I just came back from a walk to Templehofer Feld, which is quite near where I live.  Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day, but I barely got out of the house, as I was chained to the desk trying to get a presentation finished. Today there’s thick fog and it’s chilly out there, but even in Templehof, which is a big open space that used to be an airport, there was barely a breeze.  I went to walk among the community gardens – each person gets a small space that they build “constructions” on – raised beds, benches, chairs, little open-sided huts, bowers.  Since most people rent, the gardens are really necessary.  It’s astounding that the “constructions” don’t rot over the winter, but I guess they just don’t have the damp we have.  (If you came back from a walk in thick fog in Ireland, your coat would be sopping wet – here it was dry on my return) And it’s also wonderful to see that everyone can walk through the gardens, stop and look at what people have done, check out what’s still growing, and yet there’s no vandalism.  The weather has been unseasonably mild up to this, and even though there’s a dip in the temperature coming early in the week, long-range forecasts predict that temperatures will rise again at the end of the week.  Today I spotted birds in formation flying south – a bit late perhaps – and there’s no sign of our friendly local squirrel who springs around the bare trees outside the kitchen window.  I had to google whether squirrels hibernate, but actually, they do a sort of part-time hibernation.  They sleep when there is very wet or cold weather, and wake to eat from stores or forage when it’s milder.

After a long stint yesterday, I went out to meet up with a good friend, a Scottish woman who’s in the same class as me, who lives just near me.  We went to a new bar that had opened on her street. Typically, someone finds an old shop or closing business and does a fairly simple makeover, throws in the odd couch or two and a few barstools, and bobs-yer-uncle, you have a bar. They were having a launch night, so there was a loud DJ, which we would probably have loved if we were in the mood for dancing, but we wanted a chinwag.  Added to that, it was a small space with everyone smoking, so we didn’t stay long.  All the streets near the S-Bahn station have interesting bars/cafes and there are also pop-up galleries for art or clothing.  This is the beginning of gentrification, and we are part of the “problem”.  People like us can barely believe our luck, that we can rent in lovely quiet streets, near transport, for a portion of what we would pay at home.  However, the rents have traditionally been low in Berlin, and salaries too. So, lots of people who live and work here find that landlords bump up the rent a bit for outsiders, and then it stays at that level for Berliners too.  I was horrified to hear that the popular gay mayor here, Wowereit, privatised all public housing in Berlin in 2003, with a 10-year set of guidelines/rules to ensure the rents didn’t rocket.  Obviously, the ten-year honeymoon is over, and landlords are free to ask the tenant to leave when their contract is up (if he wants to use it for other purposes), or put up the rent.  I noticed that the Beetz shop was closed shortly before Christmas – an old-fashioned ladies and gentlemens outfitters/drapery shop, right on Hermannstrasse.  The items in the window were awful “old-dear” stuff, incredibly expensive, and I did wonder who the hell would ever buy in there, and indeed, how long they could sustain a business. When I went to a lovely veggie restaurant just before Christmas, they had a notice on the door saying that they were moving. When I asked about it, they said they had been there for 20 years, but the (new) landlord had firstly bumped up the rent, then, when they agreed, he said he wanted them out anyhow.  They were philosophical, saying they were going to another nice place.  I understand that rents can’t stay at 1990 levels, but it seems such a pity that there isn’t a middle way, so that people can feel respected and Berlin can retain some of it’s unique and wonderful vibe.

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