Many people come to Berlin in search of a liberating freedom. But those who haven't learned to deal with the consequences can pay a high price, says DW columnist Gero Schliess.
I didn't attend many films at the Berlinale this year but one I did see left an impression. "This Ancient Law" by Ewald André Dupont is a remarkable part of German-Jewish film history. After digital restoration by the German Cinematheque and the inclusion of new music by Philippe Schoeller, the 1923 classic of the silent film era celebrated its world premiere at the Berlinale this week.
And the film could not be more relevant to me today. It made me think more deeply about Berlin and my life in this city.
The dream of living in Berlin
The movie considers two opposing worlds. Compare the Eastern European shtetl, a small largely Jewish town that stands for tradition, seclusion and separation from the world, with the big city of Vienna and its freedom, liberalism and cultural openness.
Just as the young son of a rabbi leaves the isolation of his small village for Vienna, where he hopes to make it as an actor, so too have many of my friends and acquaintances come to Berlin from places the world over. And they packed a variety of dreams into their baggage.
There is the married couple who left San Francisco and high-paying jobs after the US election so their son would not have to live under Trump. Or the young, closeted homosexual from India who has found work as a designer in Berlin. Meanwhile, two young girls from Celle in Lower Saxony are enjoying their lives as students in the big city and seem to be running riot with their friends.
If feels like loads of young men are making their way from Australia to Berlin, to live in unheard of freedom in the city known for its party lifestyle. And they're doing it so far, far from home.
Those numbers will continue to grow, a spokesperson from the Australian embassy has told me — currently around 3,300 Australians are registered in Berlin, though that doesn't include the many who don't sign up with the embassy.
Paying a price in Berlin
Almost every one of these people tells me that Berlin has changed them. You pay a price, sometimes very high. Just as in the film, when the radiant young Baruch had to "pay" for his departure to Vienna with total alienation from the strictly religious family.
The young Indian designer is paying a very high price. When I see him again after a long time, he seems strangely changed and speaks of "Nazis" who brutally beat him and a Thai friend.
The latter was fortunate to since leave Germany. He lay, however, with shattered bones for more than half a year in the hospital and must still take medication.
The couple from San Francisco and their little son are also paying a price, albeit a comparatively small one: they have not been able to build on their Silicon Valley careers. Language barriers and differences in mentality seem insurmountable.
And the young men from Australia? The embassy spokesperson tells me about an Australian band that forgot to perform their music in the midst of their Berlin party life. Others lose themselves and their relationship to reality. They are no longer themselves. Some fall ill or succumb to depression.
Berlin: a nostalgic place
Berlin is wonderfully wild, arousing yearnings and desires previously asleep inside oneself. Yes, it is like this: Berlin pushes opposites to the extreme – and in doing so, splits up many relationships.
Only the girls from Celle seem to have found a good balance. They will go back one day, they say with a smile. Berlin is a great city. But Celle is their home.
By the way: In the end, Baruch reconciles with his father, who comes to Vienna for a performance in the Burgtheater and suddenly understands why his son is so inspired. A happy ending that I wish for all who are threatened with getting lost on the path between two worlds.