In the time of West Germany, “its” Berlin was a salient that existed inside communist Germany. Despite the glittering shopping center, its original residents – many elderly and impoverished people who did not manage to move to the location of the “economic miracle” to the west – have stayed there for the most part. On the other hand, thanks to Berlin’s unique legal status, many left-wingers from western Germany have moved there to “get away from Germany” and to avoid the draft. Their absorption was assisted by funds that were funneled to this fortified salient from Bonn and Washington, which was so hated by young anti-imperialists.
The Berlin Festival was one example of this left-wing bastion funded by the West. The repertoire of the House of World Cultures was left-wing even though it was established with American money. On the building’s facade is a quote from the late American secretary of state John Foster Dulles, who was notorious on the left.
Berlin was flooded with subsidies to cultural organizations, and the “alternative population” made its living on them, from working in the organizations’ events to receiving generous scholarships to the Free University of Berlin. Also, the most violent riots in the West during the protests of 1968 took place in Berlin. In the early 1970s, one could even see demonstrations in support of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. In the shadow of the Berlin Wall, there was almost a feeling of revolutionary joyousness in the western part of the city. Those were some of its characteristics.
What remains of that after the unification? Like in Germany, there are still strong labor unions (there is no welfare state without strong labor unions), and housing prices in the city are increasing. On the other hand, citizens have a relatively strong influence on municipal politics. The left wing of the past, which was pro-Palestinian, has mostly become a left wing known in Germany as “anti-German” – in other words, pro-Israeli.
The ambiguous significance of prosperous freedom has not vanished from Berlin, even after it took over the eastern portion, gradually pushing the citizens of that area out of their lovely central neighborhoods, out of academia and out of the management of the theaters and museums in a process similar to colonialism, in which leftists from the West also participated.
The city’s old-style cosmopolitan nature became a comfortable venue for tourism. For years, Germany was unable to sell itself as a vacation spot; only Berlin gradually became that. There are more museums and theaters (including shows with English subtitles). The neo-capitalist city continues to attract immigrants. As in the past, young intellectuals and their left-wing circles can live nicely here.
There remains in the city an “instinct” left over from the Cold War era: to be different from Germany, which for its part takes pride in Berlin’s liberal face. To the Steinplatz memorial to the “victims of communism and Nazism” – an unsympathetic analogy from the days of the Cold War – they added to the Holocaust memorial. The nearby Ben-Gurion Strasse and Hannah Arendt Strasse show tolerance both to Zionism and to post-Zionism.
Some Israelis long to settle in Berlin, or to go there and have a good time. That is their own affair. Most of them are imbued with a strong Israeli self-awareness, a sociological matter that awaits study. As opposed to Germany, Israel has a kibbutz mentality. Social control is the mode of existence. Now the gigantic gossiping herd is tut-tutting in online comments and Facebook posts to the tune of the media’s flute. When “yerida,” leaving Israel, was taboo, they even left New York’s large Israeli expatriate community alone. The collective tut-tutted and shut up.
The era of the taboo is over. Nothing real may be said because everything may be said. The taboo on Germany has also vanished, so they do a little “Berlin panic.” Food really is inexpensive there, though in Israel that is another worn-out balloon of protest, a lighter version of a taboo-breaker. “Sensational news.” Lots of doing nothing over the Internet. “Milky sanctions,” protest-lite, sponsored by the state channel.
We are leaving for Berlin, threatens the oedipal protest slogan: “Dad, Mom, you’re yucky. If you don’t give us a good life, we’re leaving.” Lapid and Netanyahu, alas, do not care about missing young people – or about the empty city squares in Israel.
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