Joshua Tartakovsky
Israel and the Middle East, US politics

Can we all just be like Berlin?

Why do we all like Berlin so much?
14 May 2016

It is quiet, it is peaceful. It is still not too commercial. It is cheap.

Decent food. Many good bars. In Berlin the ‘alternative’ is the *main* stream. Everywhere one goes there are alternative places. One can live the moment whether by having a beer with friends in a Biergarten and taking in the scent of flowers, watching the sunset over the lake while leaning back on a chair, or losing oneself on the dance floor to minimal techno.  Then there are museums, libraries and public spaces. One can enjoy a lazy afternoon in the sun and buy a cheap beer. One can read under the sun.

Rent is not too high and living is affordable.

People work fewer hours and make enough to get by. Yes, they earn less. But things are not that expensive. They have more free-time. Rather than having more things they have Life itself.

From the detached analytical perspective that focuses on statistics only, Berliners are suffering. But is zero percent growth so bad? What’s so horrible about having old things that function well; a comfortable sofa in a home that provides for everything one needs? If Berlin is that awful, how come we long to return there after a short vacation as we go back to working crazy hours in London without a chance to catch our breath? And is having more time for sex such a bad thing?

Capitalism has not been maxed out here yet. People are content with little, but they have the most precious of all: peace of mind, a home, and the ability to experience Life.

There are many bars, each unique, unlike major western cities where so many of the main bars and restaurants lack the authentic, work-in-process, unpretentious flavor with a human touch that can be sensed behind the endeavor. In our cities, many food joints are owned by corporations. The same boring food which is also unhealthy. The person wearing the company’s boring uniform. Unrestrained capitalism by its nature creates monopolies, where profit is everything but the quality provided by small businesses is lost as they are swallowed up. Mechanized production instead, nothing hand made. Everything is the same.

The truth is, whether we like to admit it or not, that the economic model of growth we have known so far to work thanks to globalization is coming to an end. China is in recession. Our economies are stuck.  

Meanwhile, most of us are experiencing austerity due to the global crisis. That means that the banks go after our pockets since there is less revenue elsewhere. It means stagnant wages, very high rent and a growing cost of living. Life is a constant struggle and we don’t see the end of the tunnel. 47% of Americans don’t have $400 in cash to spare. And with companies moving to automation, in the current-future there will be less jobs, not more.

Our western societies have reached a dead end. For more profit to be made, we must grab what is China’s and Russia’s. We must have more wars since the traditional industries are no longer profitable. They are no longer profitable because as companies seek greater profit, they pay less to us, which means we actually don’t have the money to buy the goods the companies produce. They fire people since they rely on technology, but what will the fired people buy?

Perpetual war is profitable for the elites, not for us. They gain twice. First by destroying and making money via the military-industrial complex, then by rebuilding. New contracts. Never mind the dead bodies.

We just want to get by, have a decent life. But life is so expensive.

Since the economy is in crisis and our societies are reaching a dead-end, we are likely to hear that Russia is a threat to Europe and that China is a threat to its neighbors. We must go to war since our world is in danger.

We are currently in the same standstill we had in 1914 and the 1930s. But the typical excuses we hear no longer make sense when we can’t afford to pay the bills.

Do we really need this constant striving for growth? Why do we like Berlin so much? Because it’s real and cheap. It’s true it is subsidized by the government and has many vacant apartments thank to the GDR. But clearly our own governments could develop such models in our own cities if they wanted to. The money is there, just not in our hands.

What’s so bad about living in a zero-economic growth model, as in Berlin? It means homes for everyone, decent clothes, cheap living, more free time. Communities. Time to drink beer in the park and kiss in the sun. Is that so awful?

We need to start realizing the problem is not with Russia or China. The problem is with the kind of societies we have and with the elites controlling us. We need to focus on fixing our societies, not in seeking an external Other on which to project our fears and frustration.

Can we all just be like Berlin?

Berlin seems like a lazy paradise with high unemployment for many. But people do get by. The problem is that now in London and Paris the cost of living is so high that Berlin seems as not such a bad option after all.