During the last decades, Berlin has become a popular tourist destination because of its ‘poor but sexy’ attitude. A city that lacks many interesting tourist sights but is famous for the creative and multicultural vibe, the graffiti and a crazy nightlife. Neighbourhoods such as Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain specifically have experienced a drastic increase in tourism because of this. People visit these types of neighbourhoods to have a local travel experience and to get a sense of the buzz going on in these parts of the city. Often Airbnb apartments are used for this to increase the feeling of locality even more. But how local is the experience still when travellers are almost taking over the neighbourhood?
New Urban Tourism
The shift from travellers looking for places of interest or touristic attractions to a focus on the local life and authentic experience in cities has been called new urban tourism. With this form of tourism, travellers want to feel as if they are part of the daily life of the destination. And let’s be honest here, this is also what I like to do when I’m going on a trip and what traveling is all about in my opinion: experiencing a local culture that is different from your own. I prefer to not go to all the touristic places but do as the locals do: eat where the locals eat, drink where the locals drink and sleep where the locals sleep. So I avoid the well-known tourist menu’s, find nice hidden bars and stay in an Airbnb apartment.
The trouble of ‘living like a local’
This is where the trouble comes in, however. Because of this trend, traditionally more residential areas, have now turned into popular tourist destinations which also involves apartments turning into tourists flats with the help of platforms such as Airbnb. This has many consequences for the way daily life that is actually lived in neighbourhoods such as these. In recent years, there have been many complaints about the increase of tourism by local residents of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain because of loud drunk travellers wandering around the streets, increasing rents and a transformation of the neighbourhood. It no longer just serves the residents needs but it starts to cater to the travellers more and more. In short, the process of gentrification has started to the frustration of many local people. Residents are just tired of the travellers ‘invading’ their daily life. At the moment, this is not only happening in Berlin but also in cities such as Venice, Barcelona, Amsterdam and San Francisco and is forming a big challenge for cities on how to combine tourism and local life in a sustainable way.
What will you do to be a more responsible traveller?
You can see that this is quite paradoxical since our own travel actions are changing the local life we actually want to experience. Of course travellers are not the only ones to blame for these changes and tourism brings positive aspects to the neighbourhood as well. This, therefore, is not a plea for you to stop trying to experience the local while travelling and not to stay in Airbnb’s anymore. On the contrary, I think responsible travel can bring great benefit to local communities. What I do however want to make you aware of is that your and my own search for the local has a great impact on what we want to discover. Therefore, it is important to consider the decisions you make on where to stay during a trip and how you behave at your destination. No matter where you will go, you will leave your mark and it is good to be aware of that. So when planning your next trip, what will you do to minimise your impact on the destination and be a more responsible traveller?
Füller, H., & Michel, B. (2014). ‘Stop Being a Tourist! ’New Dynamics of Urban Tourism in Berlin‐Kreuzberg. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(4), 1304-1318.
Novy, J. (2014). Berlin does not love you. The Berlin Reader: A Compendium on Urban Change and Activism, 223.