Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Are You A Nazi?

Ironically, in my last post I said I was looking forward to moving to a "delightful" town like Munich or Düsseldorf, or Hamburg. It turns out that in the space of only a few weeks, those towns have become  a lot less delightful: Huge tent cities have appeared all over the place, container homes are being put up and municipal buildings are now the home of refugees from all over the world.

Only in August, the government was talking of 450,000 refugees Germany would be taking in. The figure quickly edged up to 800,000, then to a million, and now we hear that an additional 500,000 people want to complete the  hazardous journey via Turkey before the winter sets in.

I will leave aside the question whether the best way of  alleviating what is undoubtedly a global human catastrophe is bringing all those people here. I will also not discuss questions of demographical compatibility. Or the fact that the media continuously show pictures of refugee families and small children - whilst official Austrian Home Office figures established that 78.p.c. of refugees are young males.

I want to concentrate on the aspect I find truly amazing and not a little upsetting: The way this surely major societal occurrence is being discussed in Germany. Namely not at all. In canteens, round the coffee-machines, on commuter trains - the refugee crisis is always the elephant in the room.

That's because only one opinion is permissible: It's great. Germany is an example to the world. There aren't any problems (well maybe some tiny minor technical ones which with the right organisational approach will soon be ironed out). Everything is gut. Shut up. Any questions, doubts, fears, problems? You cannot be serious! Are you a Nazi? You must be very right-wing!!

So everybody shuts up. If you're an ordinary middle-class person with a family, a job, holidays, friends, the daily grind, the weekend to look forward to, I'd say it's most unlikely you will have a Second Life as a rabid Hitler-admiring "Deutschland über alles" singing Nazi. Yet the public mood is so fanaticized - one doubtful look, one wrong question, and you'll be labelled a dangerous right-winger and a "rabble-rouser". No ifs, no buts. It's a fact. Go away, Nazi.

The leader of the Liberal party (FDP) today said : "It's the refugees who will have to adapt, not the indigenous population". Wait for the backlash, wait for the slander. Nobody, however liberal their credentials, how fair their point, intellectual their background is immune  - it is open season in Germany. Any doubts about the wisdom of taking in 1 million refugees year on year? Shut up you Nazi!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Berlin - Not For Me.

I have now been living in Berlin for almost a year, and its ugliness still hits me. Give or take the odd building like the Dom, and a few charming streets in Charlottenburg (one of which I'm fortunate enough to live in) the town with its vast stretches of indiscriminate housing, its brutal 4-lane quasi-Autobahns dissecting the city, its 1960s architecture (have you ever been to an area ironically called "Bellevue"?) is a masterclass in urban uninspiredness. Even the post-reunification architecture is horrible. I don't think I've ever seen quite such a visual imposition as the Potsdamer Platz. And that's is not to mention the creepy horror that was once East Berlin.

You will notice that I'm not a fan of Berlin. I live here because I have to. I've lived in many German towns and have never felt so "unwohl" as in Berlin. To all the thousands of people loving, coming here for their pilgrimage of cool, I have to say: Sorry, not for me.

So what is it I dislike apart from the ugliness? I do think towns (especially in highly regional Germany) have their own character and their own specifics not found anywhere else. So comparing it to other (West) German towns, I can, jus tas an example, say that I've never encountered such an unfriendly population, Hardly a day goes by where I'm not being told off for something (Being in the way, crossing the road when the traffic lights are on red etc etc) by a complete stranger. Berlin - a tolerant town? It is only tolerant of gypsy bands on the S-Bahn and people sleeping rough on the pavement. If you're an ordinary straight "normal" person, Berliners will hate you and resent you and will tell you all about it.

I also loathe the way the town is stuck in a (PR and real) permanent 1990s time warp. The"street art" for which read: Houses with brutal, ugly violent looking graffiti. The clubbing (does anybody still do that? As I have very few 16-year olds as friends there is no way of knowing.) Anyway who can afford to? Don't most people have a job? Not in Berlin evidently. And who would want to be told by some East German misfit with body-cover tattoos that No, you can't come in to our wonderful Berghain anyway? It's so non-Zeitgeist as not to be true and Zeitgeist issomething that Berlin is meant to be good at. 30 years out of date methinks. Or just a city PR agency unable to think of something new? More likely. And rather sad.

More recently, Berlin tried to bang the drum with street food, food trucks and restaurants. In my 11 months here I have never had a decent meal in any restaurant here. (I was recently in Stuttgart and amazed about the contrast). Berlin restaurants and Kneipen tend to offer low-quality cheap food, mainly catering for never to be seen again tourists. And don't get me started on the god-awful Currywurst. "Mit oder ohne Darm?" really says it all, especially where that disgusting concoction ought to be shoved. But that of course is a matter of taste...

Berlin is a mish-mash of horrible, grumpy and misanthropic indigenous people, trash tourists from European backwaters, and not much else. Charmless, ugly and permanently smelling of rubbish.

I will leave as soon as possible and move to one of the delightful towns of West Germany, Hamburg maybe, or Stuttgart, or München, or Düsseldorf....

NB: This post is not written from the  perspective of a British expat, but from a genuinly German one. And yes, that makes all the difference in the world.