When I first arrived in Berlin, it was a poor city but also one with perspective. Much of the glamour of yesteryear were still present, yet the possibility of developing into Europe’s capital was a feeling penetrating everybody and everything. And its rich history only added to the mystique. Being the city with the most scars, the possibility to rise above its ruins and self-inflicted misfortunes made Berlin a symbol.
It was 2005, and I was surprised by how easily all kinds of doors opened for me, the uninvited Greek musician. Soon, I realized that much of that positivity was because, to most locals, my preference to live in Berlin instead of Boston, New York, Paris, or London (all places I was known to have both experiences and contacts) constituted a great compliment. For me, it was an obvious choice that made sense.
Today, Berlin is not just a poor city still but also a redundant one, at least to many of us. The speed with which other major cities develop or deteriorate may explain why Berlin is neither winning nor losing; it is just ousted from competing. On the international level, the speeds are much higher than 10, let alone 30 years ago, yet Berlin insists on moving at its own pace…
Such an ecosystem eventually turns into a museum-item location, appreciated for its worth in the larger scheme of things (historically) without being a current, vibrant, and wanted spot. It can still sit on the bench, metaphorically speaking, observe the other players and their moves, and pretend it knows better by not saying a word. Unfortunately, an austere face never made anybody champion.
I will always owe Berlin a lot. It was here that I experienced tremendous musical success as well as personal happiness and fulfillment. I was honored to play for the Presidents of both Germany and Greece, perform in every single concert venue, have the opportunity to work in every level of music education, also in different sectors away from music, and the plain fact that I had never stayed anywhere for as long as I stayed here, says it all. I even wrote 13 preludes for piano inspired by this city.
Nevertheless, the time we have to say goodbye is coming closer. And the good thing is, neither of us will miss the other… Berlin was always untypical of Germany, but this country’s surprising modern deficiencies somehow always managed to show up first in Berlin. In that sense, Berlin remains the capital.
If you think I am talking about the malfunction of the public sector, the rise of crime, both organized and random, the downfall of Berlin schools, the tragic decisions for millions of commuters, the delays and deficiencies in public transportation, the collapse of welfare structures, the Berlin Brandenburg airport scandal, the endless paralyzing strikes, the ridiculous level of service even within the most expensive exclusivity, the chase of lower-middle class citizens by the tax authorities, the black markets and illegal funds booming under our nose through parts of the real estate industry, or the downgraded academia and its lower standing internationally, you are wrong.
I am talking about the kind of citizen this capital rewards and promotes: the lazy, unmotivated, eccentric for its own sake, unprofessional, feeling essential to the planet and playing no role whatsoever in this city, feeling entitled and giving nothing back. The Greeks faced similar criticism years ago, and that very criticism benefited the country a lot. Hopefully, Berlin will also.
And although certain highly specialized sectors are indeed doing well, from the average citizen’s perspective, Berlin justifies its new nickname: the chaos city…You call the police, and they only show up once you immobilize the burglar yourself, as I had to do twice! You call an ambulance, and they may show up or not. And if they do, they will with a borrowed driver from the fire brigade. Our firefighters are forced to enter premature retirement because of an article of a law paragraph while their department is dangerously understaffed. Elections for mayor’s office need to be repeated, while politicians on the city level display slow reflexes and an agenda prioritizing issues that do not even attract enough voters for a referendum. Overall, an environment that no high-performance New Yorker or Londoner would deem supportive of their pursuits.
If you are young, single, unconventional, relatively poor, and without higher goals, please move in. You will find this capital more forgiving than others. Of course, as soon as you become something, you will face taxes higher than in New York City. And you will have to ask yourself if it is worth it. But even if you find it worthy, good luck with moving forward with anything, when this city’s motto is, ‘at least we are doing better than some others’…
I would hate to believe that a couple of 30-year-olds drinking a latte and looking at their laptops in Mitte, trying to open the next Starbucks (not a competing franchise, just another Starbucks coffee shop) is as far as entrepreneurship goes here. You see, I keep reading those paid articles about Berlin being a hub for entrepreneurs, yet every time I meet one, they need help finding skilled employees or incentivizing existing personnel because of laws and restrictions, unnecessary paperwork, and a sluggish tempo in critical sectors.
Exceptions exist on every level, and I am fortunate to know many of them. But that is MY good luck, after being active…. everywhere. Finding so many remarkable needles in the hay is as much a testimony of their worth as my effort. And guess what, literally all of them are about to relocate also.
It is not so much a series of grave deficiencies that drive the average citizen to daily despair. It is the realization that none of those will be fixed any time soon. The down-to-earth mentality and utter practicality so characteristic of this great city (and country) have developed into the passive acceptance a priori that this is how things are now, and there is nothing we can do about it.
The world is full of attractive destinations for permanent relocation (as if such a thing ever exists), and they all have different deficiencies and advantages. Just like with people, one has to choose something closer to his mentality. Some of us will be fine elsewhere, and others will even thrive. The question is, what about this city? And who will be the average citizen ten years from now?