What are Racial Politics Like in Berlin?

BY Max Migowski

What are Racial Politics Like in Berlin?


Same goes for skin colour, or so I am told by my close friend Cynthia, 25, CSR Project Manager.

Berlin is no exception when it comes to – predominantly underlying but no less hurtful, even traumatising – cases of racism, the more blatant manifestations of which cook up in the outskirts and the further you get out into the more rural planes of surrounding Brandenburg, rather than in Berlin’s urban depths. While superficially pertaining to singular cases, there is no point in denying even the inner city’s deeper-rooted issues with race though, a bunch of which have proven to materialise implicitly, but explicitly (as in violently) too.

"What I will say though is that I definitely feel more watched or observed in parts of Berlin with lower numbers of BIPOC folk. Not threatening as much as they are telling of a certain sense of exoticism. They talk to me very nicely, politely, but also with a slightly patronising undertone”, she says.

“Whether ill-intended or not though, lots of white people in Berlin can’t help but make you feel somehow different from them – and this applies to self-proclaimed woke people just as much as to everyone else. I’m a Black woman, but I would never equate my own experiences to that of an even darker skinned Black woman, or a lighter skinned nonbinary person. And I think that Berliners, young or old, new or native, don’t abide by that same logic. I’ve felt that people fixate on their own issues and project them onto other issues they don’t really know all that much about, and somehow, with that, overcompensate. It’s a lot of talking, not a lot of listening."

Cynthia affirms that Berlin is very worth the trip and encourages BIPOC to relish in it, but warns not to underestimate the uncomfortable subtleties and subtexts that constitute the social dynamics here. "Not everyone is as enlightened as they think or want you to think they are."

Another nuance to how the race and class politics are handled in Berlin becomes evident in light of East/West wealth disparities, and its demographically, historically significant portion of Middle Eastern, Arab, North African and Turkish communities. More often than not, a lot of what is "wrong" with Berlin is lumped together and blamed on criminality born from lack of integration or adoption of white customs. My close friend Rüzgar, a 26-year old first generation Turkish-German student born, raised and based in Berlin, says that these divides are not as perceivable to new imports or tourists as much as they are to the natives of her hometown, but they’re worth having on radar nonetheless.

"Berlin exists in bubbles, it’s very compartmentalised to the point of where it’s almost like parallel universes that exist in close proximity without ever really crossing over into one another in terms of world views or values." The neighbourhoods she’s grown up and still lives in, Kreuzberg and Neukölln, used to be rather deserted, mainly occupied by migrant families, low income households, addicts, seniors and other minorities. While there is a certain disdain and scepticism towards (party) tourists and fresher faces, she says the overall atmosphere has lightened and attitudes are positive, from both sides: "We appreciate the vibrancy and eclecticism these new communities contribute to the mix, and, for better or for worse, the trendiness has incentivised investments into parts of town that had previously succumbed to state-side neglect, shaped solely by generations of families and individuals that sought a better life than the one they had, with little means and barely any official support."

“There is still a deep cultural void between the white German portion of Berliners and the portion of first, second, or third generation Berliners with ancestral roots in Islamic countries, not to mention the formers’ privileged, even xenophobic apprehensions towards so-called foreigners." An important reason for this, according to her, is that “Berlin is a city of high fluctuation. So many people pass through here, for just a chapter of their life, for a few years, and then depart again once they’ve had their fix. We who have been and will most likely stay here all of our lives don’t ever develop this euphoria over how we can come here and be ourselves and claim an identity and follow our dreams and surrender to some kind of utopia. I will never see Berlin through that same, romanticising lens that you do."