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Thierse 'drags Berlin debate to a new low'
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Thierse 'drags Berlin debate to a new low'

Published: 03 Jan 2013 15:46 GMT+01:00
Updated: 03 Jan 2013 15:46 GMT+01:00

With his intolerant comments about Swabian newcomers, long-time Berlin resident and former Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse has taken the debate about gentrification in the German capital to a new low, argues Christian Bangel of ZEIT ONLINE.

Thierse is an engaged intellectual who has earned many people's respect in Germany with his fight against neo-Nazis and constant criticism of the authorities over their lax dealing with the problem.

All the more tragic, then, that it was him of all people who exposed himself as one of those Berlin snobs whose intolerance sometimes makes the city so ugly.

Thierse has lowered the tone of the already judgement-laden Berlin debate between the long-established residents and the supposedly nouveau-riche newcomers to a new low.

While he demands special privileges for himself and other old-time Berliners, the newcomers - whom he crudely paints universally as uptight and stuffy Swabians - should all adapt to some hazy idea of bygone East Berlin mainstream culture.

In the process, he uses stereotypes which underbid even Prenzlauer Berg's last remaining smoke-filled corner pub. A bread roll must be called a Schrippe - the Berlin slang - and not a Weckle, the word used by Swabians.

And, says Thierse, Berlin is not and will never be as clean and idyllic as the Swabian's native southwest Germany.

Thierse says all this as if there are no East Berlin snobs, and as if all Swabians are like that. As if there are no Swabians criticising the transformation of Prenzlauer Berg, a former working-class neighbourhood of East Berlin now thoroughly gentrified.

Thierse's wrong-headed, simplified ideas of Berlin's existing culture and the perceived 'alien' culture are the kind usually used by right-wing populists. And even if this conflict is about Swabians - Germans - Thierse has turned it into one about ethnicity by foisting all the problems onto a group of people from a certain area.

Die Welt newspaper recently showed what happens when the debate is dragged down to this level. Why, asked one journalist, wasn't Thierse angry about Arab and Turkish people who had 'Islamicized' whole areas of Berlin?

And so a necessary debate about cities and their inner lives turns into a nasty conflict feeding off crude prejudices.

The subject is far too important to de-intellectualize it in this way. For years, Berlin's mayors have looked on as investors transform parts of the city at whim, turning the area's social makeup and culture upside down.

Meanwhile, there are questions that really need asking: how do we prevent whole parts of big cities becoming socially homogenized? What can the government and local authorities do to stop this? How should conflicts between new and old inhabitants be dealt with?

But on these points most bar room philosophers are much more advanced than Thierse.

It is possible he thinks the debate should be simplified so that it hits a nerve and gets people talking. But all that comes out is a tone of self-justified intolerance like that shown by other leading left-wingers like Ralph Giordano and Günther Grass.

A gentrification debate that is only filled with bogeymen is a setback for all those eastern and western Germans fighting for their local culture, way of life and diversity.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of ZEIT ONLINE, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

20:00 January 3, 2013 by lucksi
"Why, asked one journalist, wasn't Thierse angry about Arab and Turkish people who had 'Islamicised' whole areas of Berlin"

Because you can't say that out loud.
20:08 January 3, 2013 by Eric1
I thought hating caucasians, conservatives, and Christians were honored as "politically correct". It's the only celebrated form of bigotry in Western societies.
20:12 January 3, 2013 by catjones
german superiority complex at it again. An incessant need to denigrate others even if they are you.
21:00 January 3, 2013 by Berlin fuer alles
Lay claim to something and then get pi%$ed off when others also lay claim to it. Just like the Germans on holiday resorts. They want the beach for themselves.
21:25 January 3, 2013 by chris berlin
Berlin für Alles and catjones:

So Thierse is criticized for being populist by blaming the rich germans from the south west for gentrifiying Berlin and you guys answer this with polemic even more anti-german populist comments?

As old New-Berliner it is hard to see how Berlin is changed by rich(er) newcomers who come for Berlin's coolness and dynamic, but want it quiet and clean as at home... I agree with Thierse's critic... I am not sure if he really only blames swabians, he is a smart guy and not known for gernalizing.

But you, Berlin für Alles, you are already so popular here for being populist and generalization into one direction appearst to be your talent.

Look first critically at yourself (and about what you write), before criticizing others.
21:56 January 3, 2013 by raandy
Thierse makes a point in that The so called Swabian newcomers come here not to assimilate but to rebuild in their own image. This isn't about immigrants its about out of staters.
23:23 January 3, 2013 by Tonne
No, this invective is aimed specifically at Swabians but by inference it includes all immigrants, who do not assimilate but remain in tight communities within a city.

His criticism is odd because that is the nature of cities everywhere. Go to London and in some areas, except for the architecture, you might think that you were in Lahore or Dhaka, and there is an eruv in the Golders Green area for orthodox Jews. The same is true of the Costas in Spain, where there are British communities still eating their roast beef and Yorkshire and barely speaking a word of Spanish.

Why should he think that Berlin, the capital city of Germany, should be any different? If this isn't what he wanted then he should have campaigned for the capital to remain in Bonn and hope that Berlin remained in splendid isolation.
23:59 January 3, 2013 by murka
Paragraph long sentences? Hello Die Zeit.

As to swabians in Prenzlauer Berg - been there - yes, stuffy is a good word, also glaring, judgmental conformists.
02:17 January 4, 2013 by Berlin fuer alles
@chris berlin

this is not the first time you have critised me for speaking my mind and voicing my experiences and opinions. I do look at myself and I also look at the likes of you who cannot take critism, You say my opinions are populist. Maybe they are populist for good reason. Have you ever wondered why so many seem to have a similar opinion of Germany as I do. Especially on an ex-pat forum such as this. If you don't like to hear the hard truth about your beloved Deutsche then find a more nationalistic right wing forum to hang around.

And please STOP STALKING ME:
04:36 January 4, 2013 by IchBinKönig
LOL BfA is a Dbag. Plain and simple. Nobody is stalking you, idiot.
05:11 January 4, 2013 by Ozzoid
Hallo Berlin für alles:

You would sound really impressive if you changed your login name to 'Berlin für Alles über Alles'...

PS: how could you forget to mention that these pesky Germans, apart from occupying beaches, also have no sense of humour?
08:37 January 4, 2013 by raandy
Tonne No Way, he is only referring to German migrants not immigrants from outside.

He has never made derogatory remarks concerning immigrants from outside Germany, In all is publications and his tenue as President of the Bundestag he has always shown an interest in intercultural dialogue.
10:52 January 4, 2013 by wood artist
Sadly we all seem to be prey to stereotypes. Before my first journey into Germany I'd heard all the usual statements..."Berliner humor" or "All Germans are *****" or the usual tropes about war guilt, Jews, and whatever. I was told repeatedly that I would hit stone walls while doing research because civil servants in the archives and other places would be utterly unhelpful, especially with my rather poor ability with the German language.

Although I'd heard all that, I'd also heard from friends who had been stationed in Germany, and they had a much different story. Generally much more positive, and almost without exception, including the words "once they get to know you."

In my 20+ trips to the country, I can count on one hand the number of truly negative situations I've found. Yup, I found a guy at the Landisarchiv in Berlin that was completely unwilling to do anything, and likely tossed my written request in the garbage, possibly even before I made it out of the building. I've interviewed a number of "survivors" from the post-WWII period and a couple were limited in what they were willing to share, but I suspect that's true in any group. I was asking about things that were probably painful memories, and I acknowledged that right up front. Those that "didn't want to talk about 'that' weren't offended, just reticent to bring up memories. On the other hand, many shared much more than I expected...and willingly.

In short, if you spend a little bit of time and effort, most people turn out to be...people. They have the same fears, desires, and hopes that you have, even if they "look different" or speak a different dialect or language.

Too bad Herr Thierse can't get past a Weckle and learn more about those he blanket condemns. Truth be told, I feel more at home in Berlin than I do in New York (which is not my home). Yup, there are a few people who are exceptions, but...aren't there always?

wa
11:22 January 4, 2013 by chris berlin
Berlin für Alles: First of all, I am here only once in 2 weeks and no matter where I read I read you. So I certainly do not stalk you but you spam this website with the same comments again and again.

Second, I am an expat in Berlin myself and actually all my friends are. I do not see any anti-German populism among expats in Berlin, only here... I do neither love nor hate Germans, they are diverse people like all other people too!

People from all over the world move to Berlin because it is such a liberal, free place where you can do anything. And please never put me into the right-wing corner. I moved to Berlin BECAUSE I am left wing and want a tolerant place to live. Berlin is the best place for this, better than Amsterdam, Paris or Barcelona.... places I lived before.

I do not criticize anyone for being critical but I do not see any point in your comments than being polemic. Of course you can also be polemic here but with polemic comments you do not ad anyting construcitive to a discussion.

Relax and do not take yourself to important. So now I will take another 2 weeks break from here.
11:28 January 4, 2013 by MattyB
08:37 January 4, 2013 by raandy

That is because he is a self-loathing Progressive liberal. He has all the hatred and bigotry of a far right-winger; he just chooses to aim it at "politically correct" targets like White Europeans, Christians, etc, etc. I learned long ago that people like this are every bit as hateful, intolerant, and bigoted as the far-right, they just direct all that at more socially acceptable targets. Under it all, he's probably just as narrow-minded as your average neo-nazi.
11:54 January 4, 2013 by chris berlin
MattyB: And where do you put yourself if you write a comment like this? So liberal or left wing people are nazis because they criticize intolerant or rich people? So are you also a nazi if you criticize left wing politicians like Thierse?

Thierse does not target White Europeans or Christians! He talked about so called Swabian newcomers (Swabian are Germans from Baden-Würtemberg) who come to dirty Berlin for its coolness but do not tolerate any noise, dirt or party outside of their door and wanna create another clean and neat Swabia in Berlin (and so paradoxically destroy the Berlin for which they originally came for).
12:06 January 4, 2013 by MattyB
11:54 January 4, 2013 by chris berlin

I appears the arrow struck a little too close to home for some.
12:17 January 4, 2013 by Berlin fuer alles
@MattyB

You have been 'Chris_berlined'. Seems like he cannot accept another point of view from his own. Seems to suffer from the illusion that he is the only one right and must critisise other points of view personally and insultingly.

By the way I agree with your point of view. It is a common one to have amongst ex-pats no matter what Chris says. Hopefully i am allowed to say this without getting verbally blasted again for speaking my commonly held point of view.
13:19 January 4, 2013 by William Thirteen
Germany has strong regional cultures. If anything, Thierse's comments are in support of these strong regional differences and against cultural homogenization. He wasn't suggest the Swabians change their ways in their native BW, simply that they accept that things are different in Berlin. However, it also says something about his disconnection from everyday life that he is just noticing these changes now. I know where he lives and that Kiez was lost to the Swabians years ago!
15:03 January 4, 2013 by SchwabHallRocks
I lived in Schwabisch Hall for several years and visited Berlin several times.

Why Schwabs would want to move to Berlin is beyond me, unless their profession requires it.

Someone get me a Haller Lowenbrau while I ponder this.
16:03 January 4, 2013 by JAMessersmith
My family is from the Tubingen region, and I can't imagine why they'd ever leave their idyllic countryside behind for Berlin, of all places. But hey, if this Thierse guy says it happens, I guess it happens, even if it does defy explanation.
21:12 January 4, 2013 by wasserball
this guy got some Hitler DNA in him.
01:30 January 5, 2013 by chris berlin
Berlin für alles: hehe, I laugh when I read you, it is nice to be critical but you must also allow me not to share your point of view.

But your statement that expats generally do not like Berlin or Germany is not supported by any statistics and also not by anyone I have talked to, on the contrary! Berlin is a fast growing city (astest growing in Germany) - at least 250.000 new inhabitants by 2030 despite the low birth rate! This is only due to the high influx of (today Western) immigrants. And this is not because there is much work in Berlin, it is just because of BERLIN. Expats love Berlin, that is why they come and settle here. That is why I speak more English and French than German in Berlin... I just went back to Switzerland (my home country) and I am so happy to be back here. It feels like home and I am sure I speak for many of the 100s of 1000s who come here year by year.

In my experience many more would like to stay in Berlin but not everyone gets a job...
01:51 January 5, 2013 by gnommy
oh dear ,old english nommi here. thats a gnomme to young persons. stop being nasty its not good i'm manchester/sachsen . not been to berlin but the erzgebirge its peacefull and tollerant and understading. perhaps the big town could learn from the mountains of old germany!!!
05:40 January 5, 2013 by Swag2TZ
I love Berlin. This Wolfgang Thierse guy sounds and acts like a real dipshit. So sad. He probably was not correctly toilet trained as a child or somebody didn't teach him any manners. Who cares if the Swabes invade Berlin. I just hope they don't screw it up like what they did in Stuttgart. Tschuss
23:07 January 5, 2013 by isitajoke
Yeah, some interesting points. Nothing that hasn't already been covered elsewhere. For the devastating truth about why German men pee sitting down, why some have a mechanical sense of humour and why it is dangerous to stare at women in bakeries, see: www.isitajoke.de

Further axioms on side-burns, bathing naked, why Germans never lose at sport and how to become an avantgarde art genius with the contents of your pocket.

Dispathes from Berlin, every Friday: www.isitajoke.de
06:47 January 6, 2013 by mitanni
@chris berlin "People from all over the world move to Berlin because it is such a liberal, free place where you can do anything."

"Anything" apparently doesn't include speaking anything other than Berlin dialect or spending money on improving one's property, because if you do, relics like Thierse become rude. Berlin is left-wing and sexually liberated, but it is neither tolerant nor liberal.

"Expats love Berlin"

Some expats probably do: it's a party city for kinky 20-somethings, and it's quite cheap. But lots of expats don't like it. I try to spend as little time in Berlin as possible.
13:44 January 8, 2013 by Dalmation
Berlin is fine so long as you don't take it too seriously. Come for a year or two and enjoy it and then leave when you want to grow up and live your life seriously.

Yes, Germans are a difficult nation to get along with. Too much of this 'towels on the beach' mentality in all walks of German life for my liking.
17:40 January 8, 2013 by steel jaws
The former Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse has always been intolerant towards anybody who (thanks to his communist education), does not fit into his ideas about how the ideal person should think and behave. His comments, not only in this case, but for example, also about the rights of his fellow countrymen, who were deported from the confiscated regions of Germany, following WW2 , show clearly that he is neither a patriot, nor has he any real understanding of democracy.
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