“Imagine what it feels like to be true Berliner, seriously, now,” a white guy, let’s call him Sven, a guy I think I have been hilariously flirting with for about half an hour, says to me mournfully on a balcony in East Berlin. He says it very mournfully indeed – think Ross from Friends – mournful, eyes the size of saucers, like a dog in fairy-tale, and full of pity and emotion and also salty water like he could burst into tears any second now. “I was born here. My mother was born here. We were actually born here. Can you imagine that? We were actually born here and now we are in the minority – now we stand here and watch as people from Spain, people from the United States, people from West Germany and Northern Ireland and…” – he gestures meaningfully in my direction – “East London come here and call it home. We were actually born here! Of course we are happy for you – that you are happy here. But you know, try to imagine what it is like.” He whispers melodramatically. “Try to imagine what it is like to be a true Berliner.”
“It must be terrible,” I say sympathetically, wondering if I am being sarcastic or not. I am also wondering if our previous half hour’s work of top quality, highly successful German Flirting – i.e. slagging off Americans and Swabians, complaining about how high the rents are, and saying that the only solution is to enteignen Deutsches Wohnen and introduce a Basic Citizens Income for everyone – was quite as successful as previously imagined. “I didn’t realise anyone was actually born here,” I add. I am definitely being sarcastic now, I decide, luckily Sven hasn’t noticed.
“People should think about what it must feel like to be actually born somewhere and then watch it change, see it changed, before your very eyes. Berlin is unrecognizable now.”
I lean my head over the balcony and look at the TV tower. When my son was little, he used to call it the DVD tower. Once he said if he owned it, he’d charge people ten euros to go up and twenty euros to go down. My son’s a capitalist. I don’t know where he gets it from. I stare at the TV Tower, so ugly in a beautiful, lonely way, like everything in this city, this city I have lived in and not belonged to for 19 long years. All my adult life, really, people. For fuck’s sake. What the fuck, Berlin! What the actual fuck! I KNOW I will never be a Berliner in your eyes – 19 years people, my entire adult life, I have never paid my income tax, given birth, voted or claimed the dole in Britain – but in UrBerliners’ eyes I will never ever EVER be a Berliner. I accept this. But the fact that they see me in exactly the same light they see someone who has been here for three months in between Barcelona and New York – I can’t help it, it gets to me sometimes. And what about my capitalist German boy? Is he a Berliner, then? Dad from Leipzig, Mum from Ilford, 15 years old and he’s never lived anywhere else. I think in Sven’s eyes he’s not a Berliner. But where the fuck is our home meant to be, then, if not here, in this fucked up city we call home?
So listen up everybody: I don’t think Old Skool Berliners teasing Swabians for being rich is actually racism. And I think it is absolutely okay for UrBerliner to get pissed off by all the menus in English. I love helping out überforderte Omas in Mitte bakeries because nothing’s explained in German nowadays. I don’t care that all the “Wassechte” Berliner will never see me a a true Berliner – I know white people from Germany who moved here when they were three months old who get told they are not real Berliners, too. And, although I do think it’s kind of racist that Turkish Germans could be born here, their parents born here, their grandparents born here, but they’ll never be Berliners because (why actually?), I don’t bother complaining about it. And I understand it’s annoying that the rents are rising and I know the main reason the rents are rising is because non-Berliners are prepared to pay more and more and more to live here and meanwhile where is everyone else meant to live? I understand that it hurts to watch Berlin become a normal capitalistic capital city. I get it, I really do.
But seriously? EVERYONE was born somewhere and okay, it’s cool that you still live in the place you were born and grew up in – but it’s not an achievement. It’s nice. I feel a bit jealous sometimes. I often think I wish I’d stayed in Redbridge – I sometimes think I wish I had a tiny house in Newbury park . And I don’t actually think racism is the primary reason for being nostalgic for a time and a place where Berlin was whiter (greyer too, but also whiter).
But come on, Old Skool Berliners, it’s simple: everyone was born somewhere. And some people have moved to Berlin. Get over it!