Is Berlin still Europe’s cultural hot-spot?
Is Berlin still poor but sexy?
Is it still “funky” and “off-beat?”
Was it ever?
“Imagine a city,” writes Rory MacLean regarding
Ratchetberg Berlin. Yeah, right. Imagine Berlin…imagine the way we think it used to be. In each decade we all whined that the previous decade was better. (But when we whine today we are probably right!)
The only problem is that when you have been there for an extended period of time–and if you don’t do drugs or drink all the time–you begin to “imagine” that other cities are much the same as Berlin. In fact you begin to think the whole world is just like Berlin. Hint: It isn’t!!
Berlin invades your very last safe spaces–your heart, mind and soul–and begins to turn them inside out. The city–if you are not careful to put up a Berlin Wall around yourself to keep the crazies at bay–will mould you into grotesque shapes of its own choosing, and it will leave you fucked up, strung out and dumped somewhere in some decrepit cubby-hole in Berghain, looking and feeling something like
So for anyone in search of themselves, in search of Bohemia, or love, sex, or a career, or some sort of spiritual fulfillment, or just a better life–all I can tell them is: try Tunis instead. You could hardly do worse!
“Berlin makes the most unfavorable impression on me in general: cold, tasteless, stolid…I already hate Berlin and the Germans so much that I could kill them.”
“i have come to the decision that berlin is the least amusing place i have ever seen. it is the synonym for stupidity. i should be quite happy if i never saw the city again after today.”
–Paul Bowles, June 1931, writing from Berlin
“The city was a gigantic slum, a monstrous agglomeration of uninhabitable buildings. Merely to see its geographic extent and the degree of unrelieved poverty it represented made me feel uneasy. The aura of desperation I had found stimulating suddenly seemed ominous.”
–Paul Bowles, Without Stopping (1972)
“Berlin is a vulgar, ugly, sullenly dissipated city. After the war it plunged into an orgy that the Germans called the death dance. There is nothing attractive nor gay about the nightlife of Berlin. It is altogether revolting.”
–Ernest Hemingway, Toronto Sun, December 15, 1923.
“A stone-grey corpse.”
Matthew Josephson (1899-1978)
“It was a city marked by a kind of dreadful joy, impoverished but hopeful, crowded with an odd but at the same time quite ordinary assortment of people often barely managing to cope. At the same time, it was another, very different city, a city marked by despair and destruction, a city that would soon become, as do the cities in T.S. Eliot’s ‘Waste Land,’ utterly ‘unreal.'”
Peter Edgerly Firchow, Strange Meetings: Anglo-German Literary Encounters from 1910 to 1960
“A disgusting city, this Berlin, a place where no one believes in anything.”
“And now we come to the most lurid Underworld of all cities — that of post-war Berlin. Ever since the declaration of peace, Berlin found its outlet in the wildest dissipation imaginable. The German is gross in his immorality, he likes his Halb-Welt or underworld pleasures to be devoid of any Kultur or refinement, he enjoys obscenity in a form which even the Parisian would not tolerate.”
Netley Lucas, Ladies of the Underworld, 1927
“…a poor, keen-witted, provincial town, simple, dirty, uncivilized, and in most respects, disgusting.”
Henry Adams, 1858
“Berlin of the seventies was still in a state of transition. The well-built, prim, dull, and somewhat provincial Residenz was endeavoring with feverish energy to transform itself into a world city, a Weltstadt.“
Frederick Hamilton, British diplomat to Germany in the late 19th century
“I feel lost in Berlin. It has no resemblance to the city I had supposed it was. There was once a Berlin which I would have known, from descriptions in books–the Berlin of the last century and the beginning of the present one: a dingy city in a marsh, with rough streets, muddy and lantern-lighted, dividing straight rows of ugly houses all alike, compacted into blocks as square and plain and uniform and monotonous and serious as so many dry-goods boxes. But that Berlin has disappeared. It seems to have disappeared totally, and left no sign. The bulk of the Berlin of today has about it no suggestion of a former period. The site it stands on has traditions and a history, but the city itself has no traditions and no history. It is a new city; the newest I have ever seen. Chicago would seem venerable beside it; for there are many old-looking districts in Chicago, but not many in Berlin. The main mass of the city looks as if it had been built last week, the rest of it has a just perceptibly graver tone, and looks as if it might be six or even eight months old.”
Mark Twain, The Chicago of Europe, 1892
Though Twain went on to say considerably more positive things about Berlin in his essay, it’s clear that all the bad things that have been said about this town are all too true. What I wrote concerning Berlin (in 2012) is not only still valid but can be amended with this one fact (among others): that people who live here are becoming increasingly hostile and insane, and most of it–contrary to what I used to believe–has little to do with racism. Berlin racism necessarily manifests itself as casual, stupid and extreme because Berliners are just–dickheads. They always have been. Even in 1775!
MINORITY REPORTS (Opposing views)
Jean Giradoux: “Berlin is a garden.”(1931)
Josephine Baker, 1926: “Lights shine brighter here than in Paris!”
Josephine Baker, 1928: “Don’t say anything. I disappear. I run away.”
Berlin stinks, Berlin is dirty,
Berlin is a scandal.
Berlin is broke, Berlin has nothing,
Berlin, you can suck my ass.
From Frohnau to the Wannsee,
From Spandau to Marzahn,
I can’t stand it here, I have to get out.
Berlin, you make me sick.
The Incredible Herrengedeck, Berlin Stinkt!