Zombies of Berlin (Kindle Single) (60pages) [ePub]

by Ralph Martin

For generations, the big city has promised romance, danger, opportunity. But what happens when you wake up one hung-over morning and realize the promise is gone…along with your cheap apartment? That your whole existence in Berlin – ten years of easy living based on cheap rent and the ability to just barely make it in the creative industry, was just a historical accident, the cheap rent and Bohemian setting a product of a perverse economy, a miracle that couldn’t possibly last? What does it do to your sense of place to realize that Berlin is following cluelessly in New York’s footsteps, from artsy wonderland to real estate boondoggle? Does that mean Berlin, like New York, is over? Or does it come back to you: deep down, does it mean that you can’t afford to go on fooling yourself?

Part amateur sociology, part autobiographical journey, Zombies of Berlin explores Ralph Martin’s experience of gentrification in Berlin and New York, the dawning horror that these cities have windows of raw beauty: blink and you might miss it. The author takes an anxiety-fueled trip to Leipzig to check out the ‘better Berlin’, with distinctly mixed results, thrown back upon himself as he tries to figure out whether we shouldn’t all just move to the country.

Zombies is not a political pamphlet, but a hauntingly melancholic and comical journey: a vivid portrait of status anxiety in the age of real estate.

Ralph Martin is an ex-New Yorker, writer and journalist. His work has appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the New York Times and elsewhere.

Introduction by Gideon Lewis-Kraus

Ralph Martin and I met on a Berlin balcony roughly the size of my New York living room. This was in the fall of 2007; it was Thanksgiving. Most of the apartments we haunted back then were, as Ralph describes, a particular kind of Berlin-nice. They were not the coal-moted blocks of the nineties. They were roomy to the point of cavernous and well-lit and, typically, underfurnished, because furniture, like food, existed for us on a strictly need-to-know basis, and we did not need to know the credenza. In any case, this apartment was not Berlin-nice in that particular way. This apartment was New York-nice; it spoke bluntly and eloquently of the unattainable luxury most of us preferred to have out of sight. In any case, there it was, and we were on the balcony. Somebody introduced us and Ralph asked how long I'd been in Berlin. I'd been there three or four months then.

Ralph said something along the lines of, "With all due respect, I don't think I want to be your friend."


"Well, you'll see – or you won't. It's just not worth it. People show up and they hang around for an academic year and then they're gone. You go back to New York or wherever and we're still here. We've learned not to invest ourselves in the new arrivals."

Ralph has no particular memory of this conversation, though he concedes it may very well have happened, and that it accurately reflected his (generally unvoiced) feelings on the matter of new arrivals. For what it's worth here, less than a year later I learned what Ralph was talking about. Many of my friends were moving on, when it felt as though we'd barely gotten there. Ralph describes pretty well what that feels like. The main thing Berlin had had going for it was that it was practically impossible to stay too long at the party, because by the time one party ended another had begun in its place. But then all of a sudden your particular cohort has moved on, and the new people are intolerable because they so accurately reflect your own pretentious naivete. In any case, by the time that happened, Ralph had gotten over his initial reservations and we'd become friends.



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