Posts Tagged ‘Gentrification’

Why I’m Voting Pirate

Friday, September 16th, 2011

There are local elections this weekend in Berlin, and I’m allowed to vote. At the moment, I’m leaning towards the Pirate Party, for two reasons: a) they’re called the Pirate Party and b) because of their advertising. I wouldn’t normally choose to vote for such apparently flippant reasons, so allow me to explain myself.

I still consume most of my news in English via the BBC. We often have a local German station (Radio Eins or Flux FM) on the radio, so I’ll hear news bulletins in German from time to time, but I have to concentrate pretty hard to understand them properly which is hard if the children are making their usual racket. I hardly ever watch the TV these days, and I’ve never really been a newspaper reader. This means my knowledge of German politics isn’t very developed, and tends to be at a national or international rather that a local level. So I haven’t got much to go on when it comes to choosing which party to vote for. To make matters worse most of the parties go by three letter acronyms, which makes it easy to mix them up. I already did that in an earlier draft of this post, confusing the Communists with the Social Democrats which Ilka thankfully corrected for me.

I first became aware it was election time because all of a sudden the streets were full of posters on lamposts. Most of the political advertising I’ve seen is pretty dull – they mostly show a picture of the candidate and the name of the party, and not much else. The Green candidate also has a lot of billboards up showing their candidate in various situations with anodyne slogans like “Renate works” or “Renate cares”. What none of this advertising tells me is what these people stand for. As advertising goes, it fails pretty miserably in this respect. What I do like, though, is that the Pirates have started subverting the lampost placards, by sticking a smaller poster underneath saying “…, or Pirates!”. Here’s an example:

A subverted election poster

The Pirate Party’s own posters do at least have some ideology on them. Though I can’t always understand all of what they’re saying, my German has improved enough that I get the gist of it. I particularly like ‘Privatise Religion Now!”.

Pirate Party poster
I’ve had a look at their website and they seem to be very keen on transparency and freedom of information, with a nod to the environment, education and families. So their advertising has been a lot more effective, at least where I’m concerned – I haven’t bothered to look at the websites of any of the other parties yet. When I first mentioned to Ilka that I might vote Pirate, she said “That’s a waste, they won’t get enough votes”. If we were still in England, that might be a reasonable argument, but as we have proportional representation here it’s a pretty weak one. She later told me that she’d heard on the radio that the polls are showing they have a large enough share of the vote to win a seat. Maybe I’m not the only one who likes their ads.

I did read the election leaflet from the SPD mayoral candidate, in the interests of some sort of balance. Klaus Wowereit has been Berlin’s mayor for the last ten years, and it looks like he’s well set for another term. He trades on this in his leaflet, which isn’t such a bad idea – apart from the fact that Berlin is burdened with a Greek-sized debt, he seems to have done a fairly good job as far as I can tell. He talks about job creation and a minimum wage (Germany doesn’t yet have one, surprisingly), free education from nursery to university (though Ilka pointed out nursery is only free from three years old) and also about holding Berlin together, and keeping it open. I actually struggled to translate this last bit, although I know exactly what he’s talking about, and he rightly describes it as the most important point. It’s a reference to the social problems Berlin is experiencing, which is the only real political topic I’ve heard discussed. Given that gentrification has become an issue on his watch, he can’t really avoid the issue. I’m not sure his administration has really handled it very well though – for example, I think a better solution could have been found and the riot avoided at the Liebig Str. squat. He says he’ll work really hard on this problem every day, but stops short of offering any real solutions.

I won’t be unhappy if Wowereit wins another term, but I don’t think I’ll be voting for him. I’ll be voting Pirate, partly because I like their name, partly because I like their ads, partly because of their ideology, and partly because it somehow feels right that Berlin should have pirates in power.

Oh Dear: I Appear To Be A Yuppie Invader

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

At least that’s how a friend described me in his email subject line recently when sending me a link to this article on the Guardian website. The loft style apartments mentioned in the article are at the bottom of our street. I must admit that the gentrification debate had largely passed me by, despite Ilka coming across this article in a magazine not long after we arrived, about the next street along from ours. For those of you that don’t speak German, the article is about a photographer who who used to live in the street and who photographed it in the late 80s before the Wall fell, and then again last year. He bemoans the fact that he can only find one of the families he photographed in the 80s, and wishes that his old neighbourhood hadn’t been ‘saved’. He also mentions that the average age of the neighbourhood is late 30s, that this area has the highest density of children in the whole of Germany, and that there are lots of cafes and restaurants. All of which are reasons we wanted to move here. Carla’s nursery even gets a mention.
Guilty as charged?
My ignorance of the issue might well be due to the fact that I don’t consume very much news in German, but it got brought into sharp relief last week. I heard a report on the radio news about a big protest over a squat eviction, and later that day Ilka mentioned something about the people next door to some of our friends being evicted. I didn’t put the two together until I heard another radio report the next day which mentioned the street – Liebigstrasse, not in any way coincidentally where our friends live.
I feel rather uneasy about being a yuppie invader. One of the things I like about Berlin is that it reminds me of London in the 70s when I grew up there. There’s an awful lot of building going on, for example – one of my enduring memories of London as a child is watching the wrecking balls bringing buildings down. There’s also a similar kind of vibe – the punk ethos of London is echoed here, and that’s what is threatened, apparently by people like me who are slowly destroying what they like about the place. Or so some people would have you believe. I don’t feel like a yuppie, and in fact you could say I’m actually a victim of gentrification. One of the other main reasons we moved here is that we can’t afford to live like this in London – at least not in Islington, where I grew up.
I haven’t seen any evidence of the city being made less attractive to incomers, although there has been a bit of bother in town recently over the evictions, as can been seen in this article, which somewhat paradoxically actually paints a slightly brighter picture of the situation. My political sympathies lie with the protesters so I’m hoping for the peaceful co-existence that this article hints at, and that so far I’ve experienced.

* For those of you who do read German, here is another article from the same issue of Geo written by the photographer himself.