#240: Election do-over, BILD-GPT, start-ups, farmer-rage
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Dear 20 Percent,
Right now I’m reading Tales From the Fatherland, British writer Ben Fergusson’s excellent 2022 memoir about adopting a child as a gay couple in Berlin. Excellent last-minute X-mas gift for anyone interested in adoption, same-sex parenting, parenting in Berlin, mixed-nationality families or German bureaucracy. Yesterday, I laughed out loud at Fergusson’s description of visiting an Amt:
Imagine this palace filled with kilometre upon anonymous kilometre of lino-clad corridors, polished to a brilliant sheen. Imagine wandering these corridors with the scent of municipal liquid, ancient plumbing, damp plaster and a distant canteen, smelt and heard but never seen …. You search anxiously for Room 157 in Section C, but after Section B you find yourself in Section D. And when you find Section C, it’s called Section C.1, which was on a mezzanine floor not shown on the floorplan — you knock and, receiving no answer, push at a giant wooden door, to be confronted by a room of people silently typing. One woman near the back of the room, who stares at you open-mouthed and slightly affronted beneath a wilted spider plant, then looks through you documents and informs you that they’re incomplete.
Fergusson’s elegant, deadpan description is probably a healthier reaction to Berlin bureaucracy than mine: silently screaming at the screen as a I helplessly try to magically summon a new Bürgeramt appointment. Best to try to laugh about it all — for that we have Berlin Ausländer Memes. And for real, easy-to-understand explanations of virtually every bureaucratic process, we thankfully have Nicolas at All About Berlin. The site helps you remain calm, take one step at a time, fill out those forms, gather those extra documents, bringing you closer to that Erlaubnis or Bescheinigung or Bestätigung that you need.
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Another election re-do
Remember when Berlin was forced to repeat its 2021 state election because it couldn’t handle an election and a marathon on the same day? Well, now the federal parliamentary (Bundestag) election held on the same day in 2021 must also partially be repeated, according to a ruling at Germany’s Federal Consitutional Court on Tuesday. Voters will vote again in 455 of 2,256 of Berlin’s electoral districts — on a Sunday within 60 days i.e. by February 11, so probably February 11. Mayor Kai Wegner (CDU) — who became mayor after the city-state election was repeated — said the city is well-prepared. The new election is unlikely to influence the make-up of the Bundestag significantly, though the left-wing Die Linke, already hurt by the defection of Sahra Wagenknecht, could shrivel into irrelevance as a result.
Berlin publisher Springer Verlag and Open AI (of ChatGPT fame) have signed a deal under which Springer content will be fed into Open AI’s chat results. A Springer press release reads: “The initiative will enrich users’ experience with ChatGPT by adding recent and authoritative content on a wide variety of topics, and explicitly values the publisher’s role in contributing to OpenAI’s products.” Feeding AI language models fact-checked journalism sounds like a good idea, right? I’m not so sure. Springer said news content from its publications Politico, Business Insider, Die Welt and, er, BILD will be in there. Yes, you read correctly: BILD, Germany’s largest, rowdiest, sometimes racist, oft-times sexist, garbage-spewing tabloid will be plugged into the world’s most popular AI chatbot. I’m guessing OpenAI honcho Sam Altman has never read BILD. Or heard of Springer’s toxic, male-dominated work culture. (For German-speakers, Boy’s Club is a great podcast on the subject) The mind boggles.
We’ve still got start-ups
Germany is falling into a recession, bankruptcies are growing and this year it felt like funding was drying up for new businesses. Nonetheless, Berlin is home to plenty of interesting, new ventures — and Wired has posted a list of its faves. From food to social media to office tech, the list shows that Berliners continue to risk entrepreneurship in all sorts of fields. There’s SLAY, a non-toxic communication app for teens, there’s fungi-farmers Infinite Roots. Secfix offers data compliance for small firms while Pitch has the gumption to take on Microsoft Powerpoint. Go, Berlin!
The people who make most of our regular food aren’t so upbeat, though. On Monday, some 7,000 farmers clogged Straße des 17. Juni in Tiergarten with 1,700 tractors in protest of the German government’s plan to end special tax breaks on agricultural diesel fuel. Joachim Rukwied, president of farmer lobby DBV, called the tax plan, which could cost farmers a total of €1.1 billion, a “declaration of war”. The government is scrambling to cut spending after the Constitutional Court shot down its €60 billion climate fund.
A selection of great events happening over the coming days from our partners at The Next Day Berlin.
Concert: Lubomyr Melnyk
Thursday, 21.12.23, 8:00 pm. Passionskirche Kreuzberg, Berlin. Tickets: €37.20
Ukrainian musician Lubomyr Melnyk, known as the world's fastest pianist, enchants audiences with his stunning performances. The piano concert I attended was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring musical experiences I have ever seen. 🎧 Pockets of Light
Sale: C/O Book Bazar
Friday, 29.12, 11 am - 8 pm. C/O Berlin, Charlottenburg.
One of Berlin's finest museum bookstores is hosting a book sale. Explore their rummage boxes for fantastic deals, including exhibition catalogs, rare signed photo books, editions, design objects, and socially and sustainably produced C/O Berlin items.
Party: Renate New Year's 2024 - 80 Hour Marathon
Fri-Tue, 29.12 - 02.01, 11 am - 11 pm. Renate, Alt Stralau 70; Friedrichshain. Tickets: €15/40.This is for you if you love to party hard. The line-up is extensive, featuring techno and house music DJs. You can also purchase a ticket specifically for Monday. 🎧 Anacalypto x VIO PRG
Exhibition: The Assault of the Present on the Rest of Time
Until 07.01, Thu-Fri, 2-7 pm; Sat-Sun, 11 am - 7 pm. Schinkel Pavillion, Oberwallstrasse 32. Ticket: €4/6. Closed 24-27.12.
The exhibition explores historical and contemporary perspectives on state violence, emphasizing the moment of witnessing. Artworks from the 1930s-1940s converse with those by Simone Fattal and Lawrence Abu Hamdan.
More culture and nightlife at The Next Day Berlin.
More a public service announcement than a factoid: Monday, December 25 and Tuesday, December 26 are both public holidays. Supermarkets will also be closed on Christmas Eve, a Sunday — meaning the shops will be hellish on Saturday, with Germans engaging in hand-to-hand combat over the last frozen goose. In short: stock up with at least a week’s food by Wednesday, so you don’t have to battle queues at Berlin’s handful of station supermarkets that remain open over the holidays. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
All I want for Christmas is … to learn German
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