Month: April 2015

Londoners talk about the weather, Berliners talk about themselves

Berliners have issues about the freedom of speech. Others’ freedom of speech. Don’t dare beef about things you might not like here. This is “our” city and we shall fight for its dignity.

Berlin, cocktails, summer, night life, festival, sun, weather, Berliners, beer, juice, ice, street festival,

This man said he hated it, couldn’t wait to go back home. “It’s too big, too loud” and “people are conceited about living here.” He was a businessman from Frankfurt and we, the native Berliners, didn’t need to give it another thought. The enemy was instantly eliminated from our discussion and definitely from our future leisure time plans.

A Spanish friend of mine got furious, when an acquaintance of hers from Munich said that Berlin is not so exciting for entrepreneurs and starting new businesses. “Imagine,” she told me afterwards, “he said Berlin is in the middle of nowhere and I’ve been running my business here for five years.”

People who have obsessions are dangerous. And if someone suffers from this disease, it’s the “new” Berliners. No matter which continent we come from, we have something in common: we idolize this city. We behave like conquerors, who discovered some sacred land – we must defend it from insults. For us, Berlin doesn’t compare to any other German city, any other European cultural centre, any other place in the universe. It’s part of our imaginary paradise.

Proud Berliners – not an endangered species

Politicians live in this paradise, too. Or at least they pretend to. Some time ago, I was given a political flyer from the Social Democrats. The first sentence of their campaign was “Berlin is a city like no other.” (Of course it is!). Well, I guess that’s something that makes voters in Berlin happy. Show them that you love the city and they’ll be satisfied. Or give them the opportunity to express themselves. Like a few years ago, at the Festival of Lights, when organizers projected Berlin fans’ flattering messages for the city onto the Brandenburg Gate.

And of course, other times of year, there’s the Berlin Film Festival, Fashion Week, the ITB International Tourism Fair. Who cares if the Fashion Weeks in Milano, Paris or New York are well established international style events? Berliners have their own cup of tea and that’s all that matters.

dolce far niente, Italian, Berlin,, coffee, street, night life, beer, Unter den Linden, Brandenburg Gate,

Another hobby of ours is to count Berlin’s superlatives. Berlin’s been setting new records of tourists, of design companies, of the best club in the world, the most ecologically-oriented metropolis in Europe, best public transport, and of course, the most fascinating European train station.

Who else on earth would throw an open air party dedicated to the train station, like the Berliners did in May 2011 for their Hauptbahnhof, to celebrate five years since the inauguration?

I, no different than my fellow Berliners, like to check, now and then, the ranking of the world’s best cities to live in (with the hope that Berlin will be under top 10 again, so I have an argument for possible skeptics from Frankfurt). According to a recent index by the Institute for Urban Strategies in Tokyo, it ranks 6th, after New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Singapore. Not bad.

Love is blind

Yes, we love our city and we’re not afraid to say it aloud. So loud, it sometimes hurts our own ears. In 2011, Berlin’s then mayor, Klaus Wowereit, announced the start of another hallucinating admiration campaign for the capital, on Facebook. “Make it a Million” aimed at gathering one million love messages for Berlin. Fans all over the world were invited to upload 30 second videos containing tribute songs, pictures and even poems. And the city did crack the one million mark, becoming the most popular European city. On Facebook. But we’re taking it for real, of course.

It feels like in an exercise in socialism, except only now we do it voluntarily. After all, Berlin had a few decades time to practice the techniques of the personality cult and learn from the best.

So should you dislike something about Berlin, keep it for yourself. Don’t tell it to the locals, unless you are willing to take the risk of being skinned alive.

Because what you’ll do is remind us about things we secretly hate as well- bad services, noisy construction sites, dirty streets, or the terrible weather. Don’t tell anyone, but in the end, yes, we are a bit nuts, but we are not as bad as it sounds.

Berlin still serves as musicians’ muse

Had Frank Sinatra lived in the German capital, we would probably be singing “Berlin, Berlin” at karaoke nights. Nothing against wonderful New York, but my city doesn’t sleep either – for musicians of all genres.

Depeche Mode, Delta Machine, Berlin, Reichstag, concert, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy FletcherDepeche Mode guitarist and songwriter Martin Gore ironically answered he couldn’t really remember the 80s, when asked about his presumable crazy escapades on Ku’damm Boulevard. It was during the press conference in October 2008, when – out of all the places in the world – the band chose Berlin to announce the following “Tour of the Universe.”

I took the picture above during the “Delta Machine” concert. DM chose to give Berlin ‘a tour of the world’: the background video for “Halo” was shot in the German capital.

It must have been fun for Gore to live in the western Charlottenburg district, as the guys keep coming back. And Berlin didn’t do so bad at inspiring Gore write a few of the band’s monumental songs, recorded on the album “Some Great Reward,” at the city’s Hansa Tonstudio.

Depeche Mode members are by far not the only musicians to call this city their home and muse. Berlin has inspired music and lyrics and even full soundtracks over the years, and it definitely made a turning point in a few notable punk and rock careers.

Heroes, not only ‘for one day’

Berlin serving as an urban magnet for artists is not at all a new phenomenon. Twenty years ago, the whole world was watching the crowds at the Brandenburg Gate, the fall of the Wall and the German reunification. So did the Irishmen of U2, who arrived in the city in search of inspiration. “Achtung Baby,” one of the greatest U2 albums was partly produced here.

Two decades later, fans could hear the chorus of “One” out of the same Hansa Tonstudio. The guys returned to Berlin in 2011, to shoot a new video and re-edit the legendary hit for the 20-year anniversary and a re-release of “Achtung Baby.”

When asked how it feels being back again, Bono told a fan in Kreuzberg district,”Berlin? I love it. Forever.”

A lot of love lyrics have been put on paper in Berlin’s cafes and bars. One of David Bowie’s best songs, “Heroes,” is about two lovers who meet at the Berlin Wall. The whole record “Heroes,” which was released in 1977, was produced during Bowie’s stay in West Berlin, together with Iggy Pop.

Three and a half decades later, in 2013, Bowie dedicated the first single of his 24th studio album, “The Next Day”, to the city he had previously found so much inspiration in. The lyrics of “Where Are We Now” make a comparison between Berlin after the fall of the Wall and Berlin nowadays, according to the cover’s graphic designer, Jonathan Barnbrook.

“I can’t express the feeling of freedom I had there,” Bowie said in an interview on the Berlin years, talking about afternoons at Wannsee and car rides through Eastern Germany. Iggy Pop’s debut album “The Idiot” was also recorded at Hansa, in collaboration with Bowie.

It’s in the air

Ampelmann, a souvenir store in the German capital, sells a marketing CD, titled “Berlin- Soundtrack of the City.” But as far as I know, no one has ever thought of putting together songs inspired by Berlin itself – by this crazy concoction, this mixture of past and future, this decadent romanticism.

I can think of Mick Jagger’s “Streets of Berlin,” Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” (Then We Take Berlin),” I can also think of Robbie Williams’ “Berliner Star” and the Ramones’ “Born to Die in Berlin.” Even the air of Berlin has been made famous by composer Paul Linke, with his “Berliner Luft” piece, written way back in 1899.

Whether in the air, on the streets, or in the symbol of an old Trabant car, it’s magic. They have been dragged into it. It’s Berlin, it’s one but still never the same.