Berlin needs to quit already with its poverty porn

Berlin’s a cool city, in that it straddles the line separating east from the west.  It’s a great city to be in for history buffs, a poster-child that exhorts the “creative class”.

Berlin has worked hard to earn its reputation as a place that attracts artists and creative-types.  After all, there’s nothing like cheap rents, low cost of living, relaxed laissez-faire vibes, that attracts those looking for inspirations without a fat checkbook.

But as one of the most chronically depressed cities in Europe, it’s also an economic basket-base.

With a 20% unemployment rate, the highest percentage of Berliners living in poverty compared to the rest of the country, Berlin’s “arm, aber sexy” (poor, but sexy) slogan is but a glamourized marketing job to mask the indignations of a stagnated city.

None hit home as much as this Prospect article from a few years ago.

Berlin epitomises the trend. In the 1990s, massive funds were expended to make the restored German capital into the business capital of Mitteleuropa. These ambitions foundered on the city’s high taxes, red tape, and generally anti-business culture.

Faced with such problems, what does the mayor of the bankrupt city propose? Cut taxes, build new infrastructure, find ways to keep the middle classes and businesses?  No, Mayor Wowereit pegs the future to selling Berlin as “the city of glamour.”  To him, “the most decisive aspect is to bring creative young people to Berlin.” Somehow, he believes, this will turn the city’s sad economy around.

To their detriment, a fruitless chase of coolness has led cities to abandon long-term investments in infrastructure, taxation, middle-class flight, in favour of a city’s inventory of jazz clubs, gay bars, art museums, luxury hotels and condos.

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  • Terry Pratt

    Berlin is just ahead of the curve. Berlin is what the rest of the developed world is coming to within a generation.