Berlin′s former city finance chief calls the capital too stupid to be great | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.09.2009

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Berlin's former city finance chief calls the capital too stupid to be great

Berlin's outspoken former city finance chief Thilo Sarrazin has provoked the citizens of his old home town once again by blaming the city's underclass and its leftist mentality for what he sees as its lack of success.

Thilo Sarrazin

Thilo Sarrazin enjoys a belligerent reputation

“The city is burdened by its ‘68 tradition and the West-Berliner sloppiness factor,” Sarrazin said in an interview with the cultural magazine Lettre International. “Its politics are not elitist – it has a plebeian and petit-bourgeois outlook,” he said.

Sarrazin pointed out that Berlin's unique 20th century history prevented it from re-attaining its status as an intellectual, financial and industrial metropolis. The destruction of Jewish culture in the 1930's drained the city of its intellectual and business elite, Sarrazin believes.

History of stagnation

Blaming the city authorities of the early 90's, the former finance minister said that Berlin's economy had stagnated. West Berlin's isolation during the Cold War meant that it was never able to replace its business and intellectual elite. On the contrary, skilled workers generally left the city, while drifters and political activists came. "People who wanted to work were replaced by people who wanted to live," Sarrazin quipped.

Berlin cityscape

Berlin was a state subsidized city for most of the latter half of the 20th century

According to Sarrazin, Berlin has never shaken off its mentality of state dependence. During the Cold War, "up to 50 percent of the city's budget came from the federal government," Sarrazin said in the interview. When the 13 billion euros ($19 billion) a year in state subsidies were withdrawn after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city authorities were slow to react and the economy slow to recover.

Sarrazin warned that Berlin would never re-attain the status it enjoyed as an intellectual hub without importing intellectual talent. Sarrazin believes, “Berlin will never be saved by Berliners.”

Blaming the underclass

He claimed it was a serious problem that “40 percent of births happen in the underclass,” leaving too many of the city's population not contributing to the economy. “The media is focused on social problems,” he said, “but Turkish homeless shelters won't drive the city forward.”

Job center in Berlin

Berlin suffers from high unemployment

“There needs to be a complete change of course in family policy,” Sarrazin said, “away from cash handouts, particularly to the underclass.”

“I would strike a completely different tone and say: Anyone who can do something and strives for something with us is welcome. The rest should go somewhere else,” he told the magazine.

Sarrazin established a reputation for criticizing the habits and slovenliness of Berlin's lower class during his term in political office in the city. At one point he complained about people wandering the streets all day in jogging pants, and his department published a document demonstrating that the unpopular unemployment benefit known as Hartz IV still provided more than enough money for a well-balanced diet.

Sixty-four-year-old Sarrazin, now a board member in Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, did see some slow improvements in the city, measured by his standards. “Many top people want to live in Berlin, and many firms are opening branches in the city.”

Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Michael Lawton

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