2014-2015 Competition Opens 1 February 2013
Berlin: Where Cultures Meet and Challenges Abound
"Berlin is poor but sexy“ – Since Berlin´s governing mayor, Klaus Wowereit made this ambiguous observation in a television interview in 2004, it has become a popular slogan and very successful marketing tool to draw an ever growing stream of visitors to Germany´s capital city. Cities such as Munich and Heidelberg, long considered the uncontested cultural “hotspots” in Germany, have long been overtaken by Berlin in the rankings of the most popular German travel destinations. Internationally, the German capital city now competes with New York, Paris and London. For a city with a difficult history located “in the middle of all this sand”, as the French writer Stendal put it in the 18th century, this comes as an unexpected success story. What then is the secret of Berlin´s charm?
First, Berlin is rich in culture -- close to 200 museums, collections and galleries, and three opera houses invite the traveler, not to mention countless international cultural events taking place throughout the year. Sixteen universities form the city’s higher education landscape, attracting German and international students and scholars to Berlin. Think-tanks, research parks, and academies also make Berlin one of the top destinations for internationally mobile elites and contribute to the city’s multicultural flair.
Berlin is rich in memory – important chapters of German history evolved in this region, where Germany´s Prussian heritage originated and the Third Reich ruled. As in no other place in Germany, Berlin reminds us of Germany´s post-war history, its focal strategic position in the Cold War between “capitalism” and “communism”, the hardships resulting from a city and a country divided, and how this situation was finally overcome.
Owing to the immigration flows which began in the 1960s, Berlin boasts a colorful population and many varied multi-ethnic neighborhoods. It is this flair, and the inexpensive living conditions, that attract artists and trend-setters to set up camp. They are fascinated by our “un-settled” capital city which much resembles their own creative activities: The city of Berlin seems to be a work-in-progress, “Berlin is never Berlin”.
All these features may account for the “sexy” attractiveness of Berlin, but they cannot mask the many challenges this city faces. Situated in a rural area and without any of the manufacturing industries left which would offer jobs to major parts of the working population, the German capital city has been on a steady economic decline since the early 1990s. More than 200,000 industrial jobs were lost, which left many immigrants without work and depending on social welfare. At the same time, immigration to Berlin increased in the 1990s with people from Eastern Europe, refugees and “resettlers” seeking their fortune further West, in Berlin, in future-oriented careers. However, the necessary transformation from an industrial to a knowledge society has been slow, given Berlin´s limited financial scope. So, for many years unemployment in Berlin has been higher than in many other parts of Germany, and it is most prominent among the non-German inhabitants. Berlin´s lacking potential for economic integration results in societal and spatial segregation and poses a threat to the cohesion of urban society and equal opportunities for the many social and ethnic groups not only residing in the city but also in the surrounding region. Urban renewal plans and the gentrification of districts have sharpened this challenge as they unsettle traditional residential patterns and worsen segregation across age, gender, social and ethnic groups. Other cities and Länder in Germany are facing similar problems, but given its unique cultural and historical footprint and its desperate budget situation, which course does Berlin pursue?
The German Studies Seminar will explore if economic growth, competitiveness, and new employment opportunities in and around Berlin can be pushed to ensure social integration, and personal success without such experience from the past? How to increase the integrative functions of schools and to strengthen educational attainment? How can Berlin´s plurality, whether in the human or natural sciences, in universities or research institutions, in culture or business, and in the different biographies of East and West Germans become an asset rather than a burden, and lead to productive, harmonious cooperation? While some Germans hope that Berlin stays “sexy”, others certainly also expect that innovative and competent governance will help the nation´s capital to rise from the “poor” and to encourage future visitors to “still keep a suitcase in Berlin”. Go to Award Detail >