Dear far right, Neukölln is not the Bronx, no matter how hard you wish

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?

800px-Berlin_-_U-Bahnhof_Hermannplatz_-_Linien_U7_und_U8_(6335825554)

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.

 

Bildschirmfoto-2017-03-10-um-12.09.13
“How do I explain to a German mother whose son or daughter serves in the north of Afghanistan, that we don’t deport young Afghans?” – Jens Spahn

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.

 

How the debate about Cologne’s “Silvesternacht” all went wrong

A version of the following article was first published in Al Ard – Die Welt in Berlin, for which I work as the chief editor. It was published in both German and Arabic language. See here the English version:

The massive sexual assaults in the last night of 2015 around Cologne central station had vast implications on both asylum and the sexual offences act. These political knee-jerk reactions mirror a fatal public debate about the origin of the offenders and allegedly imported sexual violence against women.

tmp_9809-flashmob_gegen_mannergewalt_koln_2016_-4384-199271026

This night still moves us. A night full of disinhibition, loss of state control and sexual assaults. A collective loss of protection and security. Incredible. New year’s eve 2016, around Cologne Central Station: hundreds of women were sexually assaulted, hard-pressed and robbed by a marauding horde of more or less organised men. The days after many believed this would be both a political and societal turning point. But nobody was sure about what exactly would change now.

Because a lot of the suspects and actual offenders turned out to be people who identified as asylum seekers, these assaults were immediately connected to the considerable migration movements to Germany of the year 2015. During the weeks after new year’s eve social climate was downright toxic: In social media, people disinhibited completely and flooded the internet with the most wicked racist verbal diarrhoea. At the liberal end of the social spectrum, the educated middle class denied everyone having any sense of humanity, who dared to question the then practised asylum policies in any way.

A lot happened but no answer to the most urging problem

The media was criticised as well for their belated coverage. They now had to discuss whether it is justified to name an offenders origin or ethnicity, no matter if this actually plays a role or not (Other than in anglo-american media the german consensus is not to). A great number of commentators feared the german public now would finally split into extremely polarised camps. The government’s reactions seemed helpless in their effort to rapidly tightening up both the asylum and sexual offences act.

You see, a lot happened last year. But there’s no answer so far to the most urging problem: Sexual violence and a molesting culture against women. The whole issue was so rapidly consumed by the left and right wing groups trying to push forward their agenda in the so-called “refugee-debate”. Therefore nobody seemed to talk about the fact that this wasn’t a new unknown phenomenon brought into the country by the allegedly pervy orientals. That this problem is also deeply rooted in german society itself.

Just another story about some rape somewhere in the paper

However, the problem is, that domestic issues are not so easily addressed because they’re not as visible as the Cologne events were. It is just too common and happens every day. Once in a crowded metro – suddenly you got a hand in your crotch. Once on your way home – random people commenting on your decollete. Once – just another story about some rape somewhere in the paper. Sexist, molesting and assaulting behaviour is still everyday behaviour as it has always been. But: Instead of thinking about whether our society has a problem with a specific type of masculinity the debate only raised the question whether only recently we have a problem with a foreign type of masculinity.

As if this wasn’t enough, also the victims were blamed and their advocates attacked. Feminists had to explain themselves why they had been so silent after the events, while their opponents already delivered what they thought to be the answer: If feminists would speak out now, they had to acknowledge the fact of imported violence by culturally unfamiliar foreigners. What was ignored here is, that these women and feminists just didn’t want to be instrumentalised by people, who just recently discovered the feminist inside and felt appointed to protect “our good german women” from evil foreign lechers.

A racist misogynist as US-president

All that happened would have been a chance for the whole society – and yes, also the newly arrived members – to think together about which forms of masculinity we are willing to tolerate from this point on and how we challenge and change the sexism in our culture and in our heads. Because only then we will stop to reproduce sexism.

The western world is good in presenting itself as if values like freedom, equality and justice have been invented here. But reactionary tendencies as we see not only in countries like Hungary, France or Germany but also in the USA – that just made a racist misogynist president – reveal a very different signal to the world: for now, it seems, you can just go on grabbing.

How the far right uses pop culture to reach out for the youth

We all know Berlin is a vibrant city especially attractive for young creative people. No wonder the parties trying to make it into Abgeordnetenhaus (Berlin parliament) next sunday want to lure the city’s youngest into voting for them. In doing so many of the parties have had the heart to skate on the thin ice of subculture, slang, internet hypes and whatsoever. In short, the parties try pop culture and we all know where this leads us way too often

 

andy-warhol-vote-mcgovern-prints-and-multiples-serigraph-screenprint
“Vote McGovern”. Nixon portrait by Andy Warhol: Politics as subject to pop culture was always there. What happens the other way round?

Whenever German parties start campaigning for whatever election public walls and street lamps are covered with more or less random faces trying their best to look nice and likeable, just as in any other democratic country as well (while in dictatorships you’d probably see one face only obviously). In Berlin I have always been used to a streetscape where you’d find images of the biggest parties at face level while the nazi douchebags had to hang their posters so high, so nobody could reach them to tear them down but they had been splattered with paint bombs anyway.

That seems to have changed during the current election campaign for Wahl zum Berliner Abgeordnetenhaus (Berlin parliament election). Indeed the posters of NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands: national democratic party of Germany, the successor party of Hitler’s NSDAP, therefore plain nazis) and AfD (Alternative für Deutschland: alternative for Germany, other right wing bastards that don’t wanna hang out with the old fashioned bald and combat boot wearing Hitler fan club because they like Bismarck more but actually are the same nationalist pile of haters except they wear fancy suits) still hang high but even in Berlin’s multi national and alternative left wing districts Kreuzberg and Neukölln I haven’t seen a single poster of one of these parties that actually has been teared apart or paint bombed.

Misfits from the other side

This of course has to do with a general change of society and the way of how public debate is carried out currently. Another reason why especially a lot of young people currently are attracted to parties such as AfD or movements like Identitäre Bewegung (identitarian movement) in large parts of Germany is that they use the same mystification patterns as organically grown sub and youth cultures to establish one of their own and to give themselves an image of a young, dynamic and rebellious movement one can identify with in an allegedly conformist society that would treat these kids as misfits (as it did and does as well with beatniks, hippies, Gammler, 68er, punks, skinheads and so on, you name it).

Sadly these movents are quite good when it comes to adapt to youth culture in order to mobilise the kids politically. Perhaps you have seen AfD‘s 2016 campaign commercial for the Berlin election that raised a lot of attention a couple of weeks ago:

What we see in this 1 minute video is a bunch of mostly young and quite fashionable people with fancy sunglasses. A lot of them wear blue sunglasses (the party’s colour) and therefore have Durchblick (literally see-through, which means being in the know), while others lacking exactly that for having different coloured glasses. The happy summerly atmosphere is completed by a borderline cheesy electro swing track by former succesful producer Marco Delgardo (i.a. Roxette, Savage Garden, Atomic Kitten).

As horrid the message of this clip is, which is based inherently on the exclusion of different-minded people (and different coloured people and foreigners as well, since the only black man in the video wears the wrong glasses as well), for a political party it still comes kind of fresh and at least it is not a reason for Fremdscham (again, only when you leave out the message), a deeply uncomfortable feeling you often get for example when old people try and fail to talk like the cool kids nowadays.

Fremdscham it is what you feel when you watch the campaign commercial of Alfa (Allianz für Fortschritt und Aufbruch: alliance for progress and rise, a eurosceptic right wing conservative party). Imagine a bunch of mostly old white men with an academic background wearing business suits sitting together in a villa on the countryside and trying to come up with an idea to reach the young voters and one of them says: “What about that rap music, isn’t that what the kids are listening to all the time at the moment? Perhaps we should make a rap song.” Given that they are not the first ones among parties or companies doing that and by know the last person actually should know that classic rap and hip hop is a mine field when it’s not real, it’s not even funny anymore but makes me really really sad. The beat comes directly frome hell, the rhymes are cheap and I’m pretty damn sure the “rapper” never ever heard of something called flow. I don’t want to talk any further about this, just see for yourself:

I have to admit though that with the 1 minute long opening montage of news snippets with politicians talking is a classic gimmick mostly used in horror films to give the audience an overview of the general setting and plot without too much storytelling needed, just like in 2004’s Dawn of the Dead. Except here it is done pretty badly with cheap fading effects.

Berlin’s CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union: christian democratic union, Merkel’s conservative party) also tried to adapt to the laid-back Berlin party and creative lifestyle and boy, do they know what the party kids want! More security while going out!

das-fragwrdigste-club-wahlplakat-kommt-nicht-von-der-fdp-sondern-der-cdu-body-image-1472551702

And while this very diverse bunch of likeable young girls and boys above surely know how to hit the dancefloor right, CDU candidate Frank Henkel comments in a video what really goes wrong in Germany’s capital: “[…] I also see a different Berlin. A Berlin with big problems. I see a city in which infrastructure decays, public transport that doesn’t work, integration [of migrants] that doesn’t always proceeds as some politicians want to make people believe. I see dirt and wildness (while Henkel passes by a wall with graffiti) […]”. Well, the way I see it, Berlin is constantly constructing fancy new buildings, public transport – while truly having problems – still is one of the best in Germay, the vast majority of the more than 500.000 people of almost 190 nationalities live peacefully together (yes I know there is a lot of criminal energy and arabic mafia here as well) and I really don’t think that in the year 2016 graffiti is still something you could use for symbolising vandalism and dirt.

That may have worked for Ed Koch‘s campaign to become mayor of New York in 1977 but today street art hangs in museums (which misses the whole point by the way). Dear Mr Henkel, you can’t fight against Berlin’s sub cultures and literally lead a war against Rigaer 94 (one of Berlin’s last left alternative housing projects deriving from the 90s squatting movement) but then unasked use video material shot at Klunkerkranich club to bask in the glory of what this city is loved and famous for. That’s just bad style.

After reviewing a lot of material that is mostly harmless and therefore too boring to mention it, after failed attempts to understand young voters it seems that Die Partei (the party, satirical party that even made it into EU parliament) is the only one that truly understands what people from, say, 18 to 35 want: Not to be bullshitted. Corresponding to their slogan Inhalte überwinden (overcoming content) they do exactly as promised and with their satiric and nihilist attempt show the true nature of what politics often means these days. In doing so they have not only become part of pop culture itself. With Maxim and Nico of notorious and constantly provoking rap crew K.I.Z they also have two german “popstars” running for the Berlin parliament (as the video below shows for the 2011 campaign. They run again this year). Enjoy and go vote on sunday.