Berlin's Not Dead (But Paris Is)

If Berlin is the new home of la bohème en révolte, it is not the bohemian who writes supernatural poetry at l'impasse du Doyenné soaring on hashish, nor sits in a cafe all afternoon reading Being and Nothingness behind dark shades—no, it's an all-night techstep striptease fueled by cheap weisse beer and a nightclub cocktail of synthetic dissociatives mixed in any number of cheap-rent artist collectives with revolving DIY galleries and comfort-bursting postmodern dance. The activism is punk-squatter der-Schwarze-Block agitated by whitrification with a hacker culture old as the 80s and life-size bronze statues to the three greatest leakers of the 21st century: Snowden, Assange, and Manning beneath their Soviet Space Age equivalent of the Eiffel Tower. The poorest capital in Western Europe as it's called, but at least "we're sexy" said its former gay mayor. Said to be ugly in comparison to Paris, Amsterdam, or Prague, but not as bad as most parts of New York—although the Soviet architecture's utilitarian to the point of absolute boredom (do not walk the length of Karl-Marx-Allee).

 

There's Kreuzberg, falsely called the Williamsburg of Berlin, because it actually has a countercultural history, but yupifying nonetheless—rents doubling, all but one squat in the city evicted, legalized, bought, and/or paid rent on. Although 200 euros a room to 400 doesn't seem like much to a Portlander, if rent control never comes: Berlin is so large activists and creatives could run loops around the outer rim for decades. Neukölln is the next Kreuzberg (right next door), Wedding's the new Neukölln (next to nothing for trendy bars or coffeeshops, but home to scattered complexes packed with anarchist and artist alike). Friedrichshain is where you go to party; Prenzlauer Berg to push the young middle class baby carriage. Mitte was the wonderland for a couple years after the wall fell, before capitalism sucked its soul dry just as much as communism had.

 

People here say Berlin is dead, after having moved here a couple months ago—guess there's nowhere else to go, and we truly wonder if they secretly like things dead. Budapest is the place to go someone tells me, then it's Amsterdam, London someone says. All these recommendations must say something psychologically: chasing low prices and continued late-night debauchery à la Pest's ruin pubs, smoking the world's best weed (no matter how many Portlanders disagree (nonetheless there's no question we've won at beer)) while struggling to be middle class (forget being an artist), and pound signs in the eyes with a madness for tea and multinational banks. Of course all of these people are relatively young and once they've settled into a family or a drug addiction, we’re sure they'll settle for wherever. City-searching is like soul-searching, for most people: there's an expiration date.