I like to make long walks through the streets of Berlin. What makes Berlin different among the other European metropoles like Moskou, Paris, London and Madrid is that there is so much space. One of the reasons is that exactly as in many other cities that were devastated during WW2 the idea was to create a car based infrastructure with a strictly functional zoning plan. During one of my stops, this time in Einstein cafe, I read in the Berliner Morgenpost. Today’s newspaper has an article titled: “The car friendly city” Starting with a citation from 1957 which many politicians still seem to believe even today: “Whoever has a goal sits in a car and whoever doesn’t is a walker and belongs in the park.” Maybe that’s why this city has so much space: wide motorways and huge parks, the largest of them in the heart of the city. There is also a lot of space that was reserved for highways that never came. Existing streets like Kurfürstendamm in the former West, Karl Marx Allee in the former East and Unter den Linden in the present center are all super wide and well maintained. In comparison to the highway-like roads that cross Moskou and the Boulevards in Paris these Berlin streets have almost no cars on them. The parks and green spaces are enormous – there is no other city with a huge forest in the middle – and on top of that there still is the former Tempelhof airport open for a new future. A lot of people prefer an empty future as it is.
A trend we see everywhere in the world is that a growing amount of people can work anywhere they like. It does not make the world flat (Thomas Friedman) but on the contrary it makes the world spiky (Richard Florida). The best indicator of the attractiveness of a city is – unfortunately – still the price of its real estate combined with the growth of its population. It’s a simple economics law, the one that almost everyone understands: where demand is high, prices go up. The main problem is: the better we make it the worse it gets. Where we improve cities whether it is with bike paths and trees or with schools and art: more people will want to benefit. Trying to stop gentrification by making your city nicer means you will probably get more gentrification.
All of this is happening in Berlin. The more the inhabitants of Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg succeed to maintain that special lifestyle and amazing subculture the more people will come. Because the number of people that like this type of environment and lifestyle is almost endless.
There are some aspects that make things better for Berlin. Luckily they experience in many aspects considerable competition from a nice number of other German cities like Hamburg, München and Frankfurt. Germany is the most polycentric country in Europe. Berlin may be the capital but unlike London or Paris it doesn’t have everything. Frankfurt still has the largest airport in Germany and Berlin has a considerably lower amount of direct international and intercontinental flights. Which means big business headquarters will probably stay away.
For the first time in I really don’t know how many decades or it may even be centuries one can walk over Unter den Linden from Alexanderplatz, see the Museumsinsel, the Opera and the Embassies, go under Brandenburger Tor and walk through the government district with the Reichstag and all the monuments and government offices inside an enormous stretch of green. It is interesting to see that it already took more than 30 years to hela many wounds inside the city. But even today large parts of what could be considered the center (now MItte) are practically empty of activities. Berlin has a huge potential for growth. It will be interesting to see in what direction.