Berlin-Neukölln is hell. Sharia law, anarchy, no women on the streets. That is, when you believe some media reports and right-wing politicians. Is it though?
There are some places in cities that gain a lot of attention and become infamous for the lawless hellhole they’re supposed to be. The german equivalent to Harlem, the Bronx, or the Parisian Banlieues, one could think, is Berlin Neukölln. It’s the kind of place your parents would warn you about when you decide to move to Berlin because they saw this report about criminal Arabs and daily violence on national TV. It’s that place you were never allowed to go to visit your friend as a Berlin Charlottenburg-raised kid because your parents feared for your life and thought that friend living there is probably bad news anyway. Neukölln basically took over the job from Kreuzberg for being Berlin’s anarchist dump, full of lowlifes and criminals.
I’m not saying there’s no truth to it at all and Neukölln is a place full of happiness and candy. But there’s a difference between hype and reality, between seeing and fighting real problems and picturing a structurally weak area as some sort of failed state or second Aleppo in order to push a short-sighted political agenda to please people who irrationally fear Überfremdung (fear of becoming a foreigner in your own country).
Whatever “real Germans” is supposed to mean
It’s no wonder that Germany’s far right use Neukölln as a symbol for Überfremdung since they simply don’t like foreigners: 15% of its inhabitants are of Turkish and 10% of Arabic origin. Let’s just put aside the fact for a moment, that most of them are 2nd or 3d generation and born here, in order to understand AfD’s Björn Höcke, when he said “I don’t want conditions for Thuringia like in Berlin-Neukölln, Dortmund or Mannheim. This is not Germany anymore, this is no constitutional state anymore.”
Well. A quote like that shouldn’t surprise us, for we all should know by now, that Björn Höcke is a hardcore nationalist and a racist who thinks whites are superior. Therefore he would just thankfully use any example that links criminality in any way to people that don’t look like “real” Germans (whatever that is supposed to mean).
What is “positive diversity”?
Another thing is when a member of the government coalition shares his concerns about an area with high migration rates by giving delicate insights of his view on the migration matter. Jens Spahn of Merkel’s CDU said in a “Die Zeit” interview, that “when I walk through Neukölln, sometimes I barely see any women in some streets – and if, they wear head scarfs. In a free country, I have to accept that. But I don’t let myself be told, that this is a cultural enrichment. Positive diversity looks different to me.”
Now, I really wonder where exactly Jens Spahn takes his walks because it surely isn’t the same Neukölln I spend almost every day in. First of all, I see women everywhere. In every street I walk, in every shop I go, in every cafe I sit. Some of them wear head scarfs, some of them are not, there are even women from time to time who don’t wear anything at all because they’re just on their way home from some fetish party. There are white people, people of color and when I jump on M41 from Hermannplatz all the way down to Sonnenallee I hear people speak Arabic, Turkish, German, Italian or Swedish. And here it comes: Nobody gives a shit.
Sure, there’s groups of drunk men in the night that comment on women’s outfits, there are dealers trying to sell their stuff and there are people beaten up in metro stations occasionally, just like in every other major city where a lot of different people have to share limited space. Yes, these are real problems that have to be faced. But when a member of the government implies, that there is a good and a bad kind of diversity, then I highly doubt he has understood the idea of diversity at all.
They don’t speak to the people who actually live in these places
That Jens Spahn is a man of double standards who uses two sets of weights and measures, depending on whether it affects Germans or foreigners, shows another interview with Deutsche Welle, where he expressed his concern towards soldier’s parents, who now had to live with the fact that their children serve in Afghanistan, while a court ruled it is too dangerous for Afghan refugees to be sent back there. Herr Spahn, this is, because there’s war.
Of course, Neukölln is a thankful metaphor for politicians. They want an easy example of a place where things go wrong, to address voters who live far away from these places. As a result, they create a distorted image of a place that surely struggles with poverty and unemployment. What they don’t give us is a realistic analysis of these problems being created by intersectional discrimination. They don’t speak to the people who actually live in these places. They don’t speak to me, who lived there, not to the many of my (mostly female) friends who live there, not to my immigrant girlfriend who lives and loves it there and especially not to the many people with a migration background. To politicians like Spahn and Höcke, Neukölln is not more than a scapegoat.