EasyJet Takes Yer Breath Away: Berlin v Tourists

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/07/2011 12:04:00 AM
Turning and returning to some secret place to hide
Watching in slow motion as you turn to me and say
Take my breath away...

OK, so L.A.-based 80s synthpop / New Wave band Berlin has little to do with their titular city aside from the name. The band's greatest hits (like its Top Gun theme) came before the Berlin Wall collapsed. Now, though, beneficiaries of the Iron Curtain's demise are complaining that tourists are literally taking their breath away. Unbeknownst to many, Berlin is Europe's third largest tourist destination for overnight stays after Paris and London. And so the complaints rain down: We are being overrun by foreigners, punks, weirdos, etc. To use a regrettable term, some Berlin residents seek living space away from the travelling hordes. Like many others, this occurrence is another story of globalization. Whereas the European travel market was once dominated by national carriers charging higher air fares, low-cost airlines like (Greek) EasyJet and (Irish) RyanAir have revolutionized the industry by standardizing planes, minimizing frills, and using secondary airports to offer bus fare-like rates. My Italian flatmate, for instance, flies out to visit different European cities three weekends each month.

Some Europeans tend to be snobbish about tourists. From constantly bugging locals for directions to crowding out local transportation, there's always some minor gripe to be heard. As an IPE fiend, I happen to be in the minority that realizes the benefits of tourism for local industry and welcomes travellers unreservedly. Migration is a right of all peoples--read the Universal Declaration on Human Rights if you're in doubt. So, let people roam where they wish to provided they put some towards respecting local rules and customs. But it appears not everyone is happy about these events happening in Europe. The denizens of Berlin's Kreuzberg district, for instance, are crying foul:
“Help, the tourists are coming” was the name of a gathering organized recently by the Green party in Kreuzburg. The turnout was good - over 120 people squeezed into a hall to talk about what they should do about the tourists who many long-time residents say are ruining the neighbourhood.

The bogeymen in their eyes have a profile: They are young and hail from England [yobs?], Sweden, or maybe Italy. In the morning they rattle sleeping residents out of their beds as they drag trolley suitcases over the cobblestones on their way to catch an early Ryanair flight. At night, they disturb the peace with loutish, alcohol-fuelled behaviour, littering the sidewalks with broken beer bottles and vomit. “We’re not a zoo,” said one young man in low-hanging jeans and a hoodie. “Tourists need to head over to Alex or Kudamm,” he added, referring to Alexanderplatz and Kurf├╝rstendamm, two areas which have traditionally been main tourist magnets in the German capital.

But things are changing. The one-time alternative neighbourhood was once best known for its squats, drop-outs, punks and immigrants, not to mention the annual May Day demonstrations where leftists square off against police. But Kreuzberg is now firmly on the itinerary of many tourists, alongside the Brandenburg Gate and the TV Tower. With its many bars and clubs, hip reputation and cheap prices for accommodation and beer, Kreuzberg has become a prime destination for the low-cost-airline set.
It seems complains mirror those from the time of Berlin (the band). In addition, the practice of informal hotelling (think Crashpadder or Airbnb) is upsetting those in the formal sector:
“I’ve lived in Kreuzberg for 20 years,” was a refrain often heard at the meeting, although it was hard to know whether people were angrier about the neighbourhood losing some of its gritty edge or at the techno blasting away in the all-night, open-air clubs along the Spree River. Indeed, some of the complaints by the self-styled “alternative” crowd were reminiscent of the objections voiced by Swabian villagers upset at local punk shows in the 1980s...

There is also a thriving black-market hotel sector, which has the Berlin government concerned. Those are apartments that are regularly rented out by the day, week or month to young tourists or foreign students. The practice, while illegal because the owners lack the proper permits, is very popular. “Berlin has become the capital of the holiday rental,” according to Burkhard Kieker, head of the city marketing agency, who said the trend pushes rents up and makes apartments scarce.

But the situation is unlikely to change any time soon, especially as Berlin keeps breaking its own record for tourist visits each year. In 2010, according to the city’s tourist office, there were more than 21 million overnight stays and the total number of visitors topped 9 million, an increase of 9.5 percent over 2009. There are currently 112,000 hotel beds in the city; another 15,000 are planned...

“City policy has simply been overwhelmed by all the development,” admitted Gerhard Buchholz from the city’s tourist board. But city authorities aren’t likely to discourage tourists from going to Kreuzberg or any other neighbourhood, despite complaints from locals. Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit is a big backer of the city’s tourism sector, since industry-poor Berlin has few other sources of revenue. Tourism adds about €9 billion to city coffers every year.

According to marketing chief Kieker, the Kreuzberg protests are overwrought and residents should be proud rather than annoyed that visitors from all over Europe come to experience something of the lives Kreuzbergers get to live every day. The neighbourhood has become a central part of Berlin, he said, instead of remaining the niche place it used to be. But it appears that for many long-term residents, living in that niche was just fine.
This problem is one I am sure most other cities would love. Having too many visitors! From where I come from, that would be worth putting up some inconvenience with. I suppose stricter zoning regulations can help overall, but still--you may not know how good you've got it till its gone. In the wisdom of Berlin...

Through the hourglass I saw you
In time you slipped away

When the mirror crashed I called you
And turned to hear you say
If only for today--I am unafraid