How childish is western society

In the German capital, politicians treat citizens like children. And they put up with it

Children's birthday parties are always celebrated in Germany's capital. What was yesterday does not matter today. Berlin is the model of an infantile society.

When the writer Aldous Huxley lamented a “morbid cult of the infantile” in 1932, the harsh judgment of the literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries was valid. Huxley, whose “Brave New World” appeared in the same year, railed against colleagues - against William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens and James Matthew Barrie, the creator of “Peter Pan”. Everywhere the scout Huxley discovered what he condemned as an unworthy mummery: "middle-aged babies". Today we are smarter and know: Huxley understated. We don't even have to look in books to see such adult babies. The view of Berlin is enough.

There is always a child's birthday in Berlin. What was yesterday does not matter today. Yesterday's promises are today's utopias. What doesn't work is considered local flavor. What you have to put up with is an expression of cosmopolitanism. Construction projects, business start-ups and local transport are caught in a tough time warp. Evil tongues claim that the heraldic animal of Berlin is not the bear, but the marmot. Because every day the same people greet them irresponsibly.

This city is full of surprises

I know what I'm talking about, I've lived here since January 2013. Since then, I've been accompanied by the unwillingness of the city government to govern the city well. And the majority will of the urban population to leave everything as it is and to keep sending the same parties to the same responsibility. Only the order of crossing the finish line changes between the Left Party, the Greens and the SPD, depending on the district, poll and vote. Together they are - despite occasional signs of life from the notoriously unsorted capital city CDU - ineligible. Berlin wants to keep its reputation, the reputation of the fun, chaos and clan metropolis, in which you come across unbelievable surprises every day, even if it is behind the walls of the train station.

Who does not know the Zoologischer Garten station, abbreviated to Zoo station? It has been largely decoupled from the long-distance transport network, but noise, dirt and violence like to take a rest, especially on the forecourt. It doesn't look much better in the station itself. Time for a general overhaul of the building, thought Deutsche Bahn AG in 2015. The work should be completed by 2020. At the beginning of this year, Deutsche Bahn announced that there had been delays and price increases - the classic Berlin mix. You should be prepared for a cost of around 100 million euros instead of a sum in the double-digit million range. In return, the Berliners will have a significantly longer construction period. The new planning provides for the completion of the work seven years later. We'll speak again in 2027.

The main reason for the drastic delay are “unbelievable surprises”. Said the Berlin rail representative at the beginning of 2020. It turned out that "no exact plans of the cables" existed, "we now have to laboriously recreate them". This is Berlin. Previous generations either laid cables without labeling them. Or later generations have misplaced, messed up, dumbfounded the plans.

Infantility means confusing play and seriousness

Children love surprises, which is why the chocolate egg with a toy filling is called “Kinder Surprise”. Exchanging, buying and selling them went from being child's play to being a seriously pursued adult hobby. Here comes the observation of the art historian Johan Huizinga that infantility means habitually confusing play and seriousness. Berlin is a child's surprise turned into a city. It's hard to pin down, has a sticky shell, unhealthy nutritional value, and a core of unpredictable content. You never know what you will get, but it is almost always something other than what you expect. The old aunt Berlin treats her residents like children, and they let it be on offer, because youth is the trump card, Duzerei is cool, games and fun prolong puberty in life.

In Berlin you can wake up one morning and see your street transformed into a playground for children. To be more precise: in a “meeting zone”. Such zones are car displacement sections that look as if the designers of the Ikea children's paradise have let off steam. There are concrete animals, where real children were allowed to use them, where cars were parked or drove. There are steel or wooden benches waiting for adult residents, tourists and petty criminals. Green dots on the pavement signal an increased need for children. Cars meander past people in the “encounter zone”, only at reduced speed on a narrow lane. "We want the street to be an attractive place to live," says the parliamentary leader of the Berlin Greens, Antje Kapek. In the past, people wanted to get children off the street. Today adults are supposed to live on the street as if they were children.

The "Urban Development Plan for Transport" laid the foundation in 2011 with a "pedestrian strategy" before facts were created in 2015 in Schöneberger Maassenstrasse and in 2018 in Kreuzberg Bergmannstrasse. The Berlin Senate and the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district are committed to ensuring that everyone in road traffic is compatible. Depending on the calculation method, between 1.1 and 1.7 million euros were due for the "encounter zone" in Bergmannstrasse. The price includes “15 street furniture with raised beds and deck chairs, ramps, bollards, colorful street markings” and a lot of trouble over a length of around 500 meters.

Schools and police stations are falling in step

In March 2018, a test run began in Bergmannstrasse, which turned into a test phase in October 2018, during which green dots were applied to the asphalt in April 2019. The remaining motorized vehicles should be made to be more vigilant. However, some road users braked sharply because they were afraid to drive over green dots. Who wants to go into the open-air children's room with a PS bolide?

So in the beginning there was a “little test run” with two wooden modules or parklets. This was followed by the test phase with 15 parklets. The goal was identical: “When a street is converted into a meeting zone, the street space is redistributed. This gives those walking and cyclists more space to exercise and relax. For this purpose, a general parking ban will be introduced and the speed limit 20 will be introduced to calm traffic. The street is designed in such a way that the various road users have the best possible visual relationships with one another and can thus better communicate with one another. " So that pedestrians can become gender-sensitive "walkers", i.e. always walk, even when they are sitting in the parklet - so that such utopian shape changes can succeed, interventions in the urban architecture are necessary in addition to operations on the linguistic body. They were ready in Bergmannstrasse.

Cars, said the responsible district councilor Florian Schmidt from the Greens, should be "guests" in the streets in the future. The green dots came on the lane because too many drivers weren't driving slowly enough, despite the seats on the side of the road and a speed limit of 20 signs. At the beginning of May 2019, supervisory staff were sent on patrol because what had happened, what had to be expected. The parklets caused hustle and bustle without cheers. In the again sensitive words of the district office: “Kiez runners (...) Should ensure tolerant and considerate use of Bergmannstrasse in the afternoon and evening hours. From 10 p.m. onwards, observance of the night's rest is required. In addition, they should prevent damage to property, enforce correct waste disposal and compliance with usage requirements in the front yard. " What a disaster. The “lively, resident-friendly street life” showed itself to be a disturbance of the peace, damage to property, littering, and drinking. The district assembly will decide on the final layout of the road this September.

Where the infantile reigns, adult problems remain. Berlin is doing an unofficial competition on the question of what decays faster: schools or police stations? Both experience the joys of sustained neglect. At the beginning of January 2020, police section 62 in Berlin-Biesdorf temporarily ceased operations. The description of the situation in the local press sounds like news from the late years of real socialism: “The heating in the rooms had failed since December 20th. In order to heat, the management had electrically operated oil radiators installed. The electrical system couldn't cope with that. It failed on Thursday because a fuse blown. Servers crashed, the electrically operated doors and the gate no longer worked. "

Do the Berliners care about Berlin?

It stalls. There is no progress. Like the secret thing symbol of Berlin, the new stairs at the Zoo station. This should lead from the subway level to the station forecourt. It was announced by the transport company, the BVG, in autumn 2012. It followed in quick succession: makeshift construction, rework, temporary solution, new temporary solution, sometimes made of steel, sometimes made of wood, and finally - flourish! - a new interim solution. In the meantime it had become January 2020: Berlin, frenzied standstill, stationary movement, banished hustle and bustle, delayed departure, prevented progress.

And why? Because the Berliners don't care about Berlin? Or because "the bourgeoisie, which is concerned with balance, modernization, liberalism and fixed rules that apply to everyone, cannot find reliable representatives in the real parties in its city"? This is the diagnosis of the historian Götz Aly. Perhaps it is easier and sadder at the same time: Adults who behave like children and like to be treated like children do not have to take responsibility for what they do. So they don't expect it from others either. In infantile society everything is geared towards reducing complexity. It relieves the stress of late modern times when you don't have to be responsible for your own actions. In return, the childish man lets himself be nourished in his squeaky-colored paradises. Others pay the bill.

On construction sites it is said that parents are responsible for their children. But who is liable for Berlin? Of course, the state financial equalization.

A new book by the author will be published by Harper Collins, Hamburg these days: «The infantile society. Ways out of self-inflicted immaturity ». 256 pp., Fr. 29.90.