* Immigration from EU crisis countries rising from low base
* Unemployed young Spaniards take up menial jobs in Berlin
* Vibrant culture makes up for harsh weather and language
By Stephen Brown
BERLIN, Feb 27 They find the language difficult
and the locals as chilly as the weather but for young Spaniards
Berlin has become a popular spot to sit out the economic crisis
The German capital's celebrated cabaret scene made it a
mecca for bohemians in the 1920s and '30s and in the Cold War
the divided city became a magnet for alternative youth culture
and rock stars.
When the Berlin Wall came down, anarchists moved into
abandoned properties in East Berlin, gentrification followed but
the avant garde atmosphere still thrives and has drawn thousands
of Spaniards, eager to escape soaring unemployment at home.
"We haven't seen the sun for three months, and the people
can seem distant, but Berlin is also a place where life is not
just about work and you get to meet artists and actors and film
directors," Diego Ruiz del Arbol, a 32-year-old Spanish IT
engineer and web content consultant living in Berlin.
The number of Spaniards in Berlin has jumped to 11,473 in
2011 from 8,223 the previous year. Arrivals in Germany from
Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal, the euro zone countries worst
hit by the debt crisis nearly doubled last year.
Eastern Europeans arrive at a faster pace but they tend to
head to industrial areas of Germany with a labour shortage,
while Spaniards prefer Berlin, an unemployment black-spot but
vibrant cultural hub.
Cafe Colectivo is one of the new meeting points for young
Spaniards in Friedrichshain, near a famous flea market on
Boxhagener Platz. It offers manchego cheese, chorizo and the
occasional paella, Spanish soccer on TV and the chance to chat
and network in Spanish.
Its owner, Bulgarian-born Dimitri Grigorov who grew up in
Barcelona, is a 31-year-old former art student turned building
worker who turned up in Berlin in 2008, began washing dishes in
bars and ended up in the coffee business.
"The crisis in Spain is just getting worse, but in Berlin,
if you come with the right frame of mind, the city opens its
doors to you," he said. "I know of very few people who have gone
While Spain's jobless rate has hit 26 percent or 60 percent
among young people, employment in Germany is at its highest
level since reunification in 1990. But Berlin, which has little
industry, has unemployment of over 12 percent, way above
Germany's national jobless rate of 6.8 percent.
"On Spanish TV they say German employment is at record highs
and show images of the Brandenburg Gate. But Berlin has one of
the highest unemployment rates in Germany," said Ruiz del Arbol.
His clients include a Spanish recruitment agency website
advertising posts in Germany. He also gives lighthearted
coaching in "Berlinology" on his own website, www.berlunes.com.
Ruiz del Arbol differentiates between the Spanish engineers
recruited for highly-qualified jobs in Munich and Stuttgart and
the much younger "adventurers" heading for clubland in Berlin.
Herbert Bruecker, a professor at the Institute for
Investigation into Labour Markets and Professions, says many of
the current wave are essentially "middle-class immigrants" happy
to work in menial jobs just to experience life in Berlin.
Spain's media tends to portray their departure as a national
tragedy while the German press welcomes a more educated
generation of "Gastarbeiter" (guest workers), as their
factory-worker forebears half a century ago were known.
The young Spaniards waiting tables in Berlin may not be a
permanent fix for Chancellor Angela Merkel's preoccupation with
Germany's ageing population that has created a shortage of
skilled labour, nor will it solve Spanish unemployment.
But experts say the workers do provide temporary relief for
"From the German perspective even if the people stay only
for two years, it may add to the stock of employees," Bruecker
said. The immigrants pick up language and organisational skills
that will make them more productive back home, and their absence
alleviates the welfare burden currently faced by Spain.
"It's a shame people have to go because they can't find work
here, but the option of emigrating and working is much better
than staying here unemployed," said immigration specialist Jesus
Fernandez-Huertas Moraga at Madrid's FEDEA research centre.
"The overall economic impact will be positive, they'll send
back remittances and in general they will improve their living
POOR BUT SEXY
Grigorov loves the Berlin night life's blend of "discrecion
y locura" (meaning careful and crazy) and even finds the
language attractive "because of its harshness".
This makes him a rarity among Spanish speakers, who are
nonetheless signing up for German courses at the Goethe and
other institutes in record numbers.
"The language is a big, big barrier," said Pablo Gonzalez,
who moved to Berlin with his girlfriend Paz and has found the
climate and relating with German colleagues "a struggle".
But three quarters of his friends back in Vigo are out of
work and Gonzalez said that, although waiting tables instead of
working in graphic design was hard to accept, "being 27 and
living off your parents is not very fulfilling either".
Gonzalez has started climbing up the ladder in his passion
and secondary profession: a third-division assistant referee in
Galicia, his qualifications were accepted in Berlin and he finds
the work easier here despite his poor German.
"Refereeing is much easier here - there's much more respect
for the ref. In all the games I've done so far nobody has sworn
at me, though I don't known any swearwords in Germany. Whereas
in Spain it starts from the first minute, every game," he said.
The young immigrants said people thinking of following in
their footsteps should get to grips with German, forget erratic
Spanish time-keeping habits and not sign on the dole in a city
the mayor brands "poor but sexy" and cannot afford a flood of
"If you just come to sign on for social security, get your
rent paid and spend the summer smoking joints in the park, you
might as well stay home," said Grigorov at Cafe Colectivo.