Berlin is #15 on The 2014 GOOD City Index.
The cry that Berlin is “over,” made by countless news sources this year bemoaning that the city once known for cheap rents and underground parties has grown unaffordable and boring. This proclamation might have led Berliners to start defending the city’s honor. Instead, the multicultural mix of Germans and expats who have shaped Berlin's diverse landscape in the 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell have been too busy reveling in the city's thriving art, music, foodie, and tech scene to care. Some may be lamenting this new era, but others are embracing it. Exactly 25 years after the wall came down, there’s nothing "over" about Berlin; rather, it's a city of innumerable new beginnings.
Hub for progress
Nicknamed "Silicon Allee" (allee means alley in German) due to its bustling tech scene, Berlin is home to countless coworking spaces, incubators, and cultural hubs. Conferences like Tech Open Air and Startup Weekend Berlin also nurture new ideas. No organization has done more for women in tech than Berlin Geekettes, which has instigated a mentoring and training program that expanded this year to London, Maastricht, and New York.
Mayor Klaus Wowereit helped put the city on the map as a liberal, welcoming metropolis. However, his failure to open a new airport after a string of delays has tarnished his reputation. In response to a nosedive in popularity, Wowereit recently announced his voluntary resignation after a 13-year term, effective December 2014. He will be succeeded by Michael Müller, who led the development project at Tempelhof and promises to breathe new life into the city with policies and programs aimed at social balance and urban development.
After years of complaining that Berlin’s foodie scene was underdeveloped, Berlin is finally having its food truck moment. There were more culinary street fairs this year than weekends—events like Bite Club, a twice-monthly food-truck extravaganza on a hip riverfront lot in Kreuzberg and Stadt Land Food, which boasts vendors, workshops, and a communal lunch of leftovers to finish off the event. In a shift from nightlife to night-market, the long-time owners of the popular techno club Bar 25 this year opened the Neue Heimat Berlin Village Market, a weekly Sunday tradition for hungry Berliners.
Once thought of as a renter's paradise, Berlin has seen apartment prices soar due to an influx of long-term tourists and urban hipsters who are comfortable paying higher rents. Angela Merkel, who lives in Berlin, responded in October with a bill to cap rental increases on new leases. But Berliners value their mietrecht, or tenants’ rights, and they’re not waiting for the government to save the city’s rental culture for them. Anti-gentrification protests this year, particularly in rapidly developing neighborhoods like Neukölln and Kreuzberg, proved that residents are engaged in the fight to save the neighborhoods they live in.
Berlin’s trains under (and above) ground are efficient. Their ticketing stations, however, are slow and hard to find. So when the BVG—the city’s rail company—rolled out a new app this past January that allows users download a ticket to their smartphone, the move was seen as the best thing to happen to the city’s public transportation in years.
Green spaces are everywhere in Berlin, but few are as wonderful as Tempelhof, a former Nazi airport roughly the size of New York City’s Central Park. After the war, the site remained unused until 2010, when it was reclaimed as a recreational area to barbecue, bike, and relax. This summer, Tempelhof came under threat when a vote to bulldoze the site for residential buildings was put on the ballot. Locals turned out in droves to reject the plan and to keep the space public.
Berlin’s Jewish population is rising: 2014 estimates say that anywhere between 5 and 15,000 currently live in the city. Germans haven't blinked an eye about these growing numbers, instead enjoying the influx of Israeli restaurants popping up around the city. Ironically, certain Jewish factions have. This year, angered by a Facebook page called Olim L’Berlin (which controversially used a Hebrew word normally reserved for immigrants to Israel), some Jewish groups cried foul that more Israelis are moving to the city, lured by cheaper rents and lower living costs than in Israel.
Germany grants its citizens a whopping five weeks of paid time off every year. But that isn’t enough for social democrats, who said this summer that increasing use of email and smartphones are leading to psychological damage and stress. In response, the German government called for an “anti-stress law,” which would ban after-hours calls and emails. If passed, this will likely affect the working culture for employees of major Berlin-based corporations like Deutsche Bank, Siemens, and Deutsche Bahn.
Yasha Wallin writes about art, travel, lifestyle, and design for a variety of international publications. Formerly GOOD's creativity curator, she is the co-founder of The Usual, a New York-based creative agency and surf publication. Yasha splits her time between New York and Berlin, enjoying the latter's plentiful cultural activities, abundant bike lanes, and killer schnitzel.