“A large Cappuccino with oat milk please, and I brought my refill cup.”
“Anything to go with that?”
“Yes, and a raw energy ball please.”
“That’d be EUR 6.30 please.”
The Barista types in my order, takes my cup with a smile, then turns to the next customer. In some other places all my extra wishes would have certainly been met with raised eyebrows. Not here in Berlin Mitte.
My neighborhood is so special, in so many ways, that I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t make for an amazing backdrop for a TV series. We zoom into the heart of Berlin, the main playground for the Berlin hipster crowd, the place to grab food, a glass of wine, the stage on which to see and be seen. It is one of the few areas of Berlin that is equally popular with tourists as well as locals. The scene is big and lively, but there is nevertheless a sense of neighborly solidarity.
You know and bump into one another.
I walk past the manager of a well-known design hotel and slow my stride. As so often, he stands in front of the main entrance of his hotel and eats ice cream – just like me.
“Did you grab that from ‘Süße Sünde’?” I ask, curiously.
“Yup! Ever since that other, new ice cream place opened, I go to Süße Sünde even more often to support them.”
And the truth is, our well-loved neighborhood ice-cream parlour needs the support. Since Ben & Jerry’s has opened a branch just down the street, the queues in front of Süße Sünde, the place that also offers vegan varieties, are much shorter than they used to be. Ben & Jerry’s make for tough competition. It’s typical for our neighborhood: there are only few large gastronomy chains around, the consensus is one of preference of small, local producers. It’s not an easy playing field for the big players. When Ben & Jerry’s moved into the space that used to be an an organic market for ages, the ripples were felt in all conversations for weeks. Vegan, organic, regional – and absurdly expensive – I guess that sums up the area around Rosenthaler Platz.
It’s a bubble within a bubble. It is my bubble.
In this bubble, over-priced Cappuccinos, designer bags and tolerance are the norm. The political orientation is green. Creatives live door to door with founders and developers. The latest on political news, climate change, awareness and Instagram are discussed over nice glasses of white wine. In this bubble, we forget all to readily that life as we experience it does not reflect the reality of people in other parts of the world, even in other parts of this city. The bubble tends to reflect mostly what goes on within it.
It’s all too easy to forget. After all, the green political stance is getting an ever-wider stage in the media, the number of sustainable brands is growing steadily, and pupils and students are protesting for the climate every Friday. Personally, I sometimes forget I am in a bubble because I see how sustainability blogs are booming, and how the Green Party has become the most popular party of all among young voters. I forget it, because LGBQ and diversity are normalities in my life, and because traveling is a natural extension of the regular ives of everyone around me. I hear myself say things like “everyone’s in NY/Cape Town/Bali” right now, without batting an eyelid. For others this kind of life may be no more than a mirage, in fact I know it is. For me, it is reality. Normality.
And then I see the numbers and statistics.
The right-wing AfD party draws as much as 12% in elections, 28% of Germans eat meat EVERY DAY, the state doesn’t seem to be able to get control the rising poverty among children and the youth, Primark is opening one branch after the other, and misogynistic rappers seem to be reaping the highest engagement rates in Instagram. Such numbers shake my conveniently stable outlook on the world. Statistics don’t lie, and they speak of a much broader reality than the one I experience in my little bubble, in my parallel society of affluence. The mainstream happens elsewhere.
Probably no more than 10% of German pupils have ever participated in the Friday’s for Future protests, and green fashion remains a decidedly niche approach. The record turnover of more than EUR 34 mn generated by Armed Angels seems all but insignificant compared to the 1.1 bn reported by Takko. Yes, the Green Party leads the polls in all age groups below 70, but no more than half of all Germans actually turn up to cast their vote.
The statistics don’t do much to fuel my sense of hope, they contrast sharply with my personal ideals. And still, I see light at the end of the tunnel.
The light has a name: the internet.
The net has facilitated access to information, and the youth tends to be much more informed than older generations. The youngsters grew up with the internet, with the endless flow of information, and they are naturals at processing the huge amount of data we are engulfed in. These days, you learn early that all you need to know can be found on the net.
I, for my part, have learned relatively late to critically question the information I am presented with. The internet, with all its contradictory articles on any given subject, has opened my eyes in that respect. You tend to dig deeper, to engage more intensively with subjects that really interest you. Curiosity and the internet make for an unbeatable combination.
So, how about we foster interest in genuinely important issues by spreading positive signals. It requires courage, but we all have a platform to raise awareness and interest in sustainability, equal rights and politics. How about we do our part and work towards that big project of replacing discrimination with tolerance, of swapping fast fashion for green fashion? How about we use our voice, how about we utilize our creative skills to present our message in style, how about we support those with likes who speak truths that we recognize? Let us join our forces and energies to foster curiosity!
One step at a time, we may just be able to grow our bubbles, until the realities we choose become the new mainstream.