Some Berliners blame an influx of newcomers from south-western Germany for gentrification in their beloved city. But DW’s Gero Schliess says a truce has been found in the capital.Believe me. Berliners used to hate it that so many Swabians had taken over their city, but the war between the “gentrifiers” from Germany’s Southwest and the poor natives is a thing of the past. It’s a fairytale from bygone days.
These days, Berlin’s popular – and highly gentrified – Prenzlauer Berg district is once again peaceful, even for second- and third-generation immigrants from all regions of Germany, including me.
Southern German specialties in Berlin
Sure, you’ll still spot some Swabians and people from more introspective regions of Germany here and there. But is that a reason to dub Prenzlauer Berg “Swabylonian” and act like the few remaining natives are living in a headlock of Swabian tradition?
Of course some people do live in residual fear. This apprehensive coalition would say that no proper household can do without Swabian “Maultauschen” (pasta squares filled with meat and spinach), a culinary specialty of the region. Otherwise their dear neighbors from the Southwest could get violent, they fear.
That’s also why the menus in the restaurants in Prenzlauer Berg always seem to find a way to incorporate the Swabians’ favorite dish. So don’t be surprised when you dip your spoon in your bowl of Russian borscht soup and find a Maultasche.
Even the trendy burger joints in the neighborhood are catering to the Swabians by offering hamburgers topped with Maultaschen. And of course the Italians were the first to start offering “Swabioli” instead of ravioli.
Bread battle in Berlin
But, as I said, things used to be worse. When I was living in the US, the situation in Prenzlauer Berg sounded pretty bad. At the time, former vice-president of the German Bundestag – and Prenzlauer local -, Wolfgang Thierse told the Swabian residents in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want his “Schrippe” replaced by a “Weckle.” Now, those are both words for the same thing – a simple bread roll – but each carries a strong regional connotation.
In a nutshell: Swabian immigrants should be the ones to adapt and not the other way around. Thierse, in turn, was accused of discrimination and the resulting uproar reached me all the way across the pond. I felt like I was being thrown back to Washington in the era of the civil rights movement. Except that there was one big difference: All conflicts aside in the US, everyone can agree that a burger is called a burger.
Keep away from Prenzlauer Berg!
When I moved from Washington to Berlin, I sensed the impact of these years among my friends there. No sooner had I set foot in Berlin than they piped up in unison that I should under no circumstances move to Prenzlauer Berg. What had once been a haven for clubbers and nerds had been overrun with mothers and their screaming children. It had become the country’s overheated incubator.
But then a friend of mine from London let me live temporarily in her Prenzalauer Berg apartment while I was getting settled. That was my chance for a reality check.
On a sunny April day, I set off to see the apartment. What I saw took away my breath. It was just like everyone had said: latte-sipping moms as far as the eye could see, screaming, organic-ice-cream-eating children, and strollers in every shape and size.
The world is bigger than Stuttgart
But when I perked up my ears I experienced by own miracle of Babylon. No, I didn’t hear the Swabian dialect from all sides, but rather English, Spanish and French – the sounds of the world, not southern Germany.
Suddenly I understood that Prenzlauer Berg had become the multicultural paradise and still is today. So believe me, Stuttgart was yesterday. The Prenzel-Swabians are actually from New York, London, Paris and Madrid.
Welcome, bonjour and bienvenidos!