Reading about Berlin in the news often involves reading about problematic boroughs such as Kreuzberg, Wedding and Neukölln. Poor education and German language skills, high unemployment rates, and drug abuse are amongst the notorious topics frequently mentioned. But Berlin has its bright side. It is a city rich with history, a colorful city with a population representing over 180 countries, which offers a vast array of cultural opportunities for people of all ages and interests. Besides exciting summer festivals such as Fête de la Musique, there are many museums, galleries, theatres, trendy clubs and restaurants to visit. In recent years, many changes have been implemented to transform this once-divided city, known for the dangerous and deadly Wall, into a welcoming city of culture, diversity and opportunities.
But how friendly and diverse is Berlin? Is this diversity constrained to specific boroughs within Berlin, or is it more spread out throughout the city? Are reports about neo-Nazis and xenophobia in the eastern parts of the city, such as Marzahn, accurate? What do Berlin’s immigrants―from first to third generation―think about Berlin’s diversity? And what does the city do to change, improve or retain the status quo? In general, the term “diversity” is taken to mean the inclusion of groups from all backgrounds, including gays, lesbians, and transgenders. This report, however, will concentrate on a much more narrow definition, focused on those with immigrant backgrounds.
What do Berlin’s immigrants―from first to third generation―think about Berlin’s diversity?
To obtain answers to these questions, we interviewed state officials and people on the street to get their perspectives on diversity in Berlin. Our plan was to compare various state programs aimed at promoting diversity to people’s perceived reality. By understanding the correlation, or lack thereof, between the government’s perceptions of diversity and that of the local public, one can better ascertain whether the state has been taking the right approach to harnessing the diversity that exists within Berlin.
The first step was to search for official campaigns that stress Berlin’s diversity, or promote opportunities – be it academic, work or recreational – that incorporate diversity. Be Berlin and Berlin Needs You are two major campaigns recently launched to tap into Berlin’s potential in this regard. The former campaign is primarily aimed at tourists, while the latter is at more of a grassroots level, and targets Berlin’s youth. A third campaign, Berlin Suits Me, is briefly discussed below but not included in the final analysis.
Immigration has played a major role in shaping Berlin’s history.
After much research and investigation concerning the official goals of the first two programs, we conducted a “reality check” through street interviews. Due to time constraints, these interviews were limited to only three districts: Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Wedding, where more than 30% of the inhabitants have a “migration background”. We asked ten inhabitants from each district a set of questions relating to Berlin as a whole, as well as their particular district. They were also asked whether they identified more with Germany, or with Berlin.
In this next section, the various results of these interviews are presented, and the differences and similarities among the responses analyzed. After comparing the views of Berliners from different districts, this public feedback is then contrasted with the original goals of state diversity campaigns in order to provide a final snapshot of whether these state-run programs truly meet the needs of most Berliners, and whether they contribute positively to diversity in Berlin. Diversity, after all, can be the driving force behind a city’s success.
I. Winning immigrants’ hearts and minds? The state’s perspective
Immigration has played a major role in shaping Berlin’s history. In fact, it was immigration that allowed the city to become the European metropolis that it is today. Yet, the positive aspects of the diversity that has resulted from this immigration process was never sufficiently acknowledged until recently. Immigrants were traditionally considered to be a burden to the state, and previous policies tended to follow a policy of tolerating rather than including them as part of German society. Therefore, the identification of “diversity” by a group of external consultants to the city government as a strength rather than weakness, in characterizing the state of Berlin, represented a major change.
Berlin seems to have recently adopted a two-pronged approach to harnessing the diversity that exists within the city. In addition to actively promoting the city’s appeal to tourists around the globe, it is also implementing rigorous measures designed to realize the economic potential of its own inhabitants. The two diversity-related campaigns mentioned above, Be Berlin and Berlin Needs You, are examples of such measures.
By promoting itself as a city tolerant of different cultures, Berlin hopes to attract talent from abroad, be it in academia, the arts or other fields.
A third campaign, Berlin Suits Me, was launched as part of an effort to convince young immigrants to choose German citizenship over the citizenship of their parents. It was launched in April 2006, and a second time in November 2006. While this particular program is not the focus of our paper, we do provide a graph below which charts the campaign’s immediate success, and how, in the years that followed, naturalization numbers once again declined drastically.
Federal Office for migration and refugees
The Be Berlin campaign, officially launched in March 2008, was aimed at attracting both tourists and investors to the German capital. Though funding has reached a hefty price of 5 million Euros per year, it remains unclear whether the campaign is truly necessary given the steady growth in tourism prior to 2008, with over 7 million visitors to Berlin in 2007. About 18 million tourists visited in 2008. It is unclear what percentage of those tourists came as a result of the campaign. Nonetheless, it helps to highlight Berlin as a city which welcomes people of varied backgrounds. And, by promoting itself as a city tolerant of different cultures, Berlin hopes to attract talent from abroad, be it in academia, the arts or other fields. HIA Senior Fellow and policy consultant Karl Lemberg commented on how scientists all over the world tend to flock to other Western countries, particularly the US and the UK, despite the fact that universities and research institutes in Berlin are very competitive in the sciences. While language may arguably be a barrier, given the right resources this can be easily overcome, the result being that foreign academics would more easily be drawn to Germany.
There is a significantly higher percentage of immigrants in the western section of the city, as compared to the eastern districts.
But is the image projected by the campaign indeed a reality? Fadi Saad, a community organizer from Neukölln, noted that “it’s possible for Berliners to live in the same city yet in completely different worlds”. Which snapshot of the world is being promoted to those outside Berlin? Unlike in most other cities, diversity in Berlin is distributed in a highly uneven manner. There is a significantly higher percentage of immigrants in the western section of the city, as compared to the eastern districts. If it is true that Berliners follow completely different paths of life depending on the borough where they live, with one path leading to a significantly more positive outcome than the other, understanding the basis for such a divergence is important to ensuring that newcomers will be able to comfortably adjust to their new environment..
Though it is not easy to change the mindset of a community that has often viewed diversity as a burden rather than a resource, the state can play an important role in easing this transition. One way is by changing the face of the state to make it more representative of its population – to show that Berlin is indeed an migrant state. Currently, there are hardly any non-ethnic Germans in the civil service. Furthermore, by encouraging those of migrant background to apply for positions traditionally held by ethnic Germans, the state sends a message to all Berliners that young migrants are capable of performing tasks that previously were assumed to be suitable only for ethnic Germans. Such opportunities would also help to lure young migrants away from the path of drugs and criminal activity.
The campaign is one of many initiatives that are currently being undertaken by the Berlin Senate to help “guarantee that immigrants receive the same access to vocational training and employment as the members of the majority.”
The Berlin Needs You campaign is a promising program designed to encourage young Berliners with immigrant background to apply for jobs in the police and fire departments, or other parts of the civil service. According to Agnese Papadia from the Berufliches Qualifizierungsnetzwerk (BQN) Berlin, the campaign, which started in 2006, has proven fairly successful. She mentioned that the rate of youngsters of immigrant background who found apprenticeships in the public service sector rose from 8% in 2006 to 14.3% in 2008. In the integration policy report of the Commissioner for Integration and Migration of the Senate of Berlin, it is noted that the campaign is one of many initiatives that are currently being undertaken by the Berlin Senate to help “guarantee that immigrants receive the same access to vocational training and employment as the members of the majority”.
Agnese Papadia believes that in view of this campaign’s relative success, the Senate plans to expand it to include technical professions and teaching positions. Currently, the initiative is largely promoted in schools and recreational facilities; primarily in immigrant districts. One of its next major goals is to be to reach out to companies, and encourage them to engage young migrants in their recruitment process.
Overall, the state seems to be heading in the right direction with respect to harnessing the potential diversity within the city. As integration policies have only been implemented fairly recently, one should not expect immediate results. Among the other German states, Berlin seems to be leading the way in welcoming immigrants and pushing for policies that would integrate these people into German society.
II. ‘Reality check’ – interviewing Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Wedding
To find out what inhabitants of the aforementioned boroughs think of their districts, we interviewed random people on the street. Interviews were conducted on Herrmannstraße and Sonnenallee in Neukölln, and around Kottbusser Tor, Schlesische Straße and Görlitzer Bahnhof in Kreuzberg. In Wedding, most of the interviews were carried out at Leopoldplatz, and a few were done in neighboring Müllerstraße. What all of the locations had in common were the presence of multiple small shops and restaurants; thus, the interviews took place in relatively busy areas.
Have there been any changes in the quality of life within the borough?
The questions focused on people’s perceptions of the borough itself, of Berlin as a whole, and of whether there had been any changes in the quality of life within the borough. Additionally, residents were asked about their ethnic roots, and their willingness to identify as German citizens. The full list of questions is attached at the end of this report.
The following chart, which shows the 2008 unemployment rates in different districts, provides a snapshot comparison of living conditions in various areas of Berlin.
Neukölln – “We finally conquered it!”
Neukölln is a district located in the south of Berlin―one of the poorer sections―and borders the district of Kreuzberg. Unemployment rates in Neukölln have been higher than in the rest of Berlin. If this were considered an independent city, it would rank first among German cities for number of inhabitants who are in debt. The figure here―21% of residents―is even greater than that for Halle, where 19.62% of its residents are financially overextended.
If this were considered an independent city, it would rank first among German cities for number of inhabitants who are in debt.
In Neukölln, we interviewed as many women as men. Only two of the ten interviewees claimed to have German roots. The other ethnicities were Turkish (four people), Kurdish (one person), Lebanese (one person), Czechen (one person) and one person of diverse background, which would include the ethnicities of African-American, Spanish, and Native American. Strikingly, many of the ethnic Germans queried refused to partake in the interview, and claimed to be busy.
When asked for a snapshot of the district, the majority of those interviewed pointed to Neukölln’s multicultural character and described the escalating social problems within the district. Drug trafficking, high crime rates and the rising unemployment rate were all cited as causes for the deterioration of living conditions within the district. Three of the interviewees blamed the high number of foreigners for the deteriorating condition of the area. Interestingly, of those three, all had non-German roots.
While one person considered himself a “cosmopolitan”, all of the others referred to themselves as foreigners.
Apart from being fed up with unemployment, most interviewees did not feel like or could not identify as Germans. Of all ten interviewees, only one felt partly German. While one person considered himself a “cosmopolitan”, all of the others referred to themselves as foreigners. Regardless of ethnicity, interviewees with immigrant backgrounds had very little difficulty identifying themselves as foreigners, or „Ausländer“ – a word that has become a dictum among immigrants in Germany. Surprisingly, however, nine out of ten interviewees still identified themselves as Berliners, despite not feeling German. Two of the nine had even mentioned their distaste for Berlin due to its many problems, yet, they strongly identified as residents of the city.
Kreuzberg – “Oh, please don’t call me German!”
Kreuzberg is one of the central boroughs of Berlin, and consists of two distinctive parts: Kreuzberg 36 and Kreuzberg 61. Like Neukölln, Kreuzberg 36 is one of the poorer districts in Berlin and is home to many immigrants; this was the area where the interview was conducted. Kreuzberg 61, in contrast, is a middle class district. Kreuzberg, on the whole, is known both for its attractive city nightlife, and social problems such as low levels of educational attainment among youths, and high unemployment.
Among the ten people interviewed, four were male and six female. Four of the interviewees had Turkish roots, one was Kurdish, one was Palestinian and one had Iraqi roots. Three of the interviewees had no immigrant background. In contrast to Neukölln, a fairly sizable number of people with visible immigrant backgrounds did not want to be interviewed when approached.
Half of those interviewed cited gentrification as a problem, and mentioned how it was no longer easy to afford living in Kreuzberg.
Most of those we interviewed agreed that Kreuzberg has a certain touristic value, and should be considered one of the attractions in Berlin. Only three interviewees complained that the situation in Kreuzberg had deteriorated. However, we failed to ask in the interview about the period of time over which that deterioration had occurred. The interviewees argued that crime and violence were becoming more visible on the street. Of these, one remarked that the increased aggression originated mainly from the police, but did not elaborate further. Half of those interviewed cited gentrification as a problem, and mentioned how it was no longer easy to afford living in Kreuzberg.
As in Neukölln, all of the interviewees were able to identify themselves as Berliners, but none, including those without immigrant backgrounds, were able to consider themselves German. In general, perceptions of Berlin as a city seemed to be quite positive, even though the perception of Germany as a whole may be very different. One of the interviewees, in particular, had very strong resentment towards Germany as a result of her bad personal experience while seeking asylum many years ago. Yet, despite her complaints, she claimed that living in Berlin provided a certain feeling of home, and was much better than living in other parts of Germany. Her sentiments demonstrate the stark difference in opinions that interviewees had regarding Germany as a whole, and Berlin the city.
Wedding – “Everyone who lives here is a criminal – at least all people I know.”
The district of Wedding is located at the center of Berlin, and is considered one of the poorest districts in the city. It has an unemployment rate of almost 26%. 17% of the population lives on social welfare, and 27% live below the poverty line. An estimated 30% of the population consists of immigrants.
Unlike the two previous locations, here it seemed remarkably easy to find passersby who were willing to answer questions.
In Wedding, we interviewed ten people, five of whom were male and five female. Four of the interviewees had a Turkish background. The other ethnicities were Hungarian, German, Polish, Guinean, Arabic and Pakistani.
Unlike the two previous locations, here it seemed remarkably easy to find passersby who were willing to answer questions. Almost everyone was eager to share his or her view on the social problems that existed in Wedding. A plausible explanation for this difference is that, unlike Neukölln and Kreuzberg, Wedding is not often visited by tourists and not written about in the papers; hence, inhabitants there may not be as easily irritated by questions from “outsiders.” The social problems cited, specifically, were once again high unemployment and criminal youth, but also pollution and dirty streets. None of the interviewees recommended Wedding as a tourist destination for those visiting Berlin.
As in the other two districts, the interviewees primarily identified themselves as Berliners but not Germans. One of the other interviewees even insisted on being called a Berliner. Only two of the interviewees were able to identify themselves more as Germans. One of them described still needing some time to adjust, as she is from Saxony and not originally from Berlin. The other interviewee, who had a Pakistani background, remarked that he planned to leave Berlin as soon as possible. Interestingly, eight out of the ten interviewees strongly cited Berlin’s extensive public transportation network as one of the city’s positive aspects.
Perceiving the ‘other’ – how people view the other districts
As a way of gauging how inhabitants of one district regard other districts, the interviews included questions asking the inhabitants about their specific views and feelings toward other particular districts. The hope was to be able to arrive at a rough measure of how Berliners with immigrant backgrounds perceive these various districts in terms of diversity, and their perceptions of how tolerant the districts are towards immigrants. Those interviewed were asked about their impressions about the districts of Marzahn, Lichtenberg, Kreuzberg and Neukölln.
For the inhabitants of Neukölln, both Marzahn and Lichtenberg were perceived to be predominantly right-wing and strictly ‘German areas’, where no immigrant should live. Kreuzberg was described as a good place to live, but with high rents that would make living there difficult. Wedding seemed to be a very unfamiliar area to many. A few interviewees had the sense that Wedding was “worse” than Neukölln, but did not elaborate further.
Both Marzahn and Lichtenberg were perceived to be predominantly right-wing and strictly ‘German areas’, where no immigrant should live.
While the responses of those interviewed in Kreuzberg were similar to those received in Neukölln, it seemed that inhabitants of Kreuzberg seemed to have more to say about the other districts. Although Marzahn and Lichtenberg were also generally perceived as right-wing, ‘German’ areas, Lichtenberg was considered to be “not as bad” as Marzahn. Wedding and Neukölln were both described as multicultural. Most of the interviewees felt that Neukölln would be a better place to go than Wedding, because criminality in the former was thought to be less prevalent than that in the latter.
Remarkably, even though Marzahn and Lichtenberg were similarly perceived in Wedding as ‘German areas’, most of the interviewees still considered these areas to be good places to live. Only two mentioned right-wing extremism, and the other eight mostly felt that Lichtenberg and Marzahn were better places than Wedding. Additionally, even though Neukölln and Kreuzberg were both considered multicultural, most of those interviewed preferred Neukölln. They felt that changes for the better were taking place―slowly, but nonetheless occurring―in Neukölln, but not in Kreuzberg. It is possible that they were referring to the process of gentrification that has been occurring in Kreuzberg, which has resulted in tougher living conditions for many migrant families.
There was a general fear among inhabitants that the city of Berlin would be more concerned with meeting the needs of the rich than those of the poor.
Analysis and Conclusions
In all three districts, the interviewees spanned a relatively wide age range, characterized by a mix of students, youths and senior citizens. Despite these age differences, they displayed many similarities in their answers. Almost all of the interviewees preferred to be identified as Berliner, as opposed to German. Morever, they generally agreed that while Kreuzberg is the best place for immigrants to live, it has become too expensive for most of these immigrants.
All in all, there was a general fear among inhabitants that the city of Berlin would be more concerned with meeting the needs of the rich than those of the poor. It was criticized for being too dirty, and for its high rate of unemployment. Nevertheless, despite all these complaints, many interviewees strongly identified with the city.
Furthermore, there seems to be a certain degree of solidarity visible among those who felt themselves to be perceived as foreigners (as „Ausländer“); this is particularly true among visible minorities. One interviewee from Neukölln, who is a Turkish mother of three daughters, remarked on her confidence that immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds would help her and her daughters on the street, were they to be attacked by right-wing extremists. Such solidarity among these different groups was not so visible in the past. Ideally, the state would help to extend this sense of community to all Germans, such that people, regardless of ethnicity, could be counted upon to help one another in times of need.
III. “Shouldn’t Germans accept the new multicultural ‘Leitkultur’?” Concluding remarks
After learning about recent discovery of diversity in Berlin’s state policy as an opportunity for helping the city to prosper and combat its unemployment-related problems, it is even more interesting to observe Berlin’s inhabitants united in their perceptions of those problems. To tackle unemployment among youngsters by providing apprenticeships and jobs are approaches which fall very much in line with what Berliners demand. Based on the interview responses, it is evident that many interviewees blamed unemployed youth as a key factor in the deterioration taking place in their districts.
“Now that The Wall has been down for so many years, we should not start building a new wall separating ethnic Germans from those of migrant backgrounds.”
The Berlin Needs You campaign not only addresses the issue of unemployment among young immigrants, but represents a step towards openly accepting Germany as an immigrant country. Furthermore, by actively promoting the campaign through schools and other youth organizations, the city is helping to encourage these young people to believe that there are indeed opportunities for them in Berlin, and that they are needed and wanted by the city. The perception of such opportunities might, to a certain extent, instill a sense of local pride among immigrant youths. After all, most migrants―as shown in our interviews―do consider themselves Berliners but not Germans; the state can tap into this strong sense of Berliner identity among its people. The results from our interviews have led us to believe that the aim and purpose of Berlin Needs You are very much in line with what is needed on the ground, and we hope that it will continue to successfully engage German immigrant youths into larger German society, by addressing the fundamentally flawed perception among many that not all jobs are open to them.
However, the state must also do its part to deal with the fact that a considerable number of migrants perceive certain areas within Berlin to be strictly “German,” and by implication, not meant for those with immigrant backgrounds. When these people were asked about Marzahn and Lichtenberg, many answered that the boroughs were areas “just for Germans”; just a few remarked that “only Germans live there”. This difference in usage is quite significant. Whereas latter only states a fact, the former implies that the status quo is a prescriptive rule; that only ethnic Germans are welcome. This belief, if not addressed, could result in hostilities between different groups in the future.
Viewing this diversity as a positive rather than negative resource is, however, still a relative new concept to most Berliners.
Regarding the Be Berlin campaign, a slight disconnect was observed between the views of the state and those on the street. Although the Senate has realized that a diverse community can be considered to be a resource―not necessarily a labor resource, but rather, a source of vibrancy by introducing various cultures into the overall population―immigrants have yet to realize the degree to which their culture and traditions add to the state’s attractiveness and overall value. When asked whether multicultural districts such as Wedding and Neukölln should be shown to tourists, many interviewees gave a resounding “no,” remarking that only Kreuzberg had something to offer in the form of its rich nightlife. Their remarks do not necessarily speak to a lack of success on the part of the Be Berlin campaign, since it primarily targets tourists, not the immigrants themselves. However, it would greatly benefit Berlin if its own inhabitants could realize how their differing cultures might be attractive to those from outside Berlin.
On the whole, based on responses from all the interviewees, the Berlin Senate seems to be heading in the right direction when it comes to harnessing the diversity potential within Berlin. Viewing this diversity as a positive rather than negative resource is, however, still a relative new concept to most Berliners. Those living in the neighborhoods discussed above have not felt the programs’ presumably positive impacts just yet. But arguably, the changes have only been implemented in recent years; it may take a few years more before any considerable benefits can be observed at the grassroots level. Moreover, the interviews were conducted using a very limited sample of people, and hence, may not be representative of the overall attitudes of those districts. Nonetheless, the various interviews provided a certain degree of insight into sentiments among the immigrant population in Berlin, and highlighted how the state might best help this group. After all, they may not identify themselves as Germans, but they most definitely consider themselves Berliners! To take a piece of advice from one of the interviewees: “Now that The Wall has been down for so many years, we should not start building a new wall separating ethnic Germans from those of migrant backgrounds.”
IV. Interview questions
- Are you from the district and how long have you been living here?
- What is your ethnic background?
- Please describe the district in your view – what kind of people are living here mostly?
- What comes into your mind when I ask you about: Marzahn, Lichtenberg, Kreuzberg, Wedding, Neukölln?
- What kind of city is Berlin to you? Can you describe it?
- What do you love/ hate about Berlin?
- Are you German?
- Are you a Berliner?
- What do you think every tourist should see when coming to Berlin?
Commissioner for Integration and Migration of the Senate of Berlin (Ed.): Encouraging Diversity – Strengthening Cohesion. Integration Policy in Berlin, 2007 – 2011.
Commissioner for Integration and Migration of the Senate of Berlin (Ed.): “Welcome to Berlin.” Berlin, February 2008.
„Arbeitslose in Neukölln und den Gebietsuntergliederungen.“ Bezirksamt Neukölln von Berlin. www.neukoelln-jugend.de/daten/Arlo_entw.pdf
Florida, Richard: „The Rise of the Creative Class.“ Washington Monthly, May, 2002.
Goldmann, Sven: „Jeder vierte Neuköllner lebt auf Kredit.“ Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin, January 1st, 2008. www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/Neukoelln-Verschuldung%3Bart270,2448950
Worbs, Susanne: Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge. „Die Einbürgerung von Ausländern in Deutschland“., 2008, http://www.bamf.de/cln_092/nn_442016/ SharedDocs/Anlagen/DE/Migration/Publikationen/Forschung/WorkingPapers/wp17-einbuergerung,templateId=raw,property= publicationFile.pdf/wp17-einbuergerung.pdf
Ulrich Raiser, Researcher and Policy Advisor, Office of the Berlin Commissioner for Integration and Migration. Berlin, Germany. June 25, 2009.
Karl Lemberg, Policy consultant and Board Member of HIA Germany. June 24, 2009.
Agnese Papadia, “Berlin Needs You” campaign. Berlin, Germany, June 25, 2009.
Nivedita Prasad, Diversity and Human Rights Educator. June 24, 2009.