More ‘signs in cities’ – returning to Prenzlauer Berg

Last Friday, I spent a day walking through the neighbourhood that was the site of my research on linguistic landscapes (LL) in 2010/11.

Walking through the same streets again – which I had visited last in 2012 – I looked for what had or hadn’t changed in the area’s LL. I also tried to find the shops and cafes whose owners I had interviewed. Luckily, most were still there. I also wanted to know whether English was still as strongly present as it had been in 2011/12. Indeed, it was, maybe even more than I remembered it. German outdoor advertising seems to be full of English words and slogans. Here are two examples of new signs I found:

little shop of flowersPure properties Helmholtzplatz

‘Pure’ is a property agent. I looked at the offers in their window: large flats, renovated lofts, town houses, etc., all (to rent or buy). Prices seemed high, at least for Berlin’s standards.

When I carried out my original study, gentrification was the issue I found most interesting. Then and now, the effects of gentrification are clearly reflected in the linguistic landscape, in particular in the prevalence of commercial signs. These are mostly signs of cafes, bars, restaurants, and what I would think of as luxury shops: boutiques, gifts shops, delicatessen, organic stores, etc.

Returning to the area last week, I am still amazed by the way this part of Berlin has come to represent a lifestyle and culture that are strongly connected with commercialisation. Of course, other parts of the city are not all that different. Just that P-Berg seems pretty posh to me these days! The flats on offer in Pure’s window certainly were at the high end of Berlin rents and property prices. Affordable housing  and rent control, I have been reading in the local papers, remains a much debated issue.

So I walked through the Kiez (the neighbourhood) to see if I could find any signs of gentrification still being contested. My  impression was though that this part of Berlin is now firmly in the hands of the gentrifiers – and not the first generation of gentrifiers probably. It is also known as an area where many foreigners live, Brits, Americans, French…. So I wasn’t all that surprised not to find any signs of opposition to the changes. In 2010/11 some of these were still part of the LL: slogans asking property speculators to leave the area, graffiti placed on newly painted facades, posters inviting residents whose rents had been increased to seek support and advice from a local advice group.

My path led me to Dunckerstrasse and to the ‘Kiezladen’ that I remembered from 2010. It had been – and still is – a ‘Nachbarschaftsladen’ – a small community centre, offering among other things legal advice to tenants. The Kiezladen is still there:kiezladen bleibt

The banner ‘Kiezladen bleibt’ (Kiezladen stays) invites residents to join a campaign to save this self-organised local advice centre. For 20 years, it had received financial support from the local district. This was ended in April 2015 and the centre now has to pay a monthly rent of 1000 Euros for their premises.

‘Kiezladen bleibt’ – the choice of the verb ‘bleiben’ (stay)  is no doubt a recontextualisation of the old anti-gentrification slogan used in the 1990s by local activists who protested again increased rents and buildings being sold to speculators. The prominent slogan and logo ‘Wir bleiben alle’ (we all stay) which I wrote about in my 2012 paper, is still in use: it was reprinted on the left side of banner in the above photograph. But do today’s residents remember this slogan and the movement it stood for?

Near the Kiezladen,  I found other remnants of the earlier local protest, slogans and graffiti. No longer easily visible: half hidden underneath new layers of graffiti and street art. In the photograph below, underneath the street art, you can see parts of an older protest slogan, which in 2010 was much more prominently displayed on several facades and house entries.

street art Dunckerstrasse

It seems then that the area and its LL have changed since 2010, albeit not significantly. And the direction that this change took seems to indicate an even more firmly accomplished process of gentrification than I observed in 2011 and 2012. What happened to the local anti-gentrification activists, I don’t know. My guess is they have lost their battles and had no choice but to move away from the area.

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