Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

How Europe’s financial crisis ambushed my German class

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None of us saw it coming. It was a cold November afternoon in a Berlin. We were huddled around four scratched-up tables practicing German. The topic was rent hikes caused by one of the city’s many renovation projects. Then all of a sudden, the Basque girl burst out with:

We are the problem.”

She circled her head around to indict all of us, her non-German, foreigner classmates. Yes, you Spaniard. You American. You French people. We are the reason rent is going up in Berlin, we are the reason prices are rising; the reason for spreading gentrification, the reason jobs are so hard to find.

These words were from a girl who doesn’t speak a whole lot in class, which made the ambush all the more effective. Europe’s financial crisis was in the room, breathing heavy, its big fearful heart skipping a monetary beat.

Usually called “the crisis” here, the reference is the European Union’s struggling economy: a devaluing euro, a bankrupting Greece, the bloc’s increasingly stressed-out-sounding fiscal talks – in short, an uncertain future.

These are the reasons many young people move to Berlin. For the Basque girl, rent is way higher in her home town than it is here, she said. Costs might be shocking Berliners, but the city’s still a good deal for most of us. (Sympathetic nods from the French.) She doesn’t have a steady job, but she can live from one artistic project to another. Maybe flexible cities like Berlin are being taken advantage of by a increasingly disadvantaged Europe.

Crisis! We’d been ambushed. Everyone looked at the teacher. Yes, she said, we talk about the “crisis in Greece,” but the reality is, it’s not anywhere — it’s migratory.

And so, in that spirit, here are three of my classmates talking about being jobless in Berlin, and why they’d rather be so here than elsewhere. First up is Sonia from Barcelona, Spain:


Stephanie from Holland:


And finally, Kristi from Poland, who does part-time artistic work in Berlin.

(Note: Kristi was not part of the same class, but she does attend the same school.)

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Kristin Deasy Twitter: kristindeasy

Kristin Deasy is a blogger with Future Challenges. Before joining the Future Challenges team, she worked as an international correspondent for the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a US-funded organization that broadcasts into countries that lack a fully free press. Her work has also appeared in World Affairs magazine, the Prague Post, the European online magazine Cafe Babel, and others. She currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany.