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Berlin's unwanted migrants see funny side

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Berlin's unwanted migrants see funny side
Anti-Swabian graffiti in Prenzlauer Berg. Photo: DPA
16:35 CET+01:00
Native Berliners' dislike of newcomers from Stuttgart - stereotyped as wealthy and clueless - is so established it even has a special name - Schwabenhass. Now Berlin's Swabians are fighting back by poking fun at themselves.

“The project started as a way of mediating between two different types of people,” Bärbel Stolz told The Local. It was meant as an amusing way of showing Berliners how Swabians are, and also for allowing Swabians to laugh at themselves.

Now one of Stolz's videos has gone viral, racking up 125,000 Youtube hits in three days. 'Shit Prenzlschwaben say' is 3.39 minutes of short sketches ridiculing the pretentiousness and nosiness Swabians are famed for.

Based in Prenzlauer Berg, the east Berlin neighbourhood synonymous with the Swabian invasion, it depicts the Southern Germans talking about their everyday lives – all in their somewhat unintelligible dialect.

They tut at Berlin's ever-present graffiti, worry the food they eat might not be organic - one man asks if the local currywurst is regional - and drink coffee with almond milk.

One concerned mother says, “It's important to us that our child experiences diversity... … and that's why we chose a kindergarten that also has Berliner children in it.” Her companion replies in a shocked tone “They still exist?”

While the format is nothing novel, it's poignancy for Berlin's current struggle with its own changing identity has “struck a nerve” said Stolz.

'Holier than thou'

Berlin is not the city it used to be. The "poor but sexy" tag applies less and less.

House prices and rents are beginning to catch up with the west of the country. Squats and occupied houses are historical artefacts.

Nowhere symbolises this change more than Prenzlauer Berg, where the dilapidated houses of the 90s are now spotless shades of blue and pink.

Once the heartbeat of the revolution against the East German communist regime, today “Prenzelberg” is a by-word for the bourgeois values that are stealing over the city.

It is scorned for its “holier than thou” image, its pretentious eateries and its obsession with "lifestyle." It's “the neighbourhood where evil doesn't exist.”

Most of the anger over this change has been directed against Berlin's 300,000 strong Swabian population, perhaps because they originate from Stuttgart, the German city most associated with a conformist bourgeoisie. 

'Spearhead of gentrification'

The Tagespiegel describes Swabians as the “spearhead of gentrification.”

Graffiti exclaiming “Swabians out”, “Don't buy at Swabian shops” or even “kill Swabians!” has been scrawled on the walls of Prenzlauer Berg.

But are the stereotypes that attract this hatred fair?

Yes, said Stolz, laughing. She described Berlin's Swabians as behaving “just like how I depict them.”

She even admits to being pretty much like that herself. “A lot of the inspiration just came from copying how I am,” she said.

Stuttgart has a history of being a "fragmented" society, she said, where it is okay to spy on your neighbours.

In the video she lampoons this characteristic when a Swabian pedestrian redirects cyclists to the cycle lane and then explains to a tourist the correct way to recycle his plastic bottles.

Still, Stolz defended some of the changes that have been brought about by the Swabian influence, saying the bakeries and shops have been a positive influence on Prenzlauer Berg.

“Wherever a Schwabian goes they make it a better and more beautiful place,” she joked

But the hatred that exists towards Swabians in Berlin has been exaggerated anyway, said Stolz.

She has many friends from the east and the west of the city, she said. “They are open to people from outside, to people from the rest of Germany as well as countries like Spain.”

For those who truly hate Swabians, perhaps the video will be a place for them to vent their hatred, she mused.

Whether this parody is set to make the southerners more welcome in the capital is still to be seen. At least Berliners might now know that there is a more humorous side to the self-regarding yuppies from down south.

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