at tourists who slow down our streets by gawping at buildings and sights we barely even glance at now, so blunted are we by our daily routines. It’s a “what’s water?” way of thinking, in short, self-centred. The same qualities that attracted you to this place are attracting other people to it. That’s insanely logical when you think about it. Berlin is not yours. Everyone is someone else’s Aüslander all the way back to the first ape that climbed down from the trees.

Oh and to Zach, I’m sorry it’s taken me so many years to answer your letter. Know that it meant a lot to me, you’ll have my support for as long as you want it. If you want to make a few bad albums, I’m cool with that, I’ll love them all the same and maybe we can head back to those smaller venues and have some closer contact, like in the old days. I promise to continue illegally downloading everything you make, forever.



Adam writes for several websites, if you want to know when follow him on Twitter.

Music Montag: T-INA Darling

by James Glazebrook

T-INA Darling

It’s amazing that I discovered T-INA Darling, given my aversion to a) political music and b) bullshit nostalgia for olden, “better” times. And yet I recently caught myself eyeing a vinyl copy of The Fine Art of Living by the “Empress of Berlin Swing”, entranced by its psychedelic illustration of the TV Tower. When I later found the album on Spotify, I was surprised by its blending of (ew) sixties pop and swing with (yay) hip hop and dubstep – plus oddly palatable politicking. The lyrics tell a tale of gentrification and rising rents in Mitte, which is either the singer/producer’s own story or a super-tight album concept. Check out this video for the landlord-bashing track “The Law”, and if you like what you höre, you can catch T-INA DJing every Wednesday at Clärchens Ballhaus.

Construction Noise – The Real Sound of Gentrifying Berlin?

by James Glazebrook

We’re always asking, what does Berlin sound like? Well, Slow Travel Berlin‘s recent interview with the intriguing Schneider TM provides one answer: Construction Sounds. The title of the electronic artist’s new album describes the field recordings that provide its backbone, the noise from the construction sites surrounding his home studio:

For around 8 or 9 years I’ve lived and worked in my former apartment, which was located in one of the most vibrant renovation areas in East Berlin. The noise of the construction sites literally took over my music and I just surrendered at some point. I started to record and play around with the sounds.

Sometimes abstract and haunting…

…and sometimes, noisy and oppressive…

Construction Sounds reminds me of Ostgun Ton’s Fünf compilation, a diverse set of tracks formed from Emika’s field recordings from inside Berghain. Emika’s one contribution as producer, “Cooling Room” turns the sounds and space of the cavernous club into a clanking, chiming musical sketch:

…all of which makes me wonder what a musician could do with our Berlin Sounds, the field recordings from around the city that you are contributing to our SoundCloud group. We have some ideas of our own, but why not listen to the clips below and let your imagination run wild – could you make music out of this?

Read the complete interview with Schneider TM over on Slow Travel Berlin.

Creative Migration, Expat Culture and Gentrification: An Interview with… Me!

by James Glazebrook

It seems less überlin and more look-at-me-Berlin to post an interview with myself, but hear me out! People ask us all the time why we moved to Berlin, and how it feels now that we are here – and that is precisely the subject of this Q&A.

A little background: a student in Human Geography at Manchester, and fellow music nerd, Rich James (@iceheadache) decided to do a project on the recent creative migration to Berlin. So while his fellow second years were off investigating done-to-death topics, Rich was over here, interviewing expat artists, DJs and journalists from the city’s thriving music scene. I’ve cut out most of the industry-specific stuff, and my worst rambling, so hopefully what remains will be of interest to locals, wannabe Berliners and the curious alike.

What attracted you to Berlin?

Me and Zo in Berlin

Zoë and I in Berlin, on (I think) our second visit to the city

In part, dance music. We first came over about five years ago and all that like electro-house stuff, like Get Physical, was just breaking. We’d just moved to London [from Newcastle] and liked the big city vibe but it was already getting a bit overwhelming. We thought Berlin was just like London, but with half the people and more space. We went clubbing and everyone was really nice and just there for the music, and there was room to breathe – unlike fabric.

And that same feeling permeated the rest of the city – bars and coffee shops, for example, locally owned, independent places where everyone’s super nice and welcoming. It just gives a different flavour to the city.

What’s special about Berlin?

Everything I’ve just described attracts a special kind of person. You don’t meet many Germans but if you do chances are they moved here, and they’re working in the creative industries or working five different random jobs. You meet a lot of expats but everyone has made the effort to move here because of a love for the city that we all share.

This amplifies the creative, independent feel of the place. Out of all the European capital cities I’ve been to, Berlin provides a special kind of the creative freedom. It’s not the freedom to get off your face, it’s the economic freedom to do the work you want to do.

In London you do a 9-5 job and have to commute to it and you have maybe three or four hours in the evening to do what you want to do. But here I can half the work I did back home and still pay the rent – and I can spend the rest of the time writing about music and blogging.



What happens when you step off the career ladder

Do you feel you’re free to do your job without being career motivated, without the need to always make more money?

Totally. My wife and I do the same work we did in London but there’s less pressure. That’s partly because we’ve “opted out” of the career ladder – it’d be the same if we moved to Australia.

But it is partly the place as well. It’s simple economics – it’s cheap here because there’s astronomical unemployment. It’s only recently that creative industries have been growing and there aren’t really any other industries here. I’m sure there are people here with proper jobs, earning decent wages, leading normal lives, but if you want to be a banker, for example, you’re going be in Frankfurt.

So there is less emphasis on career, especially for who come from overseas and live in our isolated little bubble. Most of the people I know have a job and then something they do that they’re passionate about, none of whom you would call careerists.

You described living in a “bubble” – do you feel like you’ve been accepted into the broader Berlin society?

It feels like there are two different levels to living here. It’s really easy to come over and meet people who are also expats, and are very welcoming because they’re in the same boat – but they’re still on the outside fringes of society as a whole. The language barrier has a lot to do with that – a little German is enough to get by but you always feel like you’re on the outside.

berlin welcome

A Berlin welcome

There are a lot of people who revel in the whole expat culture, but I worry about not integrating. Every other week there’s news of citizens, especially in Kreuzberg, having meetings or protests about this “problem”. They talk about “party tourists”, especially the English and Swedes – who come over and just get wrecked and leave broken glass all over the streets. People like me and my friends aren’t part of that discussion… yet.

I’m here for the long term but I still feel like a tourist, just a long-term tourist – particularly because I don’t work in an office somewhere. I don’t know if it’s a problem but it feels like a problem to me, and it’s becoming an issue here. People are starting to weigh up the benefits in terms of the economy and marketing versus the social disruption that it causes.

We’re here because it’s cheap. You can get a big apartment and pay cheap rent, but it’s a lot to most Berliners – and what’s compounding the problem is that the landlords are taking the piss. We can accept that but in some areas it’s leading to the displacement of the existing population. Kreuzberg has pretty much been gentrified but I think in Neukölln a lot of Turkish families in particular are in danger of being pushed out.

I don’t want to be blasé but I think this is just what happens to cities. Back in London this has always happened, and it’s still happening. But because in Berlin this has only happened over the last 20 years, it’s been accelerated – it’s not like London where this has been happening since the industrial revolution. What’s uniquely Berlin about the situation is the social awareness and concern shown by citizens, who are looking out for one another.

us again

You mentioned that you’ve only lived here four months, but can you imagine staying in Berlin for a long time to come?

Well, we’re here for at least a year. We were subletting until this point and now we’ve got a proper flat for a year. We’ve had to buy all our own furniture and I’m not leaving that behind!

I couldn’t put a time limit on it… When we moved to London we were like, “We’ll see how this goes…” But then you’d see people on the tube who were about 50 or 60 and they looked beaten down and miserable, and you knew there was a time limit on it. However, if things stay as they are we could live here forever.

But if people like me keep moving here, pushing up the rent and filling up the space maybe we’ll have to move. I think we’ve made this work so we could potentially live anywhere in the EU – but we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Anything else you’d feel like we need to know about Berlin?

I always want to tell people to move here but I don’t want to ruin it for the rest of us… so don’t!