I always hear people from all over the globe talking about how Berlin is cool and hype. And how living in Berlin can be almost like living an Utopia. It is easy, fun and most important: cheap.
Berlin is undoubtedly cheaper than cities like London, Paris and New York. The jobs are in the startup scene, the Silicon Allee scenario that regularly hires foreigners with no German required. And another cool factor about the love for Berlin: the club scene here can’t be beaten.
But this perpetual adolescence vibe is only accessible to a relatively tiny, privileged elite of the world’s upper and middle classes. I believe that the journalists writing about how magical this never-land feel belongs to this elite minority, because life ain’t a walk in the park here for most. The ideas those privileged kids show off hides the real problems faced by the less fortunate citizens of this city.
I will address the 5 of the most inconvenient truths about living in Berlin in my opinion, but you’re more than welcome to add your point of view in the comment section.
Berlin is as bankrupt as Detroit
Some people who saw the amount of pressure and guilt Germany puts on Greece when we’re talking about debt, might think that Merkel would have her own backyard free from weeds. But this backyard is more messy than Germans would like to admit. We’ve talked about that. Berlin has as much debt per capita as the decadent Detroit, Michigan.
The German capital accumulates an impressive €63bi in debt. But thanks to German federal government’s guarantees, Berlin can still secure financial assistance and low-interest loans to tune of €80mi every year. This cheap money has successfully protected Berliners from the worst effects of their beloved city’s financial mismanagement. But as you can see in some of the items in this list, it still has ways of affecting the life of an average folk living in Berlin. At least they are not turning off the water fountains like they did back in 2001.
Almost 10% of Berlin’s students are drop-outs.
Regardless of its fame for being a haven for the underemployed youth of the world, the life for the real Berliners couldn’t be more far from this. And the numbers Berlin shows when we’re talking about school life are not good. In some neighborhoods studies show that 1 in every 6 students left school before graduation.
And to make things worse, the numbers show that this problem is also heavily racial. The sons and daughters of immigrants in some districts are 4 times more likely to drop out of school.
And the poor state of public schools in some parts of Berlin has made national news in the past. My neighborhood Neukölln and its infamous Rütli school made German headlines 10 years ago when its teachers started a petition to the city government to shut down the school. According to the teachers the school is dysfunctional.
After the media coverage an influx of money arrived and made the situation in this school better. But the numbers of dropouts in Neukölln are still way above the national average, with over 12% of the students dropping out before graduation day. Berlin is super open and full of great opportunities, but these opportunities seems to be greater for who the media and the world considers expats and a bit rare for those stuck with the title of immigrants. And this upsets me a lot. Actually just the fact that there’s clearly a difference between the 2 terms is something that annoys me a bunch.
I come from a country with great social inequalities but Brazil’s problems often lies on different categories and dimensions – of course. Nevertheless the overlook of kids without education is as awful as Brazil. Does not matter where in the world we’re referring to, it is a problem that demands more attention than it’s getting.
Call me silly or naive but I honestly thought that this wouldn’t be a problem in a country like Germany.
Many children living in Berlin are below poverty line.
There’s no question that Germany nowadays is one of the best – if not the best – economy in the world. Angela Merkel’s Germany went from 0 to hero as it has emerged as the EU’s undisputed post-recession leader. Germany slashed unemployment down showed a very impressive and respectable growth in a difficult economic situation. But just below this facade of powerful statistics, there are some sad and troubling numbers.
A recent study showed that 1 out of 8 folks living in Berlin survives on less than €546 per month. And if you think things can’t get any worst, 1/4 of those people are kids.
And like many other cities, the situation gets worse the farther from the city center you go. In some distant problem areas in Berlin, child poverty rates can be as high as 70%. Needless to say that those neighborhoods often are incubators for criminals and gangs, right?
More than once I had the displeasure of talking to people here in Berlin whose ideas were something between “Greeks and other south European countries are lazy by nature and Germans are hardworking. The result you see on the streets, we’re the best economy in Europe and Greece, Spain and Portugal have giant debts and kids living on the streets.” And “You come from Brazil, you have to understand that we don’t have starving people begging for money on every street. No offense, but we work harder. That’s all”.
Putting aside the rudeness and ignorance from those people, one thing became clear to me: Germany needs to look at its own house and fix its mess before anything. And sometimes Germans simply are not aware of its own problems since the media is always pointing and judging other nations.
Berliners are being evicted out of their own city because of gentrification.
For a few years now you can say that the housing market here in Berlin is reaching its breaking point. The combination of low rent and thumping nightlife was too alluring for the world to ignore. Everyone wanted to be living in Berlin. When the country emerged from Europe’s crisis in 2008/9, it was one of the only still functioning job markets in the continent and the result was a significant increase in immigration. This only made the housing situation more tense.
In 2016, numbers shows that rents have risen almost 40% in less than 10 years. And Berlin being a city that the majority of its inhabitants live in rented properties, this is truly a major issue.
Landlords were exploiting a loophole in the system to pass on costs of planned improvement and renovations to their tenants. The result is many fixed-income tenants being forces to move out rather than face the high costs. The government is trying to fix some of the problems, but the fact is that this still happens.
With new tenants the rents can go higher and more and more native Berliners are loosing what they call home for years. Recent laws are showing some results but the situation for those living in Berlin sometimes is far from ideal.
I had many friends and acquaintances that needed to move or rent out a room because problems like this. It is outrageous that the security Germany’s citizens had for decades is going down the drain. And I’m not even going to touch the evictions happening all over the city because of gentrification. Squatters, small businesses and families are being thrown into the streets because of unscrupulous landlords that wants to double, triple or quadruple their profits by renting to this new elite that is coming to the city.
Fotostrasse was actually born as a photo project to document the changes in Berlin we saw everyday. When we moved to our house, we had only Turkish businesses and families as neighbors. Now, after only 4 years, we’re surrounded by overpriced cafes, empty apartments used only for Airbnb and every month another “cool bar” opens its door as soon as the renovations on the facade finishes. Some say that Berlin will be like London is 5, 10 or 15 years and I hate to agree with them.
Berlin Brandenburg Airport and its scandal
When Berlin’s newest airport was announced, people said it was to be Europe’s biggest infrastructure project ever. It was valued around €2bi. The original plan was to finish everything in 6 years, but since the beginning this project was marked by bad planning and even worst luck.
I still remember, back in 2012, when I was moving my 3 cats from Brazil to here that the plan was to have an easy process for them. Arriving directly in Berlin would save precious hours of unnecessary stress for the poor animals. Besides that, for an expat living in Berlin, having the airport would make everything smoother with old relatives visiting with direct flights. But we’re in 2016 and BER is still far from being finished.
BER, or Berlin Brandenburg Airport, is years and years past its due date and has seen attempted privatization, bankruptcies, failed inspections, and countless corruption scandals. Yes, Germany has corruption scandals too.
Even the CEO of Air Berlin sued the airport over income losses due all the delays involving its opening, but by the time this case reached German court, he had left his chair at Air Berlin… only to lead the consortium in charge of BER’s construction! This case was decided out of court.
Nowadays this Airport is estimated to be over €5billion over the budget and we still have no idea when we’ll see it open and running. There was a survey that pointed out almost 67.000 problems that need to be addressed and solved before BER could even think about open its gates.
And the bad news does not stop there: specialists guarantee that BER is already too small for this city. With Berlin being the 3rd most visited city in 2015, by the time this airport gets done, its planned capacity of 26 million passengers won’t suffice the booming tourism Berlin has.