Natural-born Berliner

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Uneasy Sense of Self

It seems to me Berlin "suffers" from an uneasy sense of what the city is or should be. This isn't surprising if you look briefly at Berlin's ambivalent history. Berlin is historically a backwater trading post in the marches of the Holy Roman Empire. It has none of the lavish flourish of Renaissance Florence or Baroque Versailles. As a young man, it's most famous king actually wanted to escape what was at the time more or less a military barracks in a turnip patch to go live with his British relations. Post French Revolution elation rapidly gave way to Reaction only to be deepened by the ensuing Napoleonic Wars. This sets the stage here for a mixture of wounded 19th Century patriotism and reactionary authoritarianism. Berlin and Brandenburg-Prussia, rather than becoming the forward-looking, socialist project Marx with good reason predicted it would become, plunges itself into a retrograde, imperial fantasy full of myths of Germanic bravado and Greco-Roman glory. Not that other regions of the world are not equally awash in a sea of contradiction and delusion, but here in Berlin the whole thing came crashing down around us in 1918 and 1945 only to be thrown into the pressure cooker of the Cold War for 40-odd years. To make matters worse, the rest of the country resents Berlin because it aspires to be the capital city (though it was their idea this time around, not ours), and looks on Berlin with suspicion because it is the only truly large urban center in the FRG. After all of this we are supposed to know who we are? We have no Munich lederhosen to pull ourselves up on, nor Hanseatic Hamburg smugness, no coal smudged Pott pride, no spaetzli Stuttgart smile. And who's to blame!? No one really. But we blame it on new-comers we will. They are here, and we're not sure who we are; ergo: it must be their fault.

Give us time.

Babewyn 7 days ago

In for a penny...

If they're allowed to be angry about English, then what's to stop them being angry about Turkish or Arabic or any other 'immigrant' language?

Yes, English-speakers in Berlin might tend towards the gentrifying classes (although for fucked up historical reasons it is also the lingua franca of a great many 'newcomers' from the global south too).

But when you say the UrBerliner have a right to be angry, it is implied that they have a (special) right to understand and be understood, wherever they are in the city.

We should challenge that. The languages of Berlin should be the languages of everyone here.

Tom 7 days ago

So happy you’re back

I loved your motherhood column—you’ve been missed.

Jodie 7 days ago

Agree with Jodie

Indeed your voice has been missed, Ms. Nandi. Also liked your motherhood column back in the day.

DJ 6 days ago

Waschecht

"waschechte Berliner" are, as the expression goes, "colour-fast" Berliners.

Kein Waschechter 7 days ago

That's nothing!

In Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, the population has changed from almost all Caucasian to over 50% Chinese. The last time I counted, there were 5 large Asian-style shopping malls. On the plus side, we probably now have the best Asian food outside of Asia. I've heard of New Yorkers coming here to eat.

David Smith 7 days ago

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