Frances Mountier’s Column

Frances on her way to the German capital (photo from Munich)
Frances on her way to the German capital (photo from Munich)

Observations from Berlin

 By Frances Mountier

A visitor’s impression of Berlin. A city I have lived in now for 30 days. Five months more to come.

A city I know no way as well as pre-quake Christchurch (my hometown) or Wellington (where I’ve lived the last five years).

One thousand, two hundred visitors per hour arrive in Berlin. It’s a city of migrants, of rebuilding.[1]

“Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being,” Karl Scheffler wrote in 1910, but in our Tour Guide’s view this is its greatest strength.Unter der Linden

A city of casualised work and unemployment. 11.7% of people were registered as unemployed in 2013, the highest rate in Germany. The national average is 6.8%.[2]

All together approximately 600,000 people in Berlin are dependent on Hartz IV welfare relief. Single parent families constitute the largest group of the poor’ (The World of Labour blog).[3] A city of renters: 80% of people rent, the highest of any state in Germany.[4]

A city laced by public transport. The next U-Bahn train is never more than 3 minutes away. On evenings, 9 minutes.

Tempelhof Airport

We went to Tempelhof, the old airport and now a massive urban green space. It was dusk, and less than thirty minutes till the gates shut, but there were runners, cyclists, kiteboarders. Community gardens in the distance; some unofficial and some sanctioned.

berlin streetIf this was New Zealand, there’d be boy racers all over this,’ my partner said. ‘They wouldn’t be allowed,’ our friend said. ‘It’d be other people that’d stop them. There’s an anti-car culture here. And people want the space.’

Walking down the street, the waft of sewerage.

A number of suburbs are gentrifying. There’s a lot of bureaucracy, for example, in our first fortnight, we registered our address at the Bürgeramt, opened a bank account (which took an hour-and-a-half, but they served hot chocolate) and bought personal liability insurance and house insurance, paid our health insurance, registered to get a cell phone …

Yet some things are freer than in NZ, which I didn’t expect.

Dogs, dogs and more dogs

There are dogs everywhere, dogs on the trains, in houses, on the street; cyclists don’t wear helmets, kids ride in wagons on the back or front or balanced on a towel on their parent’s bike; kids walk home from school; people smoke on the street and in stairwells; prams are left outside cafes, sometimes with babies in them.

A city of high density living: perhaps a thousand people live around the square our apartment looks out on. I assume in summer it will be busy, but now, in early spring, it’s used by one invisible tenant, who’s washing is hung there, and one cat, who likes to sunbathe on her back in the large sandpit.

A city of discount supermarkets; of retrofitted plumbing, so you can hear the apartment above emptying their sink, their toilet, as it sloshes down the pipe on your bathroom wall.

A city of parks every few blocks, wooden playgrounds, visited by dozens of families on weekends.

A city with waiting rooms full of twitchy-feet patients in no-appointments-possible doctors rooms.

A city without ACC or a public health care system in the way I know it. Health insurance is compulsory.

A city with different strains of bronchial infection than NZ.

I stare out the window at deciduous trees. A city where I do not yet remember to round up my money (tip), in any takeaway / café / restaurant I go to.

Reasonable rents

Where we can rent a whole apartment including internet, heating,  gas, electricity, land-line for $NZ1100 a month. A city of cobblestones and corner vets and still-thriving DVD stores.

For Frances Mountier.

I’m looking for IDs in an old computing photo. Your grandfather Neil is included. I was wondering what happened to him after Lincoln. I could direct you to the photo if you wish.


Bob Doran