City #2, June 2013. A guide told me (looking for a great guide? Try Sandeman Walking Tours, starting from Brandenburger Tor – and pay what you want). Anyway, a guide told me that Berlin is the only major city that has fewer inhabitants now than before the outbreak of WWII. And you can feel this: the many parks aren’t crowded, the broad streets never packed. This a city with breathing space. And another tourist tip: go to Tempelhof, the former airport, only a twenty minute bike ride from the Kurfürstendam or Unter den Linden and right next to Kreuzberg. It has been turned into a park, but without trees: it has a horizon and that is precisely what gives it such a great sense of freedom: Tempelhofer Freiheit. People go there with their kites, to play football or just to walk or bike on the runway and experience the childlike excitement of doing something that feels illegal.

What type of Youropeans? Very well-behaved. In public they talk quietly in their phones, careful not to disturb others, and pedestrians stop for red lights.

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City Column

Lampedusa Village Berlin

Saturday afternoon. A bus stops and shouting children storm out, followed by mothers, some of whom are struggling with prams, unaided by fathers: they light up a cigarette as soon as they hit the pavement. This is not Euro Disney or some other theme park; it is a small park near Oranienplatz in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. No roller coaster, just a bouncy castle, a table football game and a corner where the children can paint. They are easily entertained.

At least these children are, for they are the children of asylum seekers. They are spending the afternoon with their fellow asylum seekers in Lampedusa Village. That’s what they call this place. Although today it temporarily doubles as a miniature theme park, it is in fact an illegal tent camp right in the middle of a respectable Berlin neighbourhood. For almost a year, approximately 100 asylum seekers, not all of whom were washed up on the shores of the tiny Italian island that lies within swimming distance of Africa, have been waiting here: waiting and waiting. For most of them, becoming a European was never their dream. The mainly West African asylum seekers had a good life in Libya under Gaddafi, who coincidentally also often slept in a tent, although usually accompanied by five virgins instead of fifteen unwashed men. There are eight tents in Lampedusa Vilage: seven for sleeping and one information tent staffed by an extremely unhealthy looking Nigerian. United Against Colonial Injustice! proclaims a banner above a bulletin board full of newspaper clippings, pamphlets and a photograph of Ulrike Meinhof, although the RAF terrorist’s connection to asylum seekers is not entirely clear to me.

There are also a number of white people present – which is how they probably refer to themselves. One of them, a woman aged between 25 and 50, is wearing a T-shirt advocating Solidarität mit der Flüchtlungsbewegung. She is raking the gravel, with the help of a man whose bony shoulders clearly carry the daily weight of linen bags along with the suffering of the entire world. The children are enjoying themselves, jumping up and down in the green and yellow bouncy castle. Their mothers sit in the shade with the prams, the fathers gather in groups, smoking. A bit farther away two Malinese men are playing draughts, using stones as markers. Four friends watch them, a painful reminder of the extent of their boredom. Lampedusa Village, Berlin.


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