Morning, David Montgomery!

Hm, well to talk about how it changed, I should start by talking about what it used to be.

The West Berlin I lived in in the 1980s was contained by the Wall, surrounded on all sides by East Germany, and completely reliant on support from the West just to exist.

West Germany and the West in general subsidized the island city in part out of a sense of compassion, but also as the grandest possible act of the theater of propaganda.

West Berlin’s population was highly stable, and employment was almost total. In fact, there was a worker shortage when I lived there for most of the 80s. Wages were very high as a result, even for unskilled workers. It wasn’t a perfect paradise; the Turkish “guest workers” who’d lived there for generations faced discrimination and suffered a lack of opportunity, but it was easy to overlook their plight.

All the Berliners I knew, even young working-class people, were rich by my middle-class American standards. They had far more money than I was used to, far more time off work, and lived in homes that were generally more luxurious than what I was accustomed to.

Education was free, right up through advanced degrees.

But education was not necessary to enjoy a nice lifestyle. Factory work paid more than some American professionals could expect.

What happened when the Wall fell is that West Berlin stopped being special. East Germans poured into the City, penniless and (relatively) hungry. They wanted the bananas they saw in the grocery stores. They wanted the lifestyles they observed up close for the first time.

Clearly, things had to change. West Berliners would become Berliners, and integration would eat away at the luxury everyone took for granted. With competition, wages had to fall. Rents had to rise.

And — because the Germans were determined to bring the East up in circumstances and opportunity, vast sums of money had to be spent to build up the infrastructure of the former Soviet satellite state. Taxes had to rise.

Berlin today is a far different place than the Berlin of my youth, though it’s a very exciting, thriving place. Starving artists flock there from all over Europe and the world, because cheap lofts are available. Jobs are not scarce, but they aren’t very high paying. The work to revitalize the East continues, though it’s winding down now.

The Turkish problem is being squarely faced instead of ignored, though many would say progress is still lacking and that discrimination is still rife.

The West Berlin of my day was wealthy, luxurious, laid back, and insular.

Berlin today is energetic, thriving, cosmopolitan, and a the perfect place to for a struggling artist or entrepreneur to find a foothold.

Jim

Written by

Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot. jamesfinnwrites@gmail.com

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