Why [insert your city] is not the new Berlin

So the New York Times was at it this week, stating “Why Brussels is the New Berlin“. The NYT is a bit slow with that actually, as Deutsche Welle asked the same question back in August – at least their piece had a narrower focus on the arts scene that is apparently booming in Brussels. It amuses me that the New York Times piece about Brussels illustrates it with a picture of the Mont des Arts, the sort of classically formalised public space and garden that is so completely at odds with hip grunginess the article says it is looking for.

Other favourites of the ‘new Berlin’ moniker are Leipzig (or Hypezig? – see New York Times and New Republic) and Warsaw (see Euronews, Café Babel). There’s a long Quora discussion about the issue – that comes up with all kinds of alternatives, including Zagreb, Krakow and Vilnius, and a whole bunch of non-European cities. Gawker also proncounced that Berlin was over, asking what’s next?

I find all of this rather annoying.

These pieces basically equate being the ‘new Berlin’ to having an interesting arts scene, some boutique hotels and interesting bars and lively clubs, for rents to not be through the roof, and for a city to somehow be a bit hip. These articles reduce the extraordinary nature of Berlin, and indeed the cities being compared to it, to a narrow list of criteria that Berlin is supposedly known for, and then draw up a facile headline.

I live in Berlin. I never go to Berghain. I rather rarely go to alternative galleries. I don’t sport a hipster beard. But I do appreciate Tempelhofer Feld, the ugliness of East Berlin Plattenbau, the scarred history of this place, the typical Berlin Altbau flats my friends live in. I like the peace and quiet and emptiness in the city more than I appreciate the nightclubs that I never frequent. I like that the city has no centre. That it’s very ugly in many places.

So journalists, please stop calling any city the ‘next Berlin’. If Brussels has a good arts scene, say that. If Warsaw has interesting post-Communist architecture, write that. If Leipzig has an interesting tech scene, describe that. These places are not the next Berlin, and those cities – for better and for worse – are never going to have a bunch of features that only Berlin has and will continue to have.

 

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