berlin 2009


Most Berliners I know—a generally liberal bunch and pretty typical for the city—tell me the police are playing up the leftists’ role, and they downplay conservative chatter about a coming wave of leftwing violence. But they don’t deny that the city is restless. Many Berliners in the central districts are unhappy over the city government’s support for commercial development, high-end condo construction, and everything else that falls under the rubric of gentrification. Berlin suffers from all the same problems faced by once-derelict, suddenly trendy cities worldwide: rising rents, capricious developers, rezoning. But unlike residents in, say, Portland, Ore., many Berliners place little faith in the legislative process. Direct action, at least for the young, is still a preferred form of social activism. Earlier this summer more than 1,000 protesters clashed with police outside the shuttered Tempelhof airfield; developers and allies in the government want to turn much of the 450 acres into mixed-use neighbourhoods, while local activists want it to be a new city park. And there are recurrent street fights over Mediaspree, a public-private effort to turn a stretch of riverbank southeast of the city center that is currently home to a bevy of artist collectives and dance clubs, into a home for IT, media, PR, and graphic design firms, with a heavy dollop of corporate entertainment on top—the newly opened hockey stadium, sponsored by the O2 cell phone company, was christened with a concert by Tina Turner.

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