September 3rd, 2010

[LINK] "Berlin’s growth threatens freewheeling spirit"

A recent article in the Globe and Mail explored the effect that economic recovery has had on Berlin. For a long time economically depressed (hence an artists' haven), a recent property- and tourism-driven economic boom risks displacing these artists, while Berlin's long-term unemployed--skilled in industry and construction--aren't apparently benefiting substantially from the growth in employment.

After spending the 1990s ranked with the lowest gross domestic output of Germany's major cities, according to the DIW economic institute, Berlin has recorded the strongest economic growth for the past five years. A population decline has been reversed and a record 4.2 million tourists flocked here in the first six months of 2010, making it the third most popular city in Europe, after Paris and London.

“Berlin is moving and there is everything here: culture, nature, architecture, history, lifestyle – everyone can find their niche here,” said Johanna Ebert, 34, manager of the newly opened Hotel4youth, situated on a strip of the land where for six decades the Berlin Wall stood.

The capital – which doubles as a city and a state – reported a more than 1.6 per cent jump in overall economic output for 2004 to 2009, according to figures gathered by the DIW. That compares to a national average of barely 0.5 per cent.

Yet there are concerns that the long-sought increase of wealth threatens those elements that have helped make the city exceptional: its chaotic feel, spontaneous clubs and abundance of open spaces and affordable rents that have nurtured a rich experimental art scene.

“Everything is being renovated, money flows in, but the individuality is flowing out,” Ms. Ebert said.

Indeed, the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood where the hotel is located has undergone an 80 per cent turnover of its original population since 1990. First students and artists drove out the former East German residents, only to see their own rents soar as investors bought up the crumbling prewar buildings and turned them into stylish upscale dwellings.