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Monday, April 18, 2011

White liberal European immigrants in Berlin

Joel Alas, in the English edition of the Tagesspiegel, denounces the 'demonizing of “international party tourists” (which includes longer-term foreigners who remain for months or years)' as 'a form of racism and xenophobia.' For him:

The arguments used against foreigners – rising rents, noisy streets, neighbourhood upheaval – should be directed toward the government policies which have enabled such changes, and the landlords who have taken advantage of deregulated rental prices. Stop blaming foreigners for Berlin’s political and economic structural problems.
Mark Espiner touts a similar horn in his article Berlin doesn't love you focusing on Neukölln. Yet, especially Alas, completely misunderstands the premise of the wave of criticism that has hit Berlin's party tourists and offers a Todschlagargument in response that it impossible to counter but that is simply invalid.

It is not because of racism that these short- and longer-term foreigners are met with a (semi-)hostile attitude. Rather one has to clearly differentiate between classic immigration waves of Turks, Poles or Serbs, which intended to (re)create their lives in Berlin and modern party tourists. The problem with the latter lies in their superficial presence in Berlin. They live there in passing only, without necessarily truly knowing the language, without regard nor knowledge of German or Berlin history or literature. They are part of Berlin but not of it as Churchill might put it.

Don't get me wrong, most of my recent Berlin friends are foreigners. I personally lived in Paris until a few days ago only and am now residing in Tunis. I like foreigners, I am one myself most of the time. But I speak and write French, I lived in Paris as a Parisian surrounded by French friends, speaking French, reading French literature and newspapers, listening to French music. In Tunisia now, I am starting to learn Arabic tomorrow. I will not restrict myself to German or French friends. In fact, I despise expat community living.

Yet, that is what most Western foreigners coming to Berlin do. They come for the party, for the cheap rents. They come for the fun, not to truly live there. Why the sudden emergence of English language editions of German newspapers? Isn't it just a question of common courtesy to speak the language of the place where you live? Especially since most of the people we are talking about here have at least finished their undergraduate studies, if not more?

If you're an American living in Paris, not speaking French, hanging out with your American friends or obliging your few French ones to speak English or if you're a German living in Mallorca doing the same thing, it is not racist to say that you're not contributing to the cohesiveness of the respective society, rather you're abetting its stratification. It is not xenophobic to say that you are contributing to gentrification (as do all the German middle class folks moving into cool neighborhoods of course) and the further exclusion of less well-earning parts of the general populace. Rather it is a denial of reality to claim that 'white liberal European immigrants' have not significantly changed Berlin - and not just in a good way, but that is a discussion that such be led without cheapshot arguments invoking the Nazi-threat without naming it and, quite honestly, it should also be led in German. Zumindest dann, wenn Du wirklich ein Berliner bist und willst, daß auch der Teil der Bevölkerung, der kein Englisch kann, daran teilnehmen soll.

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