The Sixth Borough: Berlin as New York
New York in the seventies without the crime? New York with a type-B personality? The way ‘the East Village used to be’?
How many times have I used New York comparisons to orient my visitors around Berlin. More than I can count. It’s short-hand, expedient, it does neither city justice, but it’s kind of fun.
New Yorkers have moved in droves to the ‘Sixth Borough’ of Berlin, and these days the hipsters in parts of the city, like Kreuzkölln, seem predominantly English-speaking. As I mentioned in another post, a friend who has taught visual art in New York for three decades watched the geography of the art scene move through her graduating seniors. In the eighties they moved to SoHo, in 1990 they were in the East Village, later they were living in Brooklyn. In the last years, every single student dedicated to pursuing a career in visual art moved to Berlin. Agents and scouts for galleries have followed, as have plenty of art students who don’t want to wait until they graduate. New York University has even opened a campus in the Kulturbrauerei specialising in studio art.
Yes, I know there are plenty of differences between the two cities… Chinatown is denser and more chaotic than Hermannplatz. Kottbusser Tor’s immigrants have less upward mobility than the Lower East Side’s, and Kreuzkölln is affordable and truly funky, while the East Village is no longer. Tribeca’s got more theatres and bistros than Rosa Luxemburg Platz and its Volksbühne. Zoo and Potsdamer Platz aren’t nearly as vertical and awe-inspiring as Midtown. Dahlem’s village atmosphere isn’t like Morningside Heights, even if it’s got the university and some of the weirdness. And just because Nollendorf Platz is full of gay guys doesn’t mean it’s just like Chelsea. Sure, the asshole quotient is higher on Wall Street than in Frankfurt. And on the whole Berlin is less cosmopolitan and diverse than New York City. Only in New York can you arrive and the next day call yourself a ‘New Yorker’. The definition of a Berliner is narrower, and born-Berliners are increasingly worried that their city is changing too quickly due to visitors, tourists, immigrants, expats. I find grumbling against tourists and the English-language here to be xenophobia disguised as activism.