mercoledì, settembre 23, 2015

And what now for you, fair city?

So the citizenship ceremony was happily in Berlin, and not back in Australia; I wouldn't have been looking forward to making that trip in the five days or so I would have been able to spare for it (that is, four days travelling and one becoming a citizen - Jeebus - the world is fucking big). Much more exciting to go to Berlin. And fucking eye-opening too.

When we were deciding where to live a couple of years back, Berlin was an obvious candidate, because of course Berlin was a fucking candidate. It's Berlin, and the F-word is an artist, and I'm a sensible human being, so of course I wanted to live in fucking Berlin. And one of the things Berlin had going for it is that it was cheap. When I started price-comparisoning that couple of years ago, there was no real comparison; getting a place in Berlin would have been a vastly cheaper prospect than getting one here.

Berlin got to the final three, but we decided to bank on the F-word being able to make more money in NRW as a teacher, decided that the higher rent here would get made up for by it being a lot cheaper to travel to the other parts of Europe we're most interested in travelling to (as well as out of Europe), and decided that it'd probably be better to live in a city that wasn't perpetually on the edge of bankruptcy considering we'd be sending a kid to school in it. And as much as I like it here, I wasn't sure we'd made the right decision until this weekend just past.

The thing is, we were having a lovely weekend. And though I was a little disconcerted by how it looked like the whole of Berlin was going through the final stages of a complete facelift, and at how it was impossible to find a home hardware store anywhere even sort of downtown-ish, and how the doner had gotten all crappy but there were schmancy restaurants everywhere and three organic groceries to the block, we were having such a lovely weekend that I started wondering if we had made the right decision.

After all, I reasoned, the place had gentrified, but you know what? So had I. Look at my income, look at my possessions, look at my nice new induction cooktop. My toddler wears New Balance running shoes and I have four pairs of Birkenstocks. Maybe it is time to just drop any lingering vestiges of pretence that I'm not viciously and typically middle class. Because Berlin has three or four opera companies and the Pergamon museum and, well, I like having organic groceries everywhere I go. Maybe this is the right city for me, at the right time.

And it being stuffed to the gills with other expatriates - expatriates are a nocive weed, but they're my kind of weed. Their proliferation in Berlin actually seemed attractive to me, disgusting as it was to see fresh generations of American expatriates unselfconsciously and brusquely conducting their business in English (where do you think you are, people, Amsterdam?). I had realized when we were living in Australia that there are a lot of important things I don't have in common with anyone except other migrants anymore, and a lot of other important things I only have in common with other expatriates, that absurdly privileged and bizarrely rarified subset of migrants . . . it is a strange existential trip to be an upper-income white Anglophone migrant in Europe these days with the "migrant crisis" on everyone's lips, boy . . . Anyways. I digress, badly. All that "expat" claptrap is best served another day.

To sum up, I wondered if we had made a mistake, started imagining scenarios that would see us move to Berlin, and then . . . then I looked up rental prices.

Sweet mother of fuck.

For what we are paying for a lovely, comfortable, big place in a very pleasant suburb 20 minutes by tram to the center of our city, putatively the sixth-most expensive in the country and ahead of Berlin (which is putatively the seventh), we would be living in a fucking tiny firetrap in a shitty suburb full of skinheads who'd want to kill us for our lack of Aryanitude. I'm not exagerrating. Fucking Spandau would be more expensive than where we are.

Look, I've seen this sort of shit before, sort of. I screwed myself when we moved to Australia in 2010 by negotiating my salary on 2007 cost of living figures after three of the most heated years of inflation in ages. But this was FAST. I mean, in the space of the year, all of the available rentals seem to have shot up by 50% or more. And localized to one city! None of the press coverage I've read about Berlin inflation have really captured the scale of the problem. It has been a migrant and, if you like, expat city for ages - stuffed with them - but, now? What can happen to it? With all the high-rolling economic refugees pouring in from London or wherever and spoiling the market so fast?

To sum up, summier: we dodged a bullet and I feel like the Berlin I first saw 16 years ago and even the Berlin I saw five years ago are gone for good. I don't know and can't guess what will come next. For overpriced cultural meccas, Europe has already got Paris and Amsterdam. Berlin was Berlin, and now I don't know what it is. 

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