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Poor but sexy

Berlin clichés: True or false?

Poor but sexy, everyone wears black, dirty and full of drugs. Which of the cliches or prejudices about Berlin are true, and which are outdated?

Poor but sexy

Klaus Wowereit’s election poster with a sticker reading “poor but sexy”. Photo: imago/Gerhard Leber

This line was famously uttered first by Berlin’s “party mayor” Klaus Wowereit. This was back in 2003, and he was talking to a group of investors in London. And it seemed true, back then. Berlin was in debt, unemployment was high, rent was cheap – but it was also a place famous for its creativity, culture and nightlife. But does it still hold? It depends who you ask. Lots of money came into Berlin over the last 20 years, although much of it was spent on ridiculous projects (BER, the Humboldt Forum, the A100). And, while unemployment is down, there’s a housing crisis and energy costs are about to explode. So it looks like yes, we’re still poor: just older and more anxious. At least, personally speaking. 

Berliners party and take drugs all the time

Vials containing various drugs. Photo: IMAGO / epd

This is at least partly true: Berlin has abundant nightlife, and if you visit Berghain, about blank or Renate, you’ll get the impression that Berliners rave non-stop from Friday evening to Monday morning. But there’s one problem with the stats here, because you know who takes more drugs and parties even harder? People visiting Berlin. In fact, just within Germany, a 2021 survey found that Hamburg and Frankfurt had significantly higher residues of cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamine and cannabis in their wastewater. So the truth is: Berlin’s got good parties, but everyone takes drugs, especially rich finance guys here on a weekend bender.

Berliners eat döner and currywurst every day

That’s breakfast and lunch sorted. Photo: IMAGO / Steinach

Two of Berlin’s most famous culinary exports are the döner – invented in 1972 when Kadir Nurman first served the meat in a flatbread – and currywurst – created at the end of the 1940s by innkeeper Herta Heuwer, combining cheap sausages with the new American import of tomato ketchup. But do Berliners really eat so much more of them than everyone else? Well, according to some back-of-the-napkin calculations by our sister publication tipBerlin, 11 percent of Berliners eat a döner every day (seems high). This is 10 percent above the German average. So, while it’s not most people, it’s a lot more than usual.

For currywurst, the numbers are a little lower: Berlin accounts for just eight percent of Germany’s annual sales of the famous sausage and ketchup dish. Unfortunately, we don’t know the percentage of mit darm and ohne…

Everyone in Berlin hates the police

On May 1, Police clash with demonstrators. Photo: Imago/xcitepress

This prejudice probably dates back to the May Day demonstrations which, although they’ve gotten more peaceful in recent years, used to be a huge flashpoint between Berliners and the police. However, when you look at the stats, Berlin is in step with the rest of Germany: according to one survey, about 82 percent of the population have confidence in the police and 15 percent have none. What’s more, the Berlin police can be quite fun. Who remembers that one G20 in Hamburg when the Berlin police had to be sent home after partying all night, having sex and urinating in public? So, no, Berliners don’t all hate the police. We hate the ticket inspectors

The only colour anyone wears is black

The Berghain queue, looking colourful. Photo: IMAGO / Votos-Roland Owsnitzki

This cliché is starting to feel pretty outdated, but it lives on due to endless articles telling tourists how to get into Berghain (we’re not entirely innocent here). But actually, we’re starting to see much more colourful looks around the city: pink, orange, green, violet. Anything goes. What’s the reason for this change? Well, some say it’s the influence of a younger generation influenced by the array of colours in gaming, or K-pop, or it could be something else entirely. So keep your eyes open next time you’re queueing for Berghain. 

Everyone is Berlin works at a start-up and drinks flat whites in Prenzlauer Berg

Five Elephant serves a good flat white. Photo: TipArchiv

So, what are we: poor and sexy, or gentified yuppies? The truth is, Berlin has seen a rise in gentrification over the years and, while the coffee has improved thanks to successive waves of Australians, Berlin’s average coffee is probably still a milchkaffee from one of those sad automatic machines. As for the start-ups, there are quite a few: but aren’t they already moving to Lisbon

Berliners all remember the DDR, the fall of the Wall and reunification  

Photo: Imago/ Florian Gaertner

Of course, Berlin more than any other city in the world was marked by the division of Germany. The city was literally split in two and traces of that time remain all over. However, history is written by victors: and it is probably the former Ossis who remember the time of division more clearly – and more bitterly (the controversial Humboldt Forum replacing the beloved Palace of the Republic would be just one example).

Berlin is filthy

McDonalds, Five Guys, Risa Chicken, some of Berlin’s finest foods on display here. Photo: Imago/Bildgehege

Is there any big city that doesn’t get accused of being dirty? More people means more rubbish lying in the streets, but Berlin is actually one of the greenest cities in Europe. What’s more, the Pfand system, where people can claim a small fee for returning plastic or glass bottles, means that a large part of potential waste is cleared away quickly and efficiently. But this prejudice remains, usually held by Germans from wealthier, more sanitised cities. So, if you don’t like it, move to Potsdam.