WALL STREET JOURNAL

Berliners Grit Their Teeth as Rich Newcomers Damp Bohemian Vibe

Hip Locals Bemoan Tidy Transplants; Currywurst Attack

Food Fight: Members of a group called Free Schwabylon flung spätzle—Swabian noodles—at a statue, prompting Berliners to douse a statue of philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a Swabian who lived in Berlin almost two centuries ago, with currywurst, a Berlin street-cart delicacy of sausages in red curry sauce.
Food Fight:  Members of a group called Free Schwabylon flung spätzle—Swabian noodles—at a statue, prompting Berliners to douse a statue of philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a Swabian who lived in Berlin almost two centuries ago, with currywurst, a Berlin street-cart delicacy of sausages in red curry sauce.   DPA

BERLIN—Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, residents of the German capital face another barrier to unity in their city.

On one side are Berliners, who revel in their messy city’s Bohemian vibe, described by its mayor as “poor but sexy.”  Across the battle lines are rich southwesterners from Swabia, whom other Germans mock as obsessively orderly and bourgeois.

For years, native Berliners have taunted transplanted Swabians, whose region is often lampooned for rules requiring tenants to sweep their stoops and sidewalks.  Wolfgang Thierse, a former East Berliner who strove for national harmony as president of reunified Germany’s parliament, couldn’t resist sniping recently to an audience of Swabians that before 1989, the Berlin Wall “still protected us” from their invasion.  Thousands of southwesterners have moved to the city in the past decade, attracted by the hip cultural offerings.

Sour grapes, say Swabians.

Wecken, or Schrippen?
Wecken, or Schrippen?

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Goldbricking Berliners sponge off southerners’ subsidies “to fund their standard of living,” says Hans-Ulrich Rülke, floor leader in the legislature of Baden-Württemberg, the German state covering most of Swabia.  “People don’t like showing gratitude,” he says to explain the animosity.

Seemingly minor cultural differences grate on Berliners’ nerves.  Mr. Thierse first inspired Swabian ire two years ago by accusing them in a newspaper interview of polluting Berlin air with bits of their dialect, like wecken.

“In Berlin, you say schrippen, something even Swabians can get used to,” he said.  Both are terms for bread rolls.

Another crime was pflaumendatschi.  “What is that?” he said.  “In Berlin, it’s called pflaumenkuchen.”  Both mean plum tart.

Swabians responded by staking their claim on territory with a symbolic wall of maultaschen, a Swabian stuffed-pasta specialty resembling ravioli.

Berliners in turn attacked a statue of philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a Swabian who lived in Berlin almost two centuries ago.  Their weapon of choice was currywurst, a Berlin street-cart delicacy of sausages drenched in red curry sauce.

“Because of Hegel, Berlin was divided for 42 years,” says the website of Exile Swabians, the Berliners’ group responsible for the attack, linking Hegel’s philosophy to Soviet communism by way of Karl Marx.  The capital, they say, “is still divided, between Swabian invaders and Berliners.”

Mr. Thierse’s food broadside prompted more than 3,000 emails, many of them insulting, he said.  Berliners on the street voiced support, he added.

Mr. Rülke in July cited Mr. Thierse’s anti-Swabian comments as reason for revoking an invitation for the Berliner to address his legislature in Stuttgart on Sunday’s anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin politician Wolfgang Thierse has complained about rich newcomers from the southwest, and has even expressed annoyance at the Swabian words for bread rolls and plum tarts.
Berlin politician Wolfgang Thierse has complained about rich newcomers from the southwest, and has even expressed annoyance at the Swabian words for bread rolls and plum tarts.  Imago/Zuma Press

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Now, some Swabians want to sweep the bitter history aside.  The Swabians Network, a Berlin social group, recently invited Mr. Thierse to address them.

“I am surprised and almost feel moved that so many Swabians have come here to listen to the so-called Swabian Hater,” he told the audience of roughly 40 people.

The group’s founder, Claus-Eckart Schmidt, was amicable.  It was “a bit ridiculous and narrow-minded” for Mr. Rülke to revoke Mr. Thierse’s invitation, he said.  “Those legendary statements are old stuff,” he added, referring to Mr. Thierse’s food barbs.

In one conciliatory moment, Mr. Thierse almost ate his words on food names.

“The image of a Swabian hater is now sticking to me,” he said regretfully.  “It makes me sad that three sentences count more than 24 years of work as a politician.”

Not all Swabians in Berlin are as forgiving as Mr. Schmidt.  Free Schwabylon, a self-declared “underground group,” says Swabians toil to improve the capital while shiftless locals “suffer in defiance.”

The group’s Facebook page demands “an autonomous Swabian district in Berlin,” known by some as Schwabylon.  The name blends Swabia’s German name, Schwaben, and Babylon.

Free Schwabylon last year built its stuffed-pasta wall, and members also flung spätzle—Swabian noodles—at a nearby statue.

The group’s dirty war has divided Swabians.  “A true Swabian wouldn’t do that with spätzle,” says Frank Witt, a tattooed and bearded biker who looks very Berlin after 16 years in the city.

Mr. Witt lives in Schwabylon, a neighborhood of expensively renovated buildings erected during Germany’s pre-World War I glory.  It is one of Berlin’s most picturesque areas, and its makeover with Swabian money is feeding Berliners’ annoyance.

Christian Gumbold, administrator of a Facebook group called “Swabians, Get Out of Central Berlin,” says the outsiders “want to turn hip districts into lame family enclaves.”

Organic supermarkets dot Schwabylon.  Industrious tenants hold high-paying jobs and many drive Swabian cars.  Daimler AG and Porsche AG are based in Stuttgart.

[ For video here, see:  http://online.wsj.com/articles/berliners-grit-their-teeth-as-rich-newcomers-damp-bohemian-vibe-1415244794?mod=WSJ_hp_EditorsPicks ]

For the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany plans to put up a wall of a different kind:  8,000 glowing balloons.  WSJ’s Dipti Kapadia reports.  Photo: Daniel Büche

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Elsewhere around Berlin, hedonistic nonconformism predominates.  Cafes routinely serve breakfast until evening for late-rising partyers.  Cheap convenience stores abound.

Berliners like university student Rabea Tanneberger say Swabians are inflating rents, forcing locals out.  “Swabians are hated because they have exploited Berlin’s culture,” she fumes.  Attracted by the city’s “casual-snotty charm of being poor but sexy,” she says they are gentrifying the charm away.

Even at the conciliatory Swabian Network evening, Mr. Thierse, the “Swabian Hater,” said Swabians “come to Berlin because it’s so untidy…but then want it to be as orderly here as the Swabian kehrwoche,” he sniffed, referring to Swabians’ step-cleaning.

He did make one concession on the plum tart issue, though.  Pflaumendatschi from the south, he said, “tastes better than the Berliner pflaumenkuchen.”

Write to Friedrich Geiger at friedrich.geiger@wsj.com

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