Scene in Berlin

Being 'too sexy' has its downside

Berlin attracts more and more tourists each year, who help buoy the city's budget. But some residents would rather give up the money and keep Berlin's flair for themselves.

BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 15: A tourist sits next to her suitcase in front of the Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament, on August 15, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. In 2010, nine million tourists visited the German capital, and ten million came in 2011, a new record. Tourism, a major industry for the city since the fall of the Berlin Wall, contributes 9 billion euros (USD 11.1 billion) into the local economy annually, and has a high employment impact, with 230,000 Berliners earning a living in the tourism sector. The increase in visitors is not limited to Berlin; 75 out of 80 German cities reported more tourists in 2011 over the previous year. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

If you're a tourist in Berlin, the hardest thing is not to find what you're looking for. Come up with the craziest idea of entertainment, and it'll pop up around next corner in no time. It's most likely you'll meet Berliners who enjoy your presence. Or… not.

You see, those who fit into this metropolis - where fashion shows in a church don't puzzle anybody, where the shabby-chic concept has become cult, and where you can smell the avant-garde on the street as it wafts from falafel sold in an art gallery - will soon discover that living elsewhere is just about impossible.

Lately, more and more people around the world are catching wind of this loopy planet called Berlin, where fun and decadence are still mostly paid for by the federal state. Financial issues don't worry the inhabitants, who are fully satisfied and proud to shout out loud, "Berlin is poor but sexy."

City of the world

Two giant aluminum sculptures of men, with holes in their bodies Photo: picture-alliance/dpa

'Molecule Men,' a sculpture by Jonathan Borowsky is one of Berlin's eye-catchers

Meanwhile, Berlin's residents are confronted with another dilemma. In the first half of 2013, 5.3 million visitors came to the German capital. If things stay the way there are, Berlin is about to break another record number of tourists, topping out at nearly 11 million by the end of the year. The Statistical Office Berlin-Brandenburg and Visit Berlin, the city's official tourism portal, published these official data, which show a 5 percent increase in the number of tourists compared to last year.

Now these people significantly contribute to the city's budget, as tourism has become one of the most important branches of Berlin's economy the last few years. Berlin's mayor, social-democrat Klaus Wowereit, said in a speech: "Statistically speaking, there are 20 people coming to our city every minute." The number of overnight stays increased even more - by 9.2 percent - reaching 12,4 million. Burkhard Kieker, manager of Visit Berlin, is talking about "Berlin's come-back as city of the world," these past 20 years.

Paradise about to go to hell

But despite its reputation around the globe and the money that's constantly flowing into the city, Berliners are currently trying to figure out whether they enjoy the "intruders," or would rather live happily ever after without them. It's not that we're complete unsociable morons, famous for our "Berlin snout." In the end, it's the open-mindedness of this city that made it what it is today. But for some, it's getting to be slightly too much. Why should our self-made universe belong to the whole world, if we could keep it all for ourselves? And here I am including myself on purpose, not because I personally dislike tourists. But because it's mostly us, the non-naturally-born-Berliners who take hold of "our" Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg or Kreuzberg districts, like children who won't share their toys.

Urban symbolic photo of Berlin, front in focus on sticker that says 'stop being a tourist,' back is blurry Photo: picture-alliance/dpa

In 2012 Berlin chalked up more than 10 million visitors, much to some residents' dismay

We are afraid that with the tourist waves, we could lose the very authenticity of this place. Tourists mean income, which in turn leads to modernization, new hotels and new infrastructure. Sure, it's nice to have a neat city, with new roads and freshly renovated buildings. But what about our shabby-chic and cool trashy corners, where you can buy coffee for 1 Euro and enjoy your brunch for a little more? Our bohemian paradise will definitely go to hell!

This newly released statistic also shows that a third of the tourists coming to Berlin are under 30 and would rather get to know the local life, than see classic tourist attractions like the Brandenburg Gate or the Reichstag. That's the problem. Would you like flag-waving group tours in your cosy neighbourhood?

Sharing our toy

I was recently amused by a flyer I saw on a pillar, in the city: "Stop being a tourist!" At first, I was sure it was some sort of protest, taking in consideration the numerous demonstrations against the gentrification of certain neighbourhoods. But it turned out to be an advertisement for a home-exchange platform. By the way, the 5.2 million tourists represent the official statistics, based solely on people who booked hotels in the first six months of this year. So the figure excludes tourists who prefer accommodation in private homes. You, dear tourists, are much more than that!

Themenbild Kolumne Scene in Berlin

We honestly appreciate that you also find our city cool. But still, once every few weeks, some of us take on the streets to show our dissatisfaction, not with you directly, but rather toward the consequences of a city facing change for your sake.

I know it sounds completely gaga, as we also love, love, love change, just like the fact that we love, love, love being open and having a good name around the world. But somehow we'd like our Berlin to stay ours and the changes to be ours.

In other words, should you meet Berliners who seem not to enjoy your presence, don't take it personally. We are just jealous of you playing with our toy.

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