It's been a quarter of a century since the Berlin Wall was torn down, and the city is still marked by the architectural remains from a generation of Soviet occupation. A new study of the city's residents suggests that east and west Berlin remain culturally divided too — though they are still happy with their lives overall.
Photo by Debbie Buisson
Over on Atlantic's CityLab, Feargus O'Sullivan reports on a massive survey of Berlin residents, published last week. One of the most interesting findings from the study was that 46 percent of people surveyed said that east and west Berlin communities "have little to do with each other." Easterners were slightly more likely to call attention to this cultural division. Obviously the division isn't as keenly felt as it was in 1990, when 76 percent of Berlin's population believed there were strong social divisions two groups.
Despite a sense of separation that still exists between the two sides of a city that was once cut down the middle by a massive, fortified wall, today's Berlin is full of people who say they're happy.
Asked on a scale of one to five how satisfied they were, no district of the city reported average answers below a healthy 3.76. Interestingly, Berlin's happiness map reveals a different side to the city from the one usually portrayed when charting its rise as Europe's capital of cool. The happiest area (with a satisfaction score of 4.15) was the suburban working and lower middle class western borough of Spandau, far off the tourist beat and arguably the area of Berlin that has changed least in the past 25 years. Meanwhile, the least satisfied Berliners were in centrally located Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, the city's youngest borough and a place that's home to both newcomers to the city and a long-standing Turkish German population. It's easy enough to hypothesize reasons for lower levels of satisfaction here. Many living in the area are poor and, being younger, less well rooted, while the area is under general stress from rapid, displacement-inducing rent rises.
The bigger picture nonetheless is that, compared to 2009, satisfaction is up across the board, probably thanks to the city's improving economy. This upbeat trend continued when looking at the future. Asked how they saw Berlin's path over the next five years, 58 percent were optimistic and 11 percent very optimistic.
Despite the fact that people in Berlin still struggle with the social divisions imposed on them by the Soviets, they're still able to look to the future with hope. The city is also getting slightly younger, and has a higher-than-average number of people describing themselves as "hedonists" (which actually isn't too surprising in a city long known for its radical artists, as well as a very ahead-of-its-time gay rights movement in the 1920s).
Even as they remain haunted by history, cities can still change and look to the future. Though one has to assume that Berlin's sunny attitude is at least partly a result of its good economic fortunes.
Read more at CityLab