Berlin likes to think of itself as a hip and multicultural sort of place -- full of artists, writers and DJs living on a shoestring while pursuing the creative life. Mayor Klaus Wowereit has even turned the vice of its relative penury and high unemployment into a virtue, famously describing the city as "poor, but sexy." However, the city's former finance minister, Thilo Sarrazin, has now tried to punch holes in that image, slamming the city's large immigrant population for not being productive enough and blaming Berlin's leftist mentality for holding the German capital back.
Sarrazin's provocative interview with Berlin-based culture magazine Lettre International has provoked his current employers, the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, to take the unusual step of distancing itself from him.
The former finance minister, who is now a member of the Bundesbank board and works in Frankfurt, had little good to say about his former home. In the interview, he argued that Berlin would "never be saved by the Berliners." Citing the high jobless rate in the city, he said part of the problem lay in the fact that "40 percent of births were in the underclass," which was causing the standards in schools to decrease instead of increase.
'The Rest Should Go Elsewhere'
"In Berlin there is a bigger problem than elsewhere of an underclass that does not take part in the normal economic cycle," he said. "A large number of Arabs and Turks in this city, whose numbers have grown thanks to the wrong policies, have no productive function except selling fruit and vegetables," he told the magazine, arguing that the city should be looking to attract highly-qualified immigrants. "I would strike a completely different tone," Sarrazin said. "Anyone who can do something and strives for something with us is welcome. The rest should go elsewhere."
Sarrazin, who represented the center-left Social Democrats in the Berlin state government, hit out at what he called a politics that was too "plebeian and petit-bourgeois" instead of elitist.
Sarrazin told Lettre that he felt Berlin had never really recovered from the loss of the Jewish elite in arts and business during the 1930s and he argued that during the Cold War, ambitious and dynamic people moved away from the highly-subsidized West Berlin while the "1968 generation" of left-wing activists and drop- outs took their place, leading to a kind of stagnation. He hit out at the "slob factor" that this brought to the capital and warned that the city now needed a new injection of intellectual talent, much as New York experienced in the 1950s.
Sarrazin served as Berlin's finance minister for seven years until May of this year, during which time he took severe measures to cut spending and control the city's astronomical debt of almost €60 billion ($76 billion). While at the helm of the city's Finance Ministry, his tough style and outspokenness earned him the nickname "Rambo."
On Wednesday the Bundesbank released a statement in which it disassociated itself "from the content and tone of Dr. Sarrazin's discriminatory comments," which it said did not reflect the bank's views. "The interview has no connection with Dr. Sarrazin's tasks at the Bundesbank."