Close Up 2016 Hooked on Berlin, the metropolis

Berlin
Photo: Elena Taxidou

When I think of a culture of creativity, writes our guest author from Greece, I think of this city. What’s more, Berlin is the cultural heart of the continent. 

These days, almost every larger town with urban traits is dubbed a metropolis. We can stand by and watch as the term loses substance. For, of course, not every large city can be called a metropolis. I would like to attempt to describe why I think Berlin is a genuine European metropolis.

What is it that a metropolis ought to offer? For one thing, something new and exciting everyday. This may sound superficial, but it describes what makes up a good part of a contemporary metropolis. Unlike a non-metropolis, it “always” has “everything” and “round the clock.” 

Berlin's new architecture Photo: Elena Taxidou This is true for Berlin, where the almost four million inhabitants can party all night 365 days of the year, go to the opening of their art exhibition the next day, take part in a brainstorming session in a loft or pass new austerity measures. 

But these are not the only reasons that Berlin fulfils the criteria of a modern metropolis. The city has tinkered about with its own image to such as extent that we do not perceive it primarily as the capital of Germany, a country with a not unproblematic image in the world. By “we” I mean everyone like me who does not come from Germany. The city has managed to become the European centre for deciding weighty political resolutions that impact the lives of people thousands of kilometres away without this fact damaging its image. Instead they are not associated with Berlin, but with the country of which Berlin is capital. 

What is more, Berlin has a unique image in Europe. Today, the city is the cultural heart of the continent. When I think of a culture of creativity, I think of this city. The image is so prevalent that new arrivals almost expect to run across a hyperactive artist with a can of spray paint in his hand the moment they arrive at the airport and to encounter impromptu parties of musicians at baggage claim. 

In its very own way, the city is able to grow in width and height without swallowing up the land and sky. Here, people cycle every which way in the somewhat fresh air while cars race along spewing exhaust fumes in the next lane. Here there are lakes, trees and multitudes of bicycles alongside huge digital advertising spaces, Starbucks on what feels like every corner, pavements strewn with cigarette butts and rubbish next to the rubbish bins.

I walk Berlin Photo: Elena Taxidou The city has no more skeletons in the closet. It has processed its past without fearing it, visibly, for example, in the Topography of Terror. This history is present everywhere so that it is not forgotten and perhaps one day will be understood. The city does not remain stuck in yesterday and the day before yesterday and sometimes even uses this – albeit sometimes clumsily – as a tourist attraction, such as at Checkpoint Charlie. It takes courage for a city to take responsibility for its past by keeping it alive before all eyes. I bow to that. 

Above all, Berlin has carpentered itself a future-oriented framework for cultural professionals; it is a European cradle of artistic creation. Presently, more than 60,000 artists live and work here. Berlin grants them absolute freedom of expression and repeated extensions to their artist visas. The city is like a magnet for all beings of art. 

It's easy to fall in love with Berlin Photo: Elena Taxidou Further uncompromising characteristics of this city are its drug and alcohol tolerance, its openness to otherness as well as Berghain and other clubs. I see a metropolitan dynamic, also due to leftist and feminist impulses and a full-fledged protest culture, like recently against the TTIP. Pluralism is the key word, no matter how powerful or conservative the Chancellor’s Office or Mr Schäuble may appear out in the world. Did I forget something? Maybe neo-Nazis, but then again, it also has one of the largest LGBT communities in the world. 

Yes, Berlin bears every feature of a contemporary metropolis and at the same time, the city doesn’t care whether you love it or not. Either way, you will still get hooked on Berlin.