east, west and real berliners

pre-move musings

I can
probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve conversed about East/West
divisions and how it relates to "people of German origins" with whom I’ve come in

So let’s

  1. One of my former German teachers related her experience at the time the Berlin wall came down. Her parents watched it on TV and she went upstairs because it wasn’t very interesting. 
  1. On Stresemannstr. some random man stopped me and in mostly unintelligible English tried to explain the location and historical significance of the Berlin wall to me. I don’t know where he was from but I guess he thought I couldn’t read the "Berliner Mauer" plaque on the ground and had been living under a rock my entire life. 
  1. At one of my favorite events in Paris, Cinemix, where DJs provide the accompaniment for silent films, I realized that the other Berliner with us could read the Russian titling. An actual click sound and a real light bulb appeared over my head translating into wow you learned Russian in school.  
  1. While chatting with another foodie, I heard the very interesting theory that Germans, especially East Germans, don’t have problems with spicy food per se, it’s that they eat too fast. I couldn’t clap to that.
  1. While eavesdropping, I’ve overheard someone blame a moderator’s awkwardness on his East Germanness and another person refer to his/herself as being that East German with whom an upwardly mobile West German family would never want to associate.  


Well there
are really 6 but I’m sure everyone has heard a cucumber/banana story. I’m
always surprised to hear such things, especially when it’s a negative remark
about people from the former East side with the requisite – oh I hope that didn’t offend – disclaimer
attached to it. As a foreigner, those types of perceived differences and stereotypes are pretty much lost on me. When I do notice people eating like a vacuum, I
don’t attribute it to anything but bad manners. The last
discussion I had about East/West divisions was centered on an anecdote
about David Hasselhoff singing "Looking for Freedom." The one before that: I
think BZ did a poll asking school-age children about the Berlin wall awhile back. My favorite
response: there was a wall?

The number
of German people I know who are
actually from Berlin is probably pretty low as well. Being
a born and bred New Yorker, I can appreciate the novelty. In my VHS
class, I found out that my semi-regular conversation partner is a real
Kreuzberger, who went to elementary school a block away from where I am moving to
(still here – we are never moving).  I was so sure he was about to start with the oh
you live in Kreuzberg
speech but he didn’t. A milestone for me.  



  1. patrick said,

    Sunday 12 March 2006 at 3:08 pm

    some german friends of mine, who moved to east berlin, always argue how it is cool to live there, how inspiring, how creative this environment is. and then the same people go and tell me, that, despite that fact, they really don’t like the people living there – talking about native east berliners. always found this to be a bit strange – on many levels. to say the least.

  2. patrick said,

    Sunday 12 March 2006 at 3:11 pm

    ah… and let me add: the new blog looks great, very clean.

  3. sattva said,

    Monday 13 March 2006 at 8:55 am

    hey patrick:

    a tad bit odd but i think the same rings true for a lot of urban areas across the globe. berlin seems to be a special case in that those sentiments probably won’t or can’t spur gentrification as space is not lacking and that kind of money just isn’t here. yet.

    glad you like the new site!

  4. patrick said,

    Monday 13 March 2006 at 2:40 pm

    fabian recently told me, that he’s looking for a new place, because his neighborhood became too “middle class” already. now i’m neither an expert on berlin nor on gentrification, but to me this seems to be a prime example of it… the first stage gentrifiers leave, while higher income / more conservative people start establishing themeselves. maybe all of this is happening a bit more parallel than in other cities? (because of berlin’s history?) fabian says, it’s too middle class – but still there seem to be many original residents around, as he’s not liking them either. 😉

  5. sattva said,

    Tuesday 14 March 2006 at 10:31 am

    i don’t really know whether i’d consider it gentrification at this point in berlin due to the space issue. maybe it still is? my impression was that major gentrification happened in the 90’s but to keep going in that direction i think there will have to be more money/business. there are simply lots of empty apartments in berlin in general. people moving into certain areas right now are not necessarily displacing people nor bringing any huge change to neighborhoods which raise the average rents/real estate value even though the general character of the neighborhood may change. a mietspiegel of berlin is amazingly flat compared to other cities. outside of mitte, i’m not sure whether people are being priced out of entire neighborhoods at the moment – certain pockets perhaps. i’m no expert either and i don’t know what to call people moving because they don’t like their neighbors 🙂

  6. patrick said,

    Thursday 23 March 2006 at 6:12 pm

    i see!

    btw… i found this… http://www.taz.de/pt/2004/12/03/a0263.1/text.ges,1 – there was an exhibition dealing with this issue (gentrification in berlin and ny) in 2004.

  7. sattva said,

    Friday 24 March 2006 at 8:40 am

    thanks for the link patrick!

  8. rose jennings said,

    Sunday 26 March 2006 at 10:40 pm

    I don’t know much or frankly much care about the whole gentrification question – yet another topic that Berlin comes upon twenty years after everyone else, and then solemnly debates without ever once considering that anyone else may ever have explored the whole margin/centre paradox – (who in the world cares whether one slightly richer person moves in next door to some very marginally less well off Berliner?) – but I do know that I’ve learnt more German, and more about Germany, from my nice, curious, and straightforward neighbour in the Brandenburg village where we moved to, from Berlin, than from all those annoying young scenesters in Berlin who write their theses about ‘communication’ but can barely stand to listen a question through from start to finish, without breaking in (in english) to tell you something that you actually already knew.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: