New Berliner Stereotypes in Translation

Graffiti at the Schönleinstrasse stop on the U8 line.

A couple of months ago, the magazine Zitty Berlin posted an online article entitled, “Berlin, deine Feindbilder.” Feindbild literally means something like “villan-image,” but the meaning here is more like “bogeyman” or “negative stereotype.” And so, Zitty, which is a supplementary magazine to the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, offered a surprisingly long list of stereotypes of Berlin’s denizens. While not as funny as caricatures, these Feindbilder capture something essential about the debates and tensions that are alive in Berlin right now. None of these images are entirely true or false, but they represent the way Berliners imagine each other when they’re fighting about something.

Naturally, the original article was in German. But, since there are a lot of English-speaking ex-pats in Berlin and since there are a lot of people outside of Berlin who would be interested in learning more about these stereotypes, I’ve translated a handful of them here. Out of respect for the authors of the original article, I’ve only translated 5 of the 24 profiles. I also haven’t re-used the cute caricature drawings that accompanied each profile in the original article.

The Neukölln Hipster

He wears bright-red, skin-tight jeans along with buckskin shoes, a vintage parka, a jute tote-bag, and five days’ fuzz of a moustache. He has a Leica camera and a MacBook, in which to type up posts for his street-style blog. He eats tapas, which he doesn’t like as much as those he had in Barcelona, where he travels once a year on EasyJet, so that he can feel cosmopolitan. He rides a fixie. He bought the thing on eBay and then got it pimped out with chromed spare parts at a bike shop called something like “Bike Factory” or “Gear-Shift & Sons” If it didn’t come across as so damn uncool, he certainly would’ve had a rear-view mirror installed on his bike, so that he could check out his face and his strategically-disheveled undercut hairstyle while cycling. He goes to Berghain every Sunday afternoon. He only drinks beer out of a bottle, since any place with a counter is mainstream. The Neukölln Hipster would like to be the all-in-one package: avant-garde, dandy, bohemian. And yet his existence hangs from a slender silk thread that threatens to snap the moment that the rent money from Daddy comes too late.

The Über-Mom

She wants to be the best in everything. In breastfeeding, in knitting baby bonnets, in making baby food with fair-trade, certified organic carrots, in doing headstands at baby-yoga. Of course, her kid sleeps right through it. Of course, the kid can already paint, write, count, and make music, when all the others are stil playing in the mud. If there’s a fight at the playground, it’s crystal clear to the Über-Mom: her child can’t have been the aggressor, since he would never have risked dirtying his new Petit Bateau striped sweater, which mommy always hand-washes and rubs with fabric softener. The Über-Mom is providing a service to society with her fertility. Her loins gave birth to the saviour of tomorrow, her needs take precedence, her baby pram has right of way. Every day, the Über-Mom stands in front of the daycare centre with a clipboard and takes note of any deficiencies, since nothing can be left to chance in the care of Martha Isabelle Flavia.

The Danish Investor

He seems nice. When he comes to visit the tenants in their apartment, which is to be converted into condominium, he takes his shoes off in the corridor. He acts collegial and understanding. He says that if he hadn’t bought the building, it would’ve been some shady and ruthless property shark. He says, “I don’t want to throw you all out. I think it would be just super, if there were some real families living in between the vacation rental flats. And so, you can buy your apartment.” If the tenants don’t have the money to pay for their soon-to-be-luxuriously-renovated Altbau (i.e., highly valuable pre-WWII building stock)—no problem: the Danish investor will take care of the moving costs. They just need to sign this termination notice real quick.

The Techno Neighbor

This is the neighbor that one knows the best and likes the least. You’ve gone to his place countless times to ask him to turn the music, only to eventually break down sobbing on his doormat, because he keeps turning up the volume every two minutes. He has to drown out his tinnitus somehow. He practices for his DJ career starting on Sunday night, when he stumbles out of Berghain or Tresor, and continues right through to Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, until the drugs wear off. Earplugs are no help, and neither are sleeping pills, a pillow over the head — because the techno neighbor set up a sound system in his bedroom, with which he could easily power a whole festival.

The Tourist-Hater

There once was a time, when people had better things to do than to spend their precious few free days of the year and their hard-earned money in a city that was grey, ugly, and surrounded by a wall. That was a long time ago. Berlin still isn’t gorgeous, but at least the city isn’t divided anymore. And there already are enough creative people in this city coming up with all sorts of sexy attributes for Berlin. In short: Berlin is a world city, open to everyone, full of visitors from the entire world. Unfortunately, not every Berliner (new or old) has realized this. The Tourist-Hater still lives in this grey prehistory and dreams of a time when there was something exclusive about living in a grey city. He can only laugh at the tourists that actually like the Brandenburg Gate and ride up the Fernsehturm (TV Tower). Maybe because he’s never been up there himself. Because he’s afraid of looking past the city’s borders.

Not surprisingly, I chose stereotypes that have something to do with my own research here in Berlin (re: techno-tourism and gentrification). In fact, Berghain gets mentioned twice in just these 5 profiles! But, if you read German, I strongly suggest going to the original article and reading some of the other satirical profiles. And if you don’t read German, send Zitty an email and encourage them to hire a translator (*ahem*) to make this available to a wider audience! In any case, you should check out the original article in order to see the great caricature drawings that accompany the profiles.


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