Each morning for several days, Chris Dercon found a fresh pile of feces in front of the door to his office. That's how Berlin greeted one of its newcomers. Dercon, the director of the Berlin Volksbühne theater, can take a lot, but he told me that when this happened, he just wanted to leave Berlin.
He describes it as pure hate. And he's right to name it the way it is. Finally! We should all be doing that. Where will this otherwise lead us?
A wind of hostility has been blowing hard in Dercon's face ever since his appointment as Frank Castorf's successor.
What is it all about? Dercon wants to open the Volksbühne to other art forms such as dance, music and experimental acts. He wants to expand it into an art platform to host international collaborations.
That could only be done at the expense of the theater's identity, claim Castorf's fans. They worship the DNA of the Volksbühne, a theater with a rich leftist tradition, like a God-given monstrance.
Of course, one can, and should, criticize Dercon's ways and his communication deficits. But that doesn't mean he and his team should go through this double shitstorm: one online, with torrents of hate through social media, including a petition against him with over 40,000 signatures, and that other one, which wasn't virtual at all and couldn't be more crude.
Berliners, defend yourselves!
Where are the Berliners protesting against this lack of culture; why aren't there any Facebook groups to counter this movement?
Yes, my call suspiciously sounds like those from other times: Nip this in the bud! It's only a short path from verbal to physical violence.
Chris Dercon had the misfortune of landing by accident on the fault lines of deep-reaching, unresolved conflicts in Berlin. The city is divided on many aspects – between the East and the West, between the city center and its periphery, between long-established Berliners and newcomers.
In the district of Prenzlauer Berg, the conflict with newcomers has led to the term "Schwabenhass," hatred against Swabians, the prosperous "migrants" from southwestern Germany. They are accused of driving up the rents in the neighborhood, making "Prenzelberg" unaffordable. Wikipedia even has an entry for "Schwabenhass," quite a glorious chapter!
On top of that, there's the fear of being swamped by foreigners, well-educated newcomers from all over the world – most recently those who've left their home country in reaction to Trump or Brexit. That fear unfortunately often translates into hate.
I'm trying to understand why it is that way. The "established" Berliners feel swamped and alienated by the "new" ones. They feel robbed of some of their certainties and, in the end, of their identity. You might think, "Isn't that quite a lot at once?" Exactly, that's how many people feel here. Their fears (for their jobs as well) and frustrations are ruthlessly directed towards others.
Virtual and real violence
The hate has often turned into real violence. That was the case for the New Yorker Claire D'Orsay. With her new restaurant in Kreuzberg, she became the target of radical-left activists and gentrification opponents. They spit on the walls of her business and sprayed them with hateful slogans. Finally, 11 windows were broken.
Claire had the misfortune of opening her restaurant right by a long-established bakery, the Filou, whose lease contract had just been cancelled. She was suspected of having something to do with that, and the "scene" hit hard.
Violence as a lifestyle?
I'm irritated by the fact that many people in Berlin, including some politicians, simply accept this as if it were part of Berlin's lifestyle - even when squatters from Rigaer Strasse smear feces in their neighbor's door locks or play loud music all night that prevents children from sleeping.
And while I'm writing this, I'm reading a news story from the district of Neukölln, where many immigrants from Arab countries live: "Man beaten up for wearing a necklace with a cross."
Sometimes police officers are the ones affected. Even during routine patrols. They are then called upon by angered residents who push them away by shouting, "That is our street!"
So much hate! So much self-righteousness! So much bad energy!
That is not my Berlin. That is not the Berlin in which I want to live!