Living in Berlin

Rosenthaler Platz, Berlin-Mitte

Dear Berlin-Mitte,
We need to discuss our relationship. We’ve got problems. I suppose it’s inevitable after our years together.
I’m in Rosenthaler Platz, well just down the road, sitting in Dudu, eating Pho. It’s Vietnamese, you know. Except the rice is jasmine, and cooked with butter. I suppose you’d call the place ‘pan-Asian’: there are riesige Japanese rolls, fried in breadcrumbs so later you won’t feel hungry. Well, I guess that’s not Japanese. Maybe it’s ‘pan-world’.
It happened here, all at once… my *epiphany*.
I’d been sitting on that bench weighed with tourists for fifteen minutes and almost finished my soup when the waitress took my chopsticks from me and said:
(I couldn’t hear a thing over the throbbing elevator electronica).
‘It’s time I go?’
Go? Oh no. I’ve hardly finished my Pho.
Tourists waiting, you’ve got 3 minutes, now move your arsch.
And then I just know, Mitte don’t have time for me anymo’.
So honey, sure, maybe it’s time to go.
Not that the choice of establishments directly in Rosenthaler Platz was ever any good. But I preferred you in your smoky corner bar sipping Berliner Kindl. Now you have grown fat on fast food from one of the dozen new eateries in der Nähe: pizza, doner, and the Currywurst tourists think Berliners eat. I keep wandering around looking for a place to sit down, and the take-outs are all designed with standing room. Thank god for Sanct Oberholz, a two-level café with the world’s most jaded service… except it’s completely packed, with all the travellers who also lost their seats at Dudu.
Where to go? Almost every corner of Rosenthaler Platz is now occupied by a hotel. There’s the Circus Hotel, the Circus Hostel, Sanct Oberholz’s Gasthof, the half-built All Seasons hotel (a ‘flagship for the economy-plus category’) , and, a couple blocks away, the new Amano Hotel, and… lest we forget, the bright orange Easyjet Hotel. Frankly, when you opened, that was the end of the neighbourhood.
You’ve been sleeping around on me Mitte. No one needs that many bedrooms.
Once upon a time it was possible to step around your bad qualities. All I needed to do was walk farther down the street and the Easyjetset, their plastic club wear smeared with curry and ketchup, would vanish as quickly as an ‘e’ in Watergate. But escape now seems improbable on any of the nearby streets. The perplexing voyeurism of Oranienburger Straße (where the Tacheles squat opened its doors to tourist cameras and the souvenir trade) funnels tourists towards Hackesche Markt (where Berliners will now only go to watch movies) and up Rosenthaler Straße (where brand-name luxury shops have muscled out anyone who had a small-business dream).
I loved your makeshift bars –you used your kitchen table and chairs– the informal dance spaces, the gallery by day and restaurant by night. And it was still possible for a small designer to afford a studio in the same building as her apartment. Many Wessies loved your broken-down facades. You thought it odd that they’d want to live in such a crappy part of town. All this new investment is to you a dream come true!
Not my dream. I preferred you in your one-piece tracksuit and Ostrock haircut.
Now, now, don’t blame it on the tourists. It’s not their fault. Don’t blame anyone who is curious enough to want to discover how other people live. Although, I could do without the block-long parades of drunk Brits on their hostel-organised bar crawls.
No, blame it on the break-neck pace you allowed Berlin’s most charming residential neighbourhood, the Rosenthaler Vorstadt, to be bound in by a budget tourist strip of internet cafés, call centres, hostels and the stench of the deep fryer. I can tell you that the tourists don’t want what you’ve built them. They are coming for what we, who live in Mitte, are losing. In the long run, Mitte will be the place that your interesting tourists know to avoid, and then who will you have left to sleep with?
I’ve talked to a lot of your ex’s. The conversation these days in Mitte is: ‘I’m looking for an apartment in Kreuzberg or Neukölln’. Or, mein Gott, ‘Wedding, Treptow?!’ Things are getting bad if they’d rather go with those guys. I have to fess up and tell you I can’t wait to give my three-months notice and move to a different part of this marvellous town. Why? Because you won’t give us a seat at the table, you don’t even remember we’re your neighbours, you give us the English menu, and you keep raising the rent. It’s good we talk about this now, it’s only April. You are so much worse in the summer.
Am I the only one left? has everyone else already gone? Have they fled this once most promising of East Berlin neighbourhoods?
I’d like to say it’s not your fault, that it’s me.
But it’s not. You can keep the keys.

Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.

3 thoughts on “Rosenthaler Platz, Berlin-Mitte

  • Joseph Pearson

    responding to some facebook commentary: I agree, the pocket north of Torstraße (NoTo, as opposed to SoTo) is still soooo much better. But how long, how long, before it all goes wrong? I still like most of Kreuzberg, not just its edges.

  • i can't agree you more, and the worst thing is that this trend is all over berlin! gives me the impression that everything i value about berlin means nothing to berlin.

  • Brilliant!

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