Life In Berlin By The Numbers

As we all know, statistics lie, but sometimes not. While it’s true that I take a pretty dark view of life in Berlin, I was quite amazed at what I consider the accuracy of this survey, done by the European Commission’s Directorate-General of Regional Policy, measuring people’s happiness with the city they live in.

75 cities in the EU, plus Croatia and Turkey, were surveyed by Gallup-Hungary, and the results tabulated into some very nice graphs. Maybe it’s because the results match my prejudices, but I think this is a fasciating document.

Between 75 and 95 percent of the responses indicated that people were happy to live in the cities they lived in. First four places went to Groningen (NL), Krakow, Leipzig, and Alborg (DK). Berlin came in 57th, just below Rotterdam and Torino and just above Brussels, Warsaw, and Ankara. Even so, the results look like about 80% were happy.

Less positive were the responses to “It is easy to find a good job,” with Berlin scoring over 75% in “somewhat disagree” and “strongly disagree.” It’s 68th from the top in this, below Dortmund and Leipzig and above Kosisce (Slovakia) and Bialystock, Poland. It looks like only about 10% strongly or somewhat agreed with this statement. Given the local unemployment figures, this is hardly a surprise.

Also unsurprising was Berlin’s high rating in “It is easy to find good housing at a reasonable price,” what with the current real-estate glut. We wound up near the top in this one, number seven under Leipzig, Aalborg, Braga (Portugal), Dortmund, Oviedo (Spain) and Bialystock, and above Newcastle Upon Tyne and Oulu (Finland). At the bottom? Again no surprise; Paris, with close to 100% of the respondents somewhat or strongly disagreeing. Other bad values are Dublin, Luxemburg, and Bucharest.

Next up was “Foreigners are well-integrated,” and again Berlin dwells in the cellar, 73rd, above Stockholm and Malmö. A little over 50% disagreed here, and only a little over 25% seem to have agreed. On top? Cluj-Napoca, Romania; Miskolic, Hungary; Pietra Neamt, Romania; and Burgas, Bulgaria. I’ve never even heard of these places, to be honest, but I think it shows that the melange of cultures in these countries, absent the kind of tensions that tore the former Yugoslavia apart, plus the poverty that all inhabitants are likely to share, will bring people together, rather than apart. Certainly that was my experience in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, in the four or five days I spent there. Shortly after my arrival at the American University, where I did some journalism workshops, I was up on the roof of the building with two students waiting for my professor-friend’s class to end, and the dark, swarthy one turned out to be Bulgarian and the red-headed freckled one turned out to be Turkish, and they pointed to the distant mountains and said “That’s Macedonia over there, where people are killing each other over this. It just doesn’t make sense to us.” And, indeed, the rest of my time there bore that out splendidly. Berlin’s poverty in the middle of a nation of affluence, though, plus the well-documented urge to blame the Other, doesn’t bode well for this sort of unity.

“Air pollution is a big problem” is one where Berlin might have scored higher not very long ago, but here we wind up pretty much smack in the middle, with a little over 50% agreeing and about 30% disagreeing, wedged inbetween Ostrava (Czech Republic) and Glasgow. The continuing reduction of coal heating and (yes, Ostalgics, get over it) the disappearance of the Trabant have a lot to do with this, I’d say.

Next up is satisfaction with the public transportation system, and, flash strikes notwithstanding, Berlin’s ninth-place position only makes me wonder how great getting around top-rated Helsinki must be. Do they have stewardesses serving refreshments? Vienna, Rennes, Hamburg, Munich, Leipzig, Dortmund and…Frankfurt on Oder?… all beat us out, too, but all this says to me is Germany’s pretty good with this stuff. I’ve never had any problem getting around any German city I’ve been in, which is more than I can say for Copenhagen or London, which are well below Berlin.

“Green spaces such as parks and gardens” is another place I’d expect good numbers for Berlin. We allegedly have more green space per square kilometer than any other city in Europe, thanks in part to huge forests like the Grunewald and Berliner Stadtforst being included in the city limits. And oddly, we only score 22 in this, perhaps because the rest of the city’s so grim, but atop us are such hard-to-beat places as London, Vienna, Munich, Brussels, and Glasgow, who relentlessly promote their parks to their residents, which Berlin doesn’t really do. Athens, Naples, and Sofia (without doubt the ugliest city I’ve seen on this continent) are the cellar-dwellers here.

“I feel safe in this city” was one I was curious about, given the fact that there’s so little serious crime here, yet Berliners generally are paranoid beyond belief: do they lock the front door of your apartment building at 8? They used to where I lived, and it was a pain in the ass. Yet there we are at 47, although it looks like close to 80% agree with the statement, and something less than 20% disagree. But if you look at the chart, it seems that Europeans overwhelmingly feel safe, so the ranking isn’t so important until you get to the very bottom, with significant fear being registered in Bucharest, Athens, Sofia, Naples and especially Istanbul.

Given Germans’ hypochondriac tendencies, I wasn’t overly optimistic for the graph of people satisfied with the health care offered by hospitals, but here’s one where (knock on wood) I have absolutely no experience whatever. Berlin is at 28, which makes me feel better for all those folks who scream past in ambulances down Torstr. on their way to Charité.

And, finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for: “The city spends its resources in a responsible way.” A whopping 75% negative on this, a 71 chart placement above such models of fiscal rectitude as Sofia, Naples, Bucharest and Frankfurt on Oder. Only a very tiny number seem to strongly agree with this, and if you’re one of them, I suggest you get out of the house more often.

I certainly don’t have the training to decipher What It All Means in any truly scientific way, but I do love charts like this, and was just astonished at the sort of intuitive accuracy I observed here.

Anyway, I guess I should be off to Alborg to look for some excuse to live there. Naaah, too cold. Maybe Groningen? Naaah, I hate how densely-packed Holland is. Hmmm, wonder why Montpellier isn’t on this list…

Actually, I’m glad it isn’t. Don’t want the secret to get out before I can move there and find a nice apartment. And last I looked, I’m only $12,000 and change away from that…

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