Saturday, July 11, 2009


After months of plotting, I have finally made it back to Berlin, the world's coolest city. Rather than reporting on my life here, on one of many cool historical facts, or even on what you could do if you visited, I am going instead to focus on something far more trivial.

Berlin is cool because 7 different ideologies since 1869 have left their mark on the city's landscape (Prussia, Empire, Weimar, Nazism, Communism, Cold War Capitalism, post-Unification capital city). It is also cool because it is major centre of cultural production (techno music today, graffitti on long walls and David Bowie's Berlin Triology in the 1970s, and socialism before 1914). What puts it over the top for me, however, is cheap, readily accessible beer. Moreover, upon entering pretty much any bar in four distinct neighbourhoods of the city, you become a cooler person.

With a great deal of luck, I managed to sublet an apartment for the month of July in what is often regarded as Berlin's coolest neighbourhood, Prenzlauerberg. I have never been fully convinced, and now I am certain that it is a more of liability for Berlin's reputation than any sort of help.

In my two years living in downtown Berlin, I only ever came to Prenzlauerberg after about 9 pm to go to its many bars. Now that I live here, however, I am discovering the dark underside of a neighbourhood that has been attracting young people to move here en masse since the mid-1990s: children.

Having decided to leave the house during the day, I have been horrified to discover that about one in four residents of the supposedly cool Prenzlauerberg is a child under 6. The nighttime bars are in fact yuppie mother-baby cafes where people (I think mainly mothers) get together and talk about how they like to Kiwaschi.

Some of Prenzlauerberg's residents (referring to some of the 75% who are capable of having a real conversation) have invented a new word: Kiwaschi. Ki-Va-She. It is derived from KInder WAgen SCHIeben ->PUshing A STroller.

Don't worry about the word's morphology. German often takes parts of words to make its acronyms. Consider Nazi, Gestapo, Stasi, or Vokuhila (mullet - FRont SHort BAck LOng). But beyond sound linguistic analogy to other acronyms, the word's usage is ridiculous.

"Sorry, I missed your call, I was kiwaschi."

"I was kiwaschi all afternoon and now I am tired."

The grammar in English is questionable. It is no better in German.

The shift from alternative to moderately posh is a foreseeable destiny for all of Berlin's neighbourhoods with a strong counterculture. The rise of playgrounds where the city supplies hammers and wood to 5 year-olds to build a massive tree fort could even be expected if you sit back and think about what happens when young people live in close contact for 15 years. But to be the neighbourhood that makes an acronym for PUshing A STroller is definitely not cool.

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