“Is the clattering of suitcases on wheels the problem or is it actually the loud cobblestone streets?”
Carsten Spallek, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union party and a city council member in Berlin’s hip Mitte district, isn’t really taking this sort of rhetoric seriously, at least not all of it.
It’s what Monika Herrmann, the Green Party mayor of another district in Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, a tourism hub, said in an interview in this week’s Der Tagesspiegel, a daily newspaper, in which she complained about the nightly racket produced by suitcases with wheels. “You can’t even sleep with your windows open anymore,” she said, wondering why suitcases aren’t equipped with rubber wheels.
For some, it’s a bit of a dilemma. A city council member doesn’t have much say when it comes to the kinds of wheels manufacturers install on luggage. And the city, with a debt of more than €60 billion, doesn’t quite have the money to repave sidewalks with low-noise asphalt.
But that was only one of the many observations Ms. Herrmann made.
“Some of our visitors seem to think they’re staying in a kind of Disneyland, and that we locals are the extras,” she said.
Ms. Herrmann proposed issuing a “code of conduct for visitors,” which would address the issue of “garbage, noise and respect for local residents.” And although Mr. Spallek also advocates creating boundaries, he is talking about simple rules of behavior – and possibly existing laws that apply to tourists and partying Berliners alike.
“Some of our visitors seem to think they're staying in a kind of Disneyland, and that we locals are the extras.”
“You always have garbage and noise when large numbers of people come together, even without tourists,” says Matthias Köhne, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party and mayor of Berlin’s Pankow district, which is located further North and less subject to tourism compared to Mitte and Kreuzberg. He too recognizes the problems caused by nightly noise and littering, and yet he firmly opposes blaming them exclusively on tourists. “We have to be careful not to destroy the one thing that makes us so appealing — our tolerance.”
Ms. Herrmann, a Green, is also against special rules of behavior for tourists or stricter alcohol laws, as she reiterated on Friday. She noted that she merely wanted tourists to comply with existing rules and regulations, and that she would be happy to “sensitize” them with pictograms and posters.
But that brochure already exists. It’s put out by the “Visit Berlin” tourism agency.
“We don’t believe that anything can be achieved with signs prohibiting things,” said an agency spokesman. Still, there are rules of conduct printed on the last page of a tourist brochure called “Going Local” that “Visit Berlin” sells for €1.50 ($2) – rules apparently included at the request of district governments.
The list begins in large letters with “Everything is allowed in Berlin.” Then, in smaller letters, is added ”except what’s not allowed.” The rules do mention garbage, noting “We have more than enough garbage cans, including ones for cigarette butts.” Also mentioned is keeping the peace at night: “Berliners like to get their sleep at some point. After all, most of them have to go to work the next day.” Duly noted is also: “Drinking alcohol is forbidden on public transportation.”
The “Visit Berlin” chief, Burkhard Kieker, finds Ms. Herrmann’s ideas surprising.
“This spring, the mayors of the five districts with the largest numbers of tourists were invited to attend our tourism roundtable, where they could learn more about the effects of tourism, he said. Ms. Herrmann could have explained her position at the meeting, but she didn’t attend, said Mr. Kieker.
In an interview with Tagesspiegel, Ms. Herrmann had proposed that most revenue from Berlin’s new overnight tax on guests, the so-called “bed” tax levied on hotel bills, should go to the downtown districts most frequented by tourists. The Mitte district councilman, Mr. Spallek, agreed: “We incur the greatest expenses and we bring tourists into the city, so we should also benefit from the revenues.”
Government in other locations with large numbers of tourists visiting each year, have also tried to control the impact tourists have on their homes. Palma de Mallorca, the capital and largest city of Spain’s Balearic Islands – a place that is inundated with German tourists – recently enacted a set of strict new legal standards for tourists called “Ordinance on Civil Coexistence.” It includes rules of conduct and dress. A different approach is being taken in China, where the government provides its citizens traveling abroad with a 64-page called “Guideline for Civilized Travel.”
This story originally appeared in Der Tagesspiegel.
Translated by Christopher Sultan