Tagged: Berlin

Nazi Slogans: Has Berlin’s Gentrification Feud Gone too Far?

From Der Spiegel.

It may have begun as a joke, but with the adoption of slogans used by the Nazis, an ongoing feud pitting long-time Berliners against newer residents from southern Germany may have crossed a line.

In the past months, the so-called “Swabian hate” became increasingly aggressive. In early May, “Don’t buy from the Swabians” was spray-painted on the side of a Prenzlauer Berg building, an incitement to boycott that directly mirrors the slogan affixed to Jewish businesses in 1933 after Hitler came to power.

On Monday morning, residents of Berlin’s central Mitte district awoke to find a memorial bearing a bust of the 19th-century German philosopher Georg Hegel smeared with ketchup and currywurst, a local fast-food specialty, under a banner reading “Expatriate Swabians.” This probably didn’t come as a big surprise, however, given that in the past year, graffitied messages like “Shoot Swabians” and “Swabians Out” have become commonplace in the city — particularly in the former working-class neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg in what was once East Berlin.

Germans from the southwestern region of Swabia — with their hefty savings accounts and distinct accents — have become the unfortunate poster children for the city’s rapid gentrification. Proudly rough-around-the-edges Berliners like to complain that the well-heeled arrivals from the south are bourgeois and pedantic types who are not only causing rents to spike, but molding the German capital in their own provincial image.

An anonymous group claimed responsibility online for defacing the bust of Hegel, who hailed from Stuttgart, Swabia’s largest city. “The Swabians have until December 31, 2013 to leave the transitional quarter. They will be expatriated from Berlin and sent to the south,” reads their website.

Though most of the intimations of the “Expatriate Swabians” group and those like it are probably meant to be tongue-in-cheek, many feel the mock-nativism is in poor taste — especially in Berlin, where mass pogroms were carried out by the Nazis only a few generations ago. Berlin’s interior minister, Frank Henkel, called the most recent incident “tasteless” and “unspeakable.” On Tuesday, he told the mass-circulation daily Bild: “If anybody doesn’t fit into Berlin, then it is not the Swabians, but these intolerant factions.”

It Began as a Joke

The act is the latest in a series of incidents — often referred to as the “Spätzle Wars” in the local press — that at first seemed like harmless pranks. In January, a group known by the name of “Free Swabylon” splattered spätzle — a traditional Swabian egg noodle dish — on a statue of the artist Käthe Kollwitz and called for an autonomous Swabian district in Berlin.

A few days earlier, Wolfgang Thierse, a long-time Prenzlauer Berg resident as well as the vice president of Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, had commented to a local newspaper that he felt he’d become an “endangered species” in his neighborhood and complained that many local bakeries now use the Swabian terms for various pastries, instead of the Berlin ones.

“I hope the Swabians realize they are now in Berlin, and not in their little towns with their spring cleaning,” he told the Berliner Morgenpost. “They come here because it’s all so colorful and adventurous and lively, but after a while, they want to make it like it is back home. You can’t have both.”

But in recent months, the so-called “Swabian hate” has grown increasingly aggressive, as graffiti has adopted the tone — and, in some cases, the exact wording — that was used by the Nazis in their persecution of the Jews and other targeted groups in the run-up to the Holocaust. One recent piece of graffiti reads, “Swabians, piss off,” with the double “S” resembling the Nazi’s SS insignia. In early May, “Don’t buy from the Swabians” (“Kauf nicht bei Schwaben”) was spray-painted on the side of a Prenzlauer Berg building, an incitement to boycott that directly mirrors the slogan affixed to Jewish businesses in 1933 after Hitler came to power. Both phrases were followed with “TSH,” supposedly an acronym for “Total Swabian Hate.”

‘No Justification’

Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, told the daily Berliner Zeitung earlier this month that the graffiti was an “unthinkable action” for which there was “no justification.” And Interior Minister Henkel pointed out that the act is especially insensitive because there is a synagogue on the same street. “Graffiti of this kind is no trivial offense,” he said. “The police will do everything they can to find the person responsible.”

“Its never good to trivialize the Shoah and the Third Reich by using the words and phrases related to that time,” says Ralf Melzer, an expert on right-wing extremism at Berlin’s Friedrich-Ebert Foundation. “But especially here in Berlin, where the Final Solution was planned and organized. It harms and insults the relatives of the victims.” Serious or not, he adds, this kind of glib referencing is normally frowned upon, if not unprecedented, in Berlin.

“From time to time, you hear politicians use wording similar to the Nazis in other contexts or apply the word ‘Holocaust’ inappropriately, and so forth,” says Melzer. But he can’t think of another instance in which the language of the Third Reich was thrown around in such a cavalier fashion, he adds.

As early as the 1970s, Berliners have had a habit of mocking newcomers from southern parts of Germany — especially Swabians, who were easily identifiable by their accent and idiosyncratic dialect. In the 1990s, after the fall of the Wall, derision grew as the younger generation flocked to the city from other parts of the country to take part in the wild parties and experimental arts scenes for which Berlin had become known.

In the past decade, as Berlin’s international profile has continuously grown, resentment against the influx of new residents has intensified, with locals complaining that the city is being overly gentrified, sanitized and sapped of its character. An extreme case is Prenzlauer Berg, which transformed in less than two decades from communist workers’ district to ragged bohemian playground to posh family enclave, complete with yoga studios, preschools and organic cafes. For all the claims that Swabian hate is just a bit of good-natured taunting, the sentiment is grounded in the real anger of long-time residents being priced out of their homes.

‘A Real Social Dimension’

“Maybe the intention is to make a joke, but I’m not so sure,” says Melzer. “I think this is actual resentment against a group. It’s a very diffuse kind of feeling, but there is a real social dimension in that housing prices are getting higher, the neighborhood is changing, it’s getting more chic. But you have to see that this is quite a normal phenomenon. Neighborhoods change. This has to be handled in another way — not by stigmatizing a whole group, be it the Danish or the Swabians. It’s a pity that things like this happen, and it’s not good for the atmosphere in the city.”

The focus on Swabians, in particular, has hit a nerve because it taps into deeper cultural and geographical animosities rooting back to reunification, when a bankrupt Berlin turned to the wealthier German federal states for support.

Today, the city-state of Berlin is more than €60 billion ($80 billion) in debt and receives around €3 billion a year in cross subsidies from the richer German states, such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, the two states straddled by Swabia. Some see the anti-Swabian acrimony as particularly hard to swallow, given the fact that Berlin owes much of its current incarnation as a dynamic creative capital to the fact that its southern neighbors foot the bill.

And for that matter, as Melzer points out, you could just as easily blame new residents from Bavaria, Brandenburg or Italy.

“I would say that to some extent, it’s an artificial conflict,” he says. “There’s a real basis, but you can’t blame individuals. And bringing this into context with the Holocaust and the Nazi era is not only completely inappropriate — but also counterproductive for people who want to keep prices low in their neighborhoods.”


Gentrification of Berlin stirs protests with neo-Nazi tinge

From the Vancouver Sun.

Campaign against wealthy Swabians buying in blue-collar neighbourhood uses Nazi imagery

The gentrification of rundown city neighbourhoods is a matter of anxiety and outrage worldwide just as in Vancouver. But in Berlin what started as a joke has developed into a bitter campaign with neo-Nazi overtones.

In the German capital’s working-class Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood, an influx of affluent Swabians from the country’s south scooping up relatively cheap housing in what was once one of the grimmer areas of grim East Berlin has sparked fierce resistance.

The district’s residents, proud of their blue-collar heritage in the old communist East Germany, have taken to hard-edged mocking of the southerners from Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg states for their distinct dialect, frugal habits and bourgeois ways.

Swabians have long been the target of jokes in Germany because of their accents and reputation for humourlessness.

Berliners, however, have in recent years had to face the inconvenient truth that it was the parsimonious Swabian states that played a major role in financing the revival of Berlin after reunification in 1989.

But in Germany, and especially in Berlin where the Nazis in the 1930s set in motion their schemes for the genocide of Jews, homosexuals, Roma and other distinct groups, the singling out of any culture for attack rings alarm bells.

The campaign against the Swabians started in January and at first it seemed to be more of a joke than anything.

A group using the name “Free Swabylon” called for an autonomous Swabian district in Berlin and backed up its demand by decorating a statue of early 20th century artist Kathe Kollwitz, known for her sympathetic depictions of the poor and downtrodden, with those well-known Swabian traditional egg noodles, spaetzle.

However, what local newspapers quickly dubbed “the spaetzle wars” swiftly took on a sharper tone.

What has startled Berlin’s municipal councillors and federal politicians is that the graffiti being spray-painted on the district’s walls with ever-increasing regularity draws on instantly recognizable Nazi imagery for its attacks on the Swabians.

Some of the messages use the exact phrases the Nazis’ used in their propaganda against the Jews and other targeted groups.

“Graffiti of this kind is no trivial offence,” Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, told the newspaper Berliner Zeitung. Police will do all they can to track down those responsible, he said.

Sensitivities are heightened because in Munich, the Nazis’ base before gaining national power, there is a high-profile trial of a group of neo-Nazis.

The five people are accused of murdering, over seven years, eight men from among Germany’s community of three million immigrant Turks, a Greek man and a German policewoman.

Those warning bells about reviving group hatred clang even louder when mainstream politicians appear to jump on the bandwagon of social rifts.

Earlier this year Wolfgang Thierse, who as well as being a longtime resident of Prenzlauer Berg is vice-president of Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, told a local newspaper, the Berliner Morgenpost, that he felt like an endangered species in his own neighbourhood.

His complaint was that the Swabian new arrivals had begun to change the culture of the district to reflect the customs of their home states.

“I hope the Swabians realize they are now in Berlin and not in their little towns with their spring cleaning,” Thierse told the newspaper.

“They come here because it is so colourful and adventurous and lively,” he continued. “But after a while, they want to make it like it is back home. You can’t have both.”

The influx of people into Berlin, especially Swabians, began soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. That immigration from Swabia has intensified in the past decade and the magazine Der Spiegel says Prenzlauer Berg in particular has been transformed “from communist workers’ district to posh family enclave, complete with yoga studios, preschools and organic cafes.”

At first after the fall of the wall, Berlin became a magnet for artists of all stripes eager to take part in the joyous project of creating a new entity out of the city’s previously divided parts.

Indeed, one of the great symbols of the creative zeal of the rejoining, the so-called “East Side Gallery” where artists painted on the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, is also a subject of anti-gentrification outrage.

A controversial investor plans a luxury apartment complex where part of the 1.3-kilometre-long “East Side Gallery” runs along what was known as the “death strip” between East and West Berlin.

Dismantling the wall had to be halted early in March after several angry protests by demonstrators wanting the wall saved and the development killed.

But then, late in the month and early one morning work, crews protected by about 250 policemen took down the sections of the wall impeding the development.

Berliners Are Waging a War Against Gentrification

From Vice. I hate Vice but the article is a good overview of what’s afoot.

It’s been 23 years since the Berlin Wall was demolished, and now the bulldozers are back. This time, however, no one’s clapping. When word got out that a developer was planning to build a luxury apartment complex right on top of the preserved section of the wall (known as the East Side Gallery), 6,000 people showed up to block the demolition crews, proving that irony is still alive and well in the city that, 23 years earlier, was campaigning to have the wall destroyed.

For a while, the public outcry seemed to work. Protests continued, petitions were signed, local artists spoke out in indignation, and David Hasselhoff even married the wall in protest, which, surprisingly, isn’t the weirdest thing he’s done in his professional career.

The developer in question, Maik Hinkel, was apparently surprised at the response and assured Berliners that he would work with the city’s mayor to find a compromise. But last Wednesday, under the cover of darkness, Hinkel broke his promise and removed eight meters of history forever. The worst part? Hoff never even got a chance to honeymoon 😦

Police guard the East Side Gallery. Photo by Ash Clark

Formerly preserved sections of the wall have been taken down before, but it’s never sparked such a huge reaction. Most of the protesters I spoke to were less concerned with the wall itself than with the super expensive apartments that were replacing it because these days the word on every Berliner’s lips is “gentrification.”

Protesters near the wall. Sign reads: “Berlin is not for sale.” Photo by Nina Hüpen-Bestendonk

It’s no secret that Berlin is changing. Nowadays, on a Sunday morning, the distant thud of the Berghain’s sound system gets drowned out by the nasal chatter of American exchange students drinking lattes in cute, authentic cafés.

And the phrase “Silicon Allee” (Berliner Allee is, funnily enough, a street in Berlin) pops up more and more frequently, sitting nicely alongside “Silicon Roundabout” and “Silicon Forest” in the growing list of cities lucky enough to obtain their own version of California’s favorite tech metonym. Housing prices have risen more than 32 percent since 2007, and while the Wall Street Journal calls it a “melting pot of talent,” and that fine-art lecturer you’re sometimes forced to hang out with calls it “the place to be.” But not everyone is so excited.

Pro-hipster poster by the Hipster Antifa Neukölln group. The top line reads, “Gentrify our neighbourhood—more bars—more wifi—more organic markets.”

The anti-hipster rhetoric has become so prevalent these days that it’s even prompted pro-hipster advocacy groups to counteract some of the prejudice. (Is being anti-anti-hipster the new hipster?) Hipsters get so much of the blame because they’re what academics call “middle gentrifiers”—artistic types who flock to the cheap rent and subsequently make the area seem trendy to listings magazines who think that video-art installations in dirty squats equal cool, pushing up the rent and forcing out the established community (in this case, largely Turkish) who’ve lived there for years.

It’s the same story from Dalston to Neukölln, with exactly the same signifiers: kebabs and dance music are the face of 21st-century European gentrification.

A “not for sale” sign outside the Køpi 137 squat.

Unlike London, however, this is a city that values its mietrecht—its tenants’ rights—and it refuses to go down without a fight. Most people see gentrification as an unstoppable force, but Berlin might be the first city that actually has a chance to effectively challenge that preconception.

Two weeks before the first wall demo, 500 people gathered to protest the eviction of a family who couldn’t afford their rising rent. They left 15 cars burned and ten police injured. Similar protests have been happening almost every week for the past two months, and one this Tuesday got particularly violent. It’s difficult to pinpoint why more intense protests are kicking off now after years of increasing rent, but it’s safe to say that the backlash is getting visibly more violent.

The Køpi 137 squat remains in place, despite attempts by police to evict its residents.

On the frontline of the debate are the squatters. For a while, people thought they were doomed, but in a city where even senior citizens will squat their retirement home to prevent its closure, a blanket downfall of squatters seems unlikely.

Cuvry Brache is a “free space” that won the right to exist despite attempts to develop the area. People camp there in tents and hold festivals in the summer.

The squatters’ existence is a bit of a paradox. Those taking residence at Køpi 137 and the Cuvry Brache squat in the Kreuzberg district know that gentrification threatens their existence, but they also know that their existence encourages gentrification. The more radical squats that exist in Kreuzberg, the more appealing that Kreuzberg seems to middle-class art students and the developers that inevitably succeed them.

Their solution to this vicious circle of hipster-driven gentrification is to surround themselves with graffiti saying stuff like “No tourists, no hipsters, no yuppies, no photos” and chasing you with dogs if they see you pointing a camera toward them. In fact, the only way I managed to get photos was to go when the squatters were forced indoors by a foot of snow.

A teepee home at Cuvry Brache.

Those who aren’t squatting are protesting against the oncoming pileup of gentrification. I went to one demonstration held by residents of subsidised housing in Kottbusser Tor, an area in central Kreuzberg. Even though their accommodation is meant to be social housing, it’s becoming increasingly unaffordable.

“Every year we get a letter from our landlord raising the rent by 13 percent per square meter,” Matthias Clausen, one of the protest’s organizers, told me. “It’s like a countdown before we have to leave. That’s what gentrification feels like for my neighbors and me.”

Residents at Kottbusser Tor protesting their increasing rent. The sign reads, “Our neighbors are here to stay! Including those on benefits.”

Matthias continued: “We’re demonstrating because of the high rent that we can’t pay. We live in social housing, so our rent is subsidised and yet it’s still too much for our neighborhood, which is one of the poorest in Berlin.”

I asked him if many of his neighbors were being evicted. “Yes,” he responded. “Five or six letters of eviction are sent out every day in Berlin. We’ve managed to prevent many of them, though.

“New Berlin depends on the foundations of the old Berliners. Students and artists come here for the cheap rent, and that cultural avant garde destroys itself because they drive up prices. A lot of my friends feel bad for living here because they feel like they’re part of the problem, but it isn’t just an automatic process of the free market. There are individuals who are investing, who are driving up the rent, and there are ways around this. There are people making decisions and the process of decision making is something we can influence.”

More protests against increasing rent. The sign reads, “Stop racist exclusion! Not just in the real estate market!”

And Matthias has a point. Around half of Germany’s voters are renters, and with the federal elections coming up in September, politicians will be forced to address the issue. The Pankow district is already imposing a ban on luxury modernizations, while Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor, has proposed reviving Germany’s low-income housing program that was left behind in the 60s.

The destruction of the East Side Gallery might seem like a death knell for old Berlin, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The important thing is that so many people demonstrated against it, and that more and more protests are happening every month. As the issue starts to reach its boiling point, the world should keep its eyes fixed on Berlin because it may just provide the first real solution to the gentrification that’s been sidelining heritage and bulldozing history all around the world.

The Perverse Effect of Street Art on Neighborhood Gentrification

From Le Monde.

The most memorable graffiti and wall murals are often demolished by the force of urban real estate development projects.

The Perverse Effect Of Street Art On Neighborhood Gentrification

Graffiti in Paris’ 19th arrondissement

PARIS – In the New York City burough of Queens, 5 Pointz is considered a graffiti mecca. An open-air museum where urban artists can paint freely – but only for a couple more months.

5 Pointz is scheduled to be demolished next September, to make room for two 40-story high-rises with breathtaking views across the river of Manhattan. Swimming pool, yoga room, pool tables… Gentrification at its most luxurious.

The list of mythical urban art sites (mosaics, graffiti, stencils, collages…) that have been demolished keeps growing. Berlin’s legendary Tacheles squat, a former mall occupied by artists for over 20 years, was closed last summer. The same thing happened in 2011 to Paris’ Piscine Molitor, an abandoned swimming pool complex nicknamed the “white ship” that became a popular spot among Parisian graffiti artists.

All these freewheeling artistic sites are doomed for the same reason: urban areas are the perfect candidates for lucrative real estate transactions.

Paris’ Piscine Molitor

Street art has always represented a dilemma for municipal authorities. On one hand, they make a point of fighting against graffiti-related “vandalism,” while on the other hand encouraging “artistic” practices. The difference between vandalism and art is not always easy to tell…

In Paris’ 20th arrondissement, “the city created a specific training course for staff in charge of cleaning the walls, to teach them to distinguish between random tags and graffiti art,” explains Bruno Julliard, deputy mayor in charge of culture. But most of the time, cities don’t bother with the distinction and simply ban what they consider to be an illegal appropriation of urban space. In France, spray-painting a wall is punished by a fine of up to 1,500 euros – more if the graffiti is on a public building. It costs cities a fortune to remove tags and street art works  – 4.5 million euros a year in Paris.

Still, graffiti and street art are inseparable. Both are created in a “highly codified space” where “transgression is a driving force,” explains Tarek Ben Yakhlef, an artist and author of one of the first books on graffiti in France, published in 1991. Urban art uses people’s emotions and imagination to convey universal messages.

“Street art must interact with the public in a natural, spontaneous and creative way,” explains Nicholas Riggle, a philosophy PhD candidate at New York University writing a dissertation on the intersection of aesthetics and moral psychology. The forms of street art we know today are the legacy of different movements, including graffiti, which emerged in the 1960s in the United States.

Marginalized at first, it made its appearance on American subways in the 1970s, before arriving in Europe ten years later alongside hip hop music. Famous artists emerged in Paris: “Jerome Mesnager, Mosko et associes (Mosko and associates), les Musulmans fumants (the smoking Muslims), Miss.Tic or Blek le rat – who inspired Banksy. They were very present but at the same time buried in the mass of graffiti that invaded the city,” says Ben Yakhlef.

But little by little, the gentrification of urban areas gained momentum and “broke the social fabric,” says graffiti artist Da Cruz. Luxurious buildings flourished everywhere, driving rent prices through the roof. The arrival of rich people caused the poorest residents to leave. Part of the street art scene denounced these urban transformations.

In Berlin, rents in the eastern part of the city have increased by 90% between 2000 and 2012, according to German newspaper Der Spiegel. The reason for these huge price hikes is “properties sold to an international clientele,” says Bastian Lange, a consultant for the Berlin research center for urban development, Multiplicities.

A vibrant avant-garde culture

This is where street art comes into play: “It helped show that gentrification isn’t always a good thing that the neighborhood should accept without protesting,” says Winifred Curran, associate professor of DePaul Chicago. A point of view shared by graffiti artist Da Cruz, a staunch defender of the working-class identity of Paris’ 19th arrondissement, which he had to leave five years ago. “When I was spray-painting, I tried to raise awareness, or at least to accompany the changes. What else, aside from color, can bring people together better? You can’t fight against bulldozers, but you can have an impact on what people are thinking before, while it’s happening and after.”

Although street art mostly denounces gentrification, it also sometimes plays a role in it. Artists have extensively used poor neighborhoods as a space of expression. The problem is, when a neighborhood attracts artists, it quickly becomes trendy and popular because “it’s the sign of a vibrant avant-garde culture,” says Nicholas Riggle. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a creative place? Against their will, by their mere presence, these artists have unwillingly transformed these neighborhoods … And indeed the rich did flock to these neighborhoods – in Berlin, and New York’s Soho or Chelsea. “But there are also new arrivals who come with an open mind and a good energy,” says Da Cruz.

Berlin’s Tacheles squat

This is why, at first, municipal authorities and real-estate developers are not opposed to artists taking over working-class districts. To the point of actually helping them financially, “provided they can attract a certain class of population,” says Winifred Curran – allowing them to “sell” the neighborhood later.

“It’s the same problem all over the world. People tolerate us, people are happy for us to come in during this transition period before a neighborhood is rebuilt.  We are the city’s colorful Band-Aids,” says Da Cruz.

Street art is an efficient way to bring “cultural assets to a neighborhood that didn’t have any,” says Curran. But things can go south quite quickly. Authorities prefer to have a Guggenheim Museum instead of a graffiti squat. They are reticent to finance street art, but they change their mind when an artist becomes famous. The situation becomes schizophrenic when there are “laws that punish street art severely,” while at the same time “the cities commission artworks to these artists, museums expose them and galleries sell them,” says Ben Yahklef.

Other cities have understood, however, that they could use street art to their advantage. First in line is Berlin, which has become a major tourist destination in Europe. “We work for the system, let’s face it,” Da Cruz admits, although he says he has “realized over the years the importance of explaining what we do.” This is why last summer, together with fellow graffiti artists Marko 93 and Artof Popof, Da Cruz decided to organize street-art themed walks in the working-class suburb of Pantin northeastern Paris.

Unfortunately, sources of funding are few and far between. “It plays a minor part in financing contemporary art,” Julliard confesses. “When we do commission street art, we need to negotiate with local residents first. It is not always easy to get them to understand that we are talking about work of art – some are downright hostile.”

But things are changing. In 2009, thanks to a petition, a giant rabbit painted by world-famous street artist ROA was saved from being erased from a wall in Hackney, northeast of London. And in 2015, a new project is slated for in central Paris: a 1,500 square meter space dedicated to hip-hop urban cultures to include recording studios, dance battles and street art.

Belgian street artist ROA’s rabbit in Hackney