Tourists are public enemy number one in Berlin. But Klaus Wowereit isn’t likely, a la Obama, to drone fuck these foreigners out of town. They contribute far too much to the debt-ridden city for that. No, this isn’t a campaign from the top but rather a slow-burning movement from below; it’s the people of Berlin who have turned against these temporary touristic invaders.
In fact, tourists are merely the latest in a line of unacceptables, deemed to be official hauptstadt party poopers. Others to have felt the heat include the Schwaben and Yuppies. Much the same thing you might huff, but a glance at this über scientific tag generator shows that tourists are equally interchangeable.
The moment when the city’s previous whipping boys breathed a sigh of relief is traceable back to the end of 2010 and a heavy-hitting article in leftist magazine, Interim. Berlin’s ever increasing snap-happy hordes were outed as being to blame for all that was commercial and wrong. Indeed, those radical rascals proclaimed the forthcoming year to be an “Anti-Tourism Campaign 2011” and encouraged readers to steal phones and wallets from visitors, attack tourist buses, burn cars, and even, prepare yourself, turn over trash cans.
No sooner had the year begun, than the Green Party were jumping on the anti-tourist bandwagon, organising a community meeting titled: “Hilfe die Touris kommen!” Just like the Interim article, it was a means of snaring public attention but if the Party’s intention was tongue-in-cheek, the people of Kreuzberg were deadly serious. Ballerman, a resort in Mallorca decimated every summer by German holidaymakers, cropped up again as the archetype of what should be avoided, although the irony was somewhat lost as Wrangelkiez residents bemoaned their new Mediterranean pests.
Stickers carrying the mild-mannered slogan–”Berlin doesn’t love you”–were exchanged at the March meeting in anticipation of the tourist season to come. Yet in spite of the stickers, record numbers continued to flock to the city and thus the street art began to take on a darker edge. No longer content with simply not loving thy overnight neighbour, more anti-tourist tags were scribbled on walls throughout the year. The most brutal (and poetic) of which declaring: “Touristen Fisten!” For which not even pidgin German is needed.
Just as the dialogue was in danger of being oversimplified, Berlin’s hip hop artists weighed in with their version of events. An all-star collection of local talent, often seen sporting the “Du bist kein Berliner” fashion label, appeared in one song together, vexed by the number of visitors and pretenders in their hometown. In the music video to “Die Stadt Überhaupt”, they can be seen spitting rhymes beside sightseeing buses and harassing tour groups before posing the question on everyone’s mind about Berlin’s biggest historical faker: “Wer ist dieser Kennedy? Gibt mir den Hennessy!”
City politicians, as the most unlikely of hip hop fans, seemed to be listening when just days after the video’s release, a new SPD-CDU coalition agreed to a Berlin tourist tax. Five per cent charges are soon to be levied on all overnight hotel beds in 2013. Would-be tourist fisters shouldn’t get too giddy though, as similar measures in Cologne haven’t had any negative effect on the visiting numbers.
Debates grumbled on throughout 2012. In a June interview, a member of the Pirate Party, Simon Kowalewski, compared the growth of tourist numbers in Berlin to a cancer on the city. He went on to criticise the Senate’s intention of attracting more visitors and said: “It’s difficult because it makes people living here feel like they are living in Disneyland with swarms of tourists everywhere.”
The much-maligned (in Kreuzberg at least) BMW Guggenheim Lab held discussions at the height of last summer on the tourist question and a new Berlin documentary, currently being produced, aims to crystallize the debate. It’s called “Welcome, Goodbye” and filmmaker Nana Rebhan (pictured below) believes that residents are upset by a new type of tourist that is destroying Kiez life. “They intrude and they are not interested in the special atmosphere of the place…They are disappointed if they don’t get the things they are used to getting everywhere,” she said. Or in short, don’t order latte macchiatos in Neukölln.
Over in Friedrichshain, the situation is every bit as tense with a new guesthouse being attacked just days after opening in July. Part of a chain of bio-hotels, offering wellness facilities and vegetarian food only, Das Almodóvar Hotel was a red rag to the anti-tourist bulls. Up to 8 masked assailants broke the windows and sprayed the walls with paint-loaded fire extinguishers, a rather typical expression of leftwing discontent. Of course, every action has a reaction and tourist sympathizers have now gathered around the Hipster Antifa movement with its call for more bars, wifi and organic markets. By adopting the Antifa flag, it has drawn attention to the inherent xenophobia of certain anti-tourist sentiments, as well as showing that parts of the leftie scene are embracing the changes witnessed across Berlin.
What is clear is that for many, tourism has become a key issue in the city, yet often reasoned analysis is lacking. The EasyJet set and wheeley suitcases have come in for a considerable amount of flak, as have the sitting ducks of stag dos, beer bikes and segways. But before blasting the tourist out of the water at Admiralbrücke a touch of perspective is in order as well as a more sober look at the connection between gentrification and tourism in Berlin.
Image credits: 1. © Tobias Gürtler (www.tobiasguertler.com) 2. Luke Atcheson 3. © Max Büch