They say this is a city people come to never grow up. They call it the ‘Berliner Peter Pan syndrome’. And it’s true. Berlin is a city that celebrates non-conformity, whose infamous tagline is “poor but sexy”. It’s a city that doesn’t demand anything, that allows you to to be you, to be free.
So what is it that makes Berlin the Peter Pan of Europe? In my opinion, it boils down to one thing…
This is a city that doesn’t expect anything from you. You are not expected to dress up for brunch. You are not even expected to dress up for Friday drinks. You are not expected to get a job, to ride the train to work in the morning, to have children at a certain age, to stop partying at a certain age. If you meet a sixty year old on the dancefloor at Berghain, it’s like shrug, cool. There is no social norm. You can pretty much do whatever you want and it’ll be socially acceptable. This means its ok if you’re 40 years old and you just wanna skateboard and make comics. It’s ok if you wanna be a permanent raver and spend your evenings amongst the laser lights and sweaty basements of the nightclub scene. It’s ok if you’re 30 and you wanna do multiple odd jobs like babysitting, translating etc just so you can live and enjoy your life (I know a lot of people in this situation, in fact I used to be in this situation). This kind of loose freedom means that people can live young and delay the typical aging process.You know what I mean, job, marriage, kids, house in the suburbs - all that. Because there are no expectations, no code of conduct people are free to live the life they want without fear or social pressure.
It really doesn’t matter what you do for a living, for the most part people don’t care. It’s not a question that is asked within the first minutes of meeting someone. It’s not a question that is asked during an entire first conversation with someone. Heck - you can know a person for months and not know “what they do”. Hailing from the famously superficial Northern shores of Sydney this was a real surprise for me in the beginning. I was used to being asked / asking traditional questions such as: “what do you do”, “where do you live”, and even the - oh god I cringe as I write this - “what school did you go to”. These questions are used as a kind-of social screening test - they help to create a frame of reference so you can accurately pigenohole the person you are speaking to. “Oh she’s from the North Shore, she must be a rich brat” or “He’s from Bondi. Bloody hipster” and so on. Now I can’t say this kind of stereotyping doesn’t happen in Berlin. The borough you choose to live in does seem to define you and the choices you make to some extent. I guess the difference is the lack of judgement. Here, you are not rigidly categorised by others for the choices you make.
The evolution of the city definitely played a role in the development of this attitude. It’s ongoing struggle, it’s ever-changing face - it’s true that Berlin’s lack of identity is it’s identity. I also believe that Berlin’s poor past played a role. Living on the brink for the last century Berlin developed humble roots. And from humble roots, comes humble opinion. People don’t busy themselves too much in other peoples business, they just get on with it.
And of course, as everybody knows after the wall came down Berlin’s cheap living attracted a young creative scene that helped to propel the sense of liberation. This conglomerate of dreamers, idealists and reality deniers were able to move freely and act as they please, amongst non-judgemental peers. It was this crowd who established the club scene, where the party starts on Thursday and ends sometime on Monday. This playful, never-ending, do-whatever-the-fuck-you-want nightlife has since become a thread in the fabric of Berlin’s eternal youth. I mean…why settle down when there’s Sisyphos? LOL - that’s an in joke.
It seems the lack of expectation feeds the sense of creative freedom. Or perhaps it is the other way round. Whatever it is, the city definitely pulsates to a different beat. Usually a techno beat! But seriously it’s true, if you never want to grow up Berlin might just be the city for you. It’s a place where you don’t have to fit in to a certain stereotype, where you can take your time and live however you want.
BERLIN - FÜR IMMER JUNG