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6 reasons why Berlin is now known as ‘the failed city’

The Local looks at the poor side of Germany's "poor but sexy" capital city.

6 reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Photo: DPA

Since its reunification in 1990, Berlin has developed into a thriving, cosmopolitan centre.

Dubbed “poor but sexy” by its former mayor, it has attracted creative types like moths to a flame with its low rents and exploding startup scene.

Tourists flock to this grungy vibe too, with nearly six million visiting in the first six months of this year alone. 

But the reality is that the city is struggling with poverty, unemployment, poor infrastructure, a floundering education system, debt, the refugee crisis and crime.

Its chronic problems led national newspaper Die Welt to label it a “failed state” in 2014. Here are a few reasons why Berlin has earned this uncomfortable moniker.

1. Six years behind schedule, the airport still hasn’t been opened.

Berlin's never-ending story: BER airport. Photo: Robert Aehnelt/Wikimedia Commons.

Berlin is hardly unique in Germany when it comes to embarrassing mega projects. Anyone acquainted with Stuttgart's underground central station or Hamburg's new concert hall knows that cliches about German efficiency hold little water.

But there is something spectacular about how Berlin has failed to open the Berlin-Brandenburg airport. Its launch has been postponed repeatedly since 2011 due to planning failures and amid corruption accusations. Few people believe the city's claim that it will open next year.

Upon his resignation in 2014, former mayor Klaus Wowereit described the fiasco as the biggest failure of his 13-year term in office.

The original projected costs of the airport have more than doubled. By 2017, some estimate the taxpayer will have forked out over €5 billion for it.

To pick just the most recent of years of negative headlines, this week a former senior employee admitted to taking €150,000 in bribes from a subcontractor.

2. In comparison to Germany as a whole, Berlin is swimming in debt.

While debt is increasing in other Bundesländer – with Hamburg's debt rising from €26 billion in 2014 to €26.7 billion in 2015 – it is decreasing in Berlin, with the capital's debt dropping from €59.8 billion in 2014 to €59.2 billion in 2015. 

Despite this, Berlin's debt still overshadows that of other states, towering above Bavaria's €36.9 billion.

While capitals are often the economic power houses of their respective countries, Berlin is heavily reliant on the rest of the Bundesrepublik. In fact, it is the only European capital which is a drain on its country's overall economy, a study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research demonstrated.

Germany has a system of fiscal equalisation which tries to eliminate financial inequalities between states. Berlin is the largest recipient of payments, receiving over €3.6 billion last year. By contrast, Bavaria is the biggest contributor to the scheme, providing over €5.4 billion.

3. Berlin is struggling to provide adequate care for refugees.

Fights break out as refugees clamour to receive an appointment at Berlin's asylum seeker registration centre. Photo: DPA.

At the height of the refugee crisis last year, 500 asylum seekers were arriving daily at the capital’s main registration centre, known as LaGeSo, but only 200 could be given an appointment on a given day, an employee told the Berliner Zeitung last December.

“Our leadership is completely overwhelmed”, the employee said.

“The files we’ve put on hold are mounting up in boxes. We store them in several rooms. There is no system to it, which is why we have come up with a job called 'the seeker' – someone whose only task is to find the necessary file,” said another.

Refugees have queued outside LaGeSo in temperatures as high as nearly 40C and as low as -8C in recent years.

Antje Kapek, leader of the Green Party in Berlin, talking to the city parliament in June described the situation as “disgraceful”.

4. Berlin’s crime rate is higher than in all the other German states.

In 2015, Berlin experienced the highest crime rate of all the Bundesländer, according to the Federal Interior Ministry’s crime statistics.

The capital reported 16,414 cases per 100,000 people, above Hamburg’s 13,839, Bremen’s 13,784, Saxony’s 8,893, and the national average of 7,797.

Berlin’s overall crime rate increased by 4.9 percent between 2014 and 2015.

During this period, while murder and manslaughter decreased by 14.5 percent and robbery fell by 5.1 percent, shop theft increased by 14 percent, bag theft rose by 25.8 percent and basement break-ins increased by 34.6 percent, police crime statistics for the capital showed.

5. Unemployment and poverty are very real issues.

Photo: DPA.

In 2015, the capital had the second-highest unemployment rate of all the German states, with 10.7 percent of the working-age population jobless, while the overall national rate was 6.4 percent. In Hamburg the rate was 7.4 percent of Hamburgers and in Bavaria it was 3.6 percent.

While only 4.3 percent of people in Baden-Württemberg and 3.6 percent of people in Bavaria receive Hartz IV welfare benefits, 16.4 percent of Berliners receive this funding.

But not only that: 20 percent of Berliners are classified as “in danger of poverty” (receiving less than 60 percent of the median national income for private households), compared to Bavaria’s 11.5 percent and Baden-Württemberg’s 11.4 percent.

A Berlin branch of the Catholic welfare organisation Caritas e.V. reported that between 2014 and 2015, the number of treatments given to homeless people and people without insurance increased by a third at their local treatment centre.

And those who aren't sleeping on the streets of the capital still earn less than people in many other German states.

In 2014, the disposable income in private households per inhabitant was €18,594 in Berlin, in comparison to Bavaria’s €23,080 and Hamburg’s €23,596.

6. The capital has the worst education system in the Bundesrepublik.

One of the reasons behind the city's plight may just be its poor education system.

Berlin's education system trailed in last place in the Bildungsmonitor 2016, an analysis by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research for the think tank New Social Market Economy Foundation.

Saxony and Thuringia took the top spots in the survey.

In 2014, the dropout rate in Berlin schools was 8.1 percent compared to the national average of 5.5 percent, and 39.7 percent of students did not complete their vocational training compared to the national average of 27.7 percent, the survey demonstrates.

By Max Bringmann and Verity Middleton

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the amount of money Berlin receives and Bavaria contributes in Germany's fiscal equalization plan.

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WILDFIRES

‘Unprecedented’: How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin’s Grunewald forest

An "unprecedented" fire broke out on Thursday around a German police munitions storage site in a Berlin forest. Here's how events unfolded and the reaction.

'Unprecedented': How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin's Grunewald forest

What happened?

Emergency services were called out after explosions were heard in the ‘Grunewald’ forest in western Berlin in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

It then emerged that a fire had broken out near a police munitions storage site, all on one of the hottest days of the year when temperatures were forecast to reach around 38C in the German capital. 

As explosions continued at the site, sending debris flying into the air, firefighters weren’t initially able to get near the flames to extinguish it. Emergency services set up a 1,000-metre safety zone around the area.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Berliner Feuerwehr

Later on Thursday afternoon, Berlin fire brigade spokesman Thomas Kirstein said the situation was “under control and there was no danger for Berliners” but that the fire was expected to last for some time.

No one has been hurt by the fires. Around 250 emergency workers were deployed to the site.

READ ALSO: Blasts ring out as forest fire rages in Berlin’s Grunewald

How was the fire being tackled?

The German army (Bundeswehr) was called in. They sent a tank aimed at evacuating munitions at the affected storage site as well as remote-controlled de-mining robots, while drones circled the air to assess the emergency.

Water cannons were also deployed around the safety zone to prevent the fire from spreading.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey interrupted her holiday to visit the scene, calling the events “unprecedented in the post-war history of Berlin”.

Giffey advised people in Berlin to close their windows but said the danger was minimal as there were no residential buildings within a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) radius and so no need to issue evacuation orders.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

“It would be much more difficult if there were residential buildings nearby,” she said.

What caused the blaze?

That’s still unclear. Police say they are investigating what started the fire exactly. 

The store in question holds munitions uncovered by police, but also unexploded World War II-era ordnance which is regularly dug up during construction works.

Giffey said local authorities would “have to think about how to deal with this munitions site in the future and whether such a place is the right one in Berlin”.

Is Grunewald a popular site?

Very much so. The sprawling forest on the edge of Berlin is home to lots of hiking trails and is even near some popular lakes, such as the Krumme Lanke. It’s also near the Wannsee and Havel river. 

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin's Grunewald

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin’s Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa Grafik | dpa-infografik GmbH

Authorities appealed for the public to avoid the forest, which is regularly visited by both locals and tourists.

Deutsche Bahn said regional and long-distance transport was disrupted due to the blaze.

A part of the Avus motorway between Spanischer Allee and Hüttenweg was also closed in both directions, as well as Kronprinzessinnenweg and Havelchaussee, according to the Berlin traffic centre.

Aren’t forest fires and strong heat causing problems elsewhere?

Yes. Authorities on Thursday said no firefighting choppers were available as they were already in use to calm forest fires in eastern Germany.

However, they also said the 1,000-metre safety zone applied to the air, so there was a limit to how useful it would be to drop water on the fire from above.

The German capital is rarely hit by forest fires, even though its 29,000 hectares of forests make it one of the greenest cities in the world.

Brandenburg, the region surrounding Berlin, as well as parts of eastern Germany have for days been battling forest fires.

Parts of Germany were also recently hit by forest fires during heatwaves this summer. 

Temperatures were expected to climb as high as 40C across parts of Germany on Thursday. However, it is set to cool down on Friday and thunderstorms are set to sweep in from the west.

With reporting by AFP’s David COURBET

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