Is Berlin over?

by Guest Blogger

Media Spree, Berlin Friedrichshain

by Paola Moretti.

My father is one of those men who are terrible at choosing presents for women. I’m not sure whether his insistence on giving me perfume, dresses and cute necklaces is a hint that I should be a little more feminine, or if he simply has no clue about what I actually like. This year, he gave me a glittery nail polish which I liked only because I have a taste for tacky stuff. Two years ago, he bought me a style guide written by Angelika Taschen, The Berliner, where one can find such observations as, “ For the Berliner the quest for the perfect purse is more important than the quest for the right man. The metropolitan animal needs to bring its stuff always with it, so the bag needs to be a proper one.” Let’s just say that my father has a peculiar sense of humour as well.

When I read the book’s subtitle, “The guide to the alternative chic”, I thought: this is the end. If Berlin was about to become a Mecca for style, when just a while ago I could walk around completely unnoticed in neon-yellow leggings, matching rubber kitchen gloves and a bright blue dress, it meant that something was changing. Indeed, the running joke about Prenzlauer Berg’s Latte Macchiato mums was over. At that moment, the press focused on the hatred of tourists which, expressed through stickers and graffiti, telling them that they were no longer welcome. It had become a local pastime to pick on the new representatives of categories such as the “Club Mate generation”, “New York artist”, “South European student”, or anyone else suspected of feeding the ravenous beast of gentrification by paying above-average rents, occupying hitherto-neglected neighbourhoods, or opening upmarket bars.

Berlin became the place to be. Old-school Berliners were bewildered and, I must admit, I didn’t join in the raging aggressiveness towards every single change, I was a bit worried. The city, at least to me, had been a stargate to a utopian dimension. You could feel that history had had taken another course here. Its environment and inhabitants hadn’t been infected by the fever of globalisation and consumeristic craving. The German capital was a small loophole in the West’s capitalist system. Things I had only heard about from my older friends, such as underground movements – which in Italy were long-time dead, or had been absorbed by a fashion industry which repackaged them and tossed them to the masses – here were still thiriving in their original forms. Berlin was cool because “she” was the anti-cool. Then, she became glamorous and lost some of her charm. Gradually, she became less unique, less radical. She was slowly letting herself be undermined by imported trends, swayed by a progress which didn’t always mean improvement.

Just like when in junior high you fall in love with your desk mate: a bony girl with no breasts and protruding shoulder blades, but nice and sweet. Everybody laughs at you because you like her, but you don’t care. In high school, she becomes a hottie, a real heartbreaker who forgets what kindness means. And then you feel that mix of bitterness and pride: you’re proud because you foresaw her potential back when no one else could, but you feel sad because she is no longer who she used to be. She stops using her cousin’s hand-me-down sweaters, in which she looked like a potato sack, and starts wearing tight tops. She learned how to use tweezers on her eyebrows, and now she has highlights in her hair, the original copper-like colour of which was naturally beautiful.

So it is with Berlin: she is young, a 25 year-old girl who not so long ago was disfigured by a wall. She has just found herself sexy and wants to party, to take advantage of any situation. Thus, Kneipes close and cocktail bars open; currywurst booths disappear while burger joints pop up everywhere. Sandals with socks remain, but just because they seem to be fashionable now.

But it’s just when you get used to the tables full of Macbooks in cafes; when you are no longer surprised by salespeople not understanding German in your local vintage shop; when you basically take for granted the availability of various pieces of the world patch-worked together in one city; when you finally understand that you can find whatever you like, even those things which are not cool anymore and never again will be – well, then, the media announces: “Berlin is over”. In 2014, the Tagespiegel said that “Berlin isn’t the coolest city in the world anymore”, just after Rolling Stone called Berghain “a club full of tourists” . Each time I hear these utterances, I imagine Manzoni’s characters with their bells, ruefully wandering through the village picking up the dead bodies left by the plague. What I never understand is whether the pandemic is Berlin being cool or not cool anymore.

Many local newspapers greeted the news happily; club owners worried right away about their future incomes; some sighed with relief, others felt mocked: they had just found a WG! Most readers probably simply shrugged. I insist, like the devoted classmate who tenderly looks at the sharp bones coming out of his childhood love’s back, or like my father, who next year will give me a bracelet with pendants for my birthday, that I will keep looking for those things which make Berlin my city. Because love is resistance and the first love is never outmoded.

Originally published in Italian on Il Mitte