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#139: Tschüssi 2022
A look back at the stories we covered
If someone had told me last New Year’s Eve that the pandemic would slowly wind down by the end of 2022, I might have believed them, but if they’d said we’d have a major war two countries away and as a result public transport would cost €9 a month all summer, I would have told them to get their head checked.
It’s been a hell of a year. Below, in a subjective, selective list, I try to make a little sense of Berlin’s ride on the Achterbahn (rollercoaster) of 2022.
To all our loyal readers, especially our generous Patreons (you know who you are) and sponsors, I wish you a guten Rutsch into 2023.
Berlin corona stats for Friday, December 30
New cases in one day: 1,693 (1,579 Tuesday)
Total deaths: 5,255 (+19 over Tuesday)
➡️ 7-day Covid-19 incidence (cases per 100,000): 199.0 (261.9 Tuesday)
➡️ 7-day hospitalization incidence (also per 100,000): 16.9 (20.4 Tuesday)
➡️ Covid-19 ICU patient occupancy: 7.0% (5.7% Tuesday)
Source: Berlin’s corona page
A look back at 2022
Those first weeks of the war in Ukraine were anxiety-inducing and disorienting for Berliners, to say the least. Just days after the February 24 invasion, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) announced a Zeitenwende, a new era of defence spending, and a special €100 billion fund to get the German army back into fighting shape. Germany also promised military aid to Ukraine, but as the year progressed it was revealed that the Bundeswehr lacked ammo and quite a few of its tanks were kaputt — not something anyone would have cared about before. Thousands of refugees began to arrive every day at Hauptbahnhof. Berlin showed its kinder side for a change. One of the stranger occurrences was when mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) was duped into a video call with an AI-generated deepfake of Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko.
Thanks to the war and the pandemic-related supply-chain crisis, the cost of everything spiralled upwards. Scandalously, Döner prices surpassed the €5 mark in most of the city — with €6 and €7 no longer rare. The government scrabbled to put together inflation-busting goodies such as the €9 ticket, which famously allowed Berliners to criss-cross the city and the country on public transport for the price of a Döner and a beer — for a month! City-dwellers flocked to the Baltic beaches and punks undertook daytrips to the posh North Sea island of Sylt. But by September, the €9 dream had evaporated — and morphed into a not-quite-so-sexy €29 subscription ticket, for Berliners at least. Because Germany’s car game is not to be ignored, the federal government also offered a Tankrabatt (petrol discount) to drivers who felt left out. For months the government wrangled awkwardly over how else to allevitate the cost-of-living crisis. By October, Scholz’s ruling “traffic light” gang of SPD, Greens and FDP, had agreed to throw €200 billion at the problem: free natural gas all December and a price cap in 2023. Kindergeld (child benefit payment) was bumped to €250/month, other benefits went up too.
The pre-Christmas bursting of the million-litre AquaDom aquarium could be interpreted as a symbol for the bursting of Berlin’s inflated sense of self. Like every large city we think we’re the centre of the universe, but in fact we’re just a provincial backwater with an inferiority complex and tacky dreams of grandeur. Would Paris or London feel the need to boast about the “world’s largest free-standing cylindrical aquarium” or “Europe’s fastest elevator” or that Berlin has “more bridges than Venice”, as if the number of bridges was why people visited Venice? Anyhow, 1,500 fish perished in the disaster — prompting jokes about pop-up sushi carts in Mitte
It’s not all bad…
A smattering of random, lovely things did happen come to pass over the year:
In June, the traffic-light coalition showed its more progressive side by abolishing paragraph 219a of Germany’s criminal code, which had criminalised the “advertising” of abortion services by doctors, essentially making it impossible for clinics to provide detailed information about the procedure on their websites. The centre-right CDU/CSU and the far-right AfD voted against axing paragraph 219a. The coalition’s 2023/2024 modernisation promises include the legalisation of cannabis and looser rules on dual citizenship.
Speaking of which …
… a total of 7,820 foreign Berliners took on German citizenship in 2021, 22% more than 2020. The top nationalities of those opting for German passports were Turkish (10%), Syrian (8%) and Polish (6%). Stats for 2022 still pending. The Berlin government’s target is 20,000 “new Germans” per year — because the city, like the rest of Germany, is facing a massive labour shortage post-corona and as boomers begin to enter retirement. To make Berlin more foreigner friendly, the local chapter of the business-friendly FDP party even went so far as to suggest making — shock, horror — English an official language of Berlin’s bureaucracy. A nice idea, but you and I know this won’t happen in our lifetimes, while the government’s new plans for a Canadian immigration point system should materialise soon-ish. Somehow, you of the 20% are managing pretty well despite the language barrier: stats were released saying foreigners took 62% of the new 59,900 full-time jobs (known as sozialversicherungspflichtigen jobs, or jobs that require payments for social benefits) on offer in 2021.
Young climate activists unimpressed by Extinction Rebellion and Fridays For Future banded together under the banner Last Generation. Since the spring they’ve been pissing off commuters by blocking motorway exits around the city, supergluing themselves to roadways and government buildings. Taking a cue from from Just Stop Oil, in October two Last Generation members chucked mashed potatoes at a $111 million Monet at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam. Most commentators weren’t impressed by the stunt — but Last Generation was positively roasted by right-of-centre politicians and pundits after a first responder vehicle was stuck in traffic thanks to a climate blockade. The vehicle had been on its way to the scene on an accident where a cyclist had been hit by a truck — and later died. No direct link could be made between the blockade and the death, but it was awful PR for the movement.
The Tesla factory that opened up outside of Berlin in March has gotten off to a rocky start. There was a fire. And illegal toxic waste. Then Elon himself said the place was burning through cash at an alarming rate. Reports of lousy workplace conditions and low pay (20 percent lower than at German companies) have allegedly made it hard for Tesla to attract and retain staff. The gigafactory also stands accused of sucking up way too much water from local aquifiers — but the state of Brandenburg keeps approving its expansion plans. The state is already the dryest part of Germany and is even considering piping in and desalinating water from the Baltic Sea, said state environment minister Axel Vogel (Grüne).
Police raids in December targeted a Germany-wide ring of whacko right-wing conspiracy theorists armed with hunting rifles known as Reichsbürger. The group, taking inspiration from the January 6 storming of the US Capitol, allegedly hoped to overthrow the German government and reinstall the pre-World War Kaiserreich. They were led by a tweedy, septuagenarian prince, a celebrity chef and also a Berlin judge and former parliamentarian belonging to the anti-immigration AfD. The judge, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, lost her job hours after the plot was exposed. Apparently, the group planned to appoint Malsack-Winkemann justice minister in the case of a successful coup. A bunch of aging nutjobs — or a serious threat to democracy? No idea, but probably better safe than sorry in this case.