In the 1950s the English novelist and biographer Nancy Mitford popularised the designations ‘U’ and ‘non-U’ to distinguish between ‘upper class’ and ‘non-upper class’ behaviour and language. In those divisive days, ‘posh’ people wore scent not perfume, sat on a sofa not a couch, went to the lavatory instead of the toilet, and at the end of their lives died (rather than passed on) and were buried in a graveyard (never a cemetery).
Over the last few years some Berliners have been moaning about the numbers of tourists descending on the city, blocking the pavement, pushing up prices. Stories have even circulated of locals giving wrong directions to visitors, throwing tomatoes at tour buses and sporting T-shirts with the slogan ‘We don’t negotiate with tourists’. Then last month a Kreuzberg community meeting convened under the banner ‘Help! The Tourists Are Coming!’.
Let’s put this in context. In the four decades before 1989, (West) Berlin was a dying city. Few tourists came here, and the threat poised by the occupying Red Army (in East Germany) did little to enhance a sense of stability. Industry left town. Property prices were rock-bottom. Squatters, Greens and free-thinkers found a way of living well on next-to-no money. But when the Wall fell and the city again became the capital, the place started to change. Artists, tourists and money poured into town. Investors bought bargain-basement apartments to accommodate the incomers, pushing up rents, changing the whole culture of property ownership. Many long-term tenants in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg now find that they can no longer afford the rent. And tourists are getting the flak.
The nine million tourists who come to Berlin every year are one of the city’s biggest sources of income. Tourism is estimated to create 50,000 new jobs over the next few years. Today locals do have to dodge Segways and ‘conference bikes’ pedalled by babbling drunks. They find that their favourite Sunday brunch spot is packed out by visiting Spanish students. But – apart from a few infamous years during the twentieth century – Berlin has always welcomed most incomers. Since the end of the eighteenth century at least a quarter of the population has been foreign-born. To my mind this diversity is one of the reasons that Berlin is such a special city.
Most visitors want to experience Berlin as Berliners do – which means leaving the Stetson or maple leaf pin back at the hotel room and trying to be a Berliner. With this in mind, as a modern Mitford-esque ‘T’ or ‘non-T’ (‘Tourist’ or ‘non-Tourist’) designation, I’ve put together a few key suggestion to help the visitor to appear – for better or worse -- to be a local.
How to Be a Berliner
-- dress down and never wear white sneakers (as I do)
-- carry an open beer bottle on the U-Bahn (especially when travelling alone)
-- hold hands with your partner (gays only; not recommended for heterosexual couples)
-- never go to a club before 4am
-- don’t support Bayern Munich
-- jump queues
-- fret about your health
-- be annoyed if your train arrives more than sixty seconds late
-- look forward to sunbathing at Teufelssee (in the nude)
-- consider wearing a burka (but not at Teufelssee)
-- women over 70 are advised to sport hot pants, leggings and electric mauve lipstick, and carry a lapdog
-- eat sushi
-- be tolerant (unless you’re from Hönow)
-- don’t ask, as one tourist did, ‘Can you direct me please to the Third Reich?’ (the local fellow answered, ‘Yes, just go down this street and turn right at 1933.’)
-- speak German
-- have a look around and enjoy this remarkable city
Any further suggestions on Being a Berliner are welcome (to be submitted in triplicate and stamped by the local authority, of course).