“You really have to earn your privileges." Achim Ruppel
“And what better way than to show who we are in theatre.” Achim Ruppel
Spätzle it’s called, a wheat flour and egg based pasta. It’s the typical meal from Baden Württemberg in the southwest area of Germany, also known as ‘Swabia’. It can be found in one of the many Swabian restaurants in Berlin and has become a symbol of the Swabians in Berlin. But not everyone seems to be happy with this minority from the southwest. Achim E. Ruppel: ‘We Swabians got into the role of the scapegoat here in Berlin.’
In 2007, Achim (58) noticed the graffiti for the first time. He was walking around Prenzlauer Berg, an area in the north east of Berlin. “I saw texts on the walls saying ‘Schwaben raus’ (Swabians out) and ‘Swabians, what do you want with our houses’. From that moment on, I started noticing it more and more.”
Achim is originally from Baden Württemberg. He came to West Berlin in 1979, wanting to make it in theatre world. “Berlin was the place to be back then.” Apart from acting and directing in theatre plays and movies, Achim renovates houses. His own spacious rooftop home in Charlottenburg is an example. “I planned and managed it by myself,” he smiles proudly.
Swabians are known for working hard, saving money and being smart with the capital they have. “You really have to earn your privileges. My relatives for example. would only take two weeks of holidays per year. These two weeks they would use to renovate the house instead of spending money on a big vacation,” Achim explains.
Achim isn’t sure why Swabians are unloved by many Berliners, he thinks it has something to do with the ever-changing city. “When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Berlin was about to go through major changes. The Prenzlauer Berg area in the former east was poor and the houses in bad conditions. Many investors came to renovate the buildings. And apart from investors from all over the world, many Swabians also put their money in these buildings.”
Alongside the investments, the rents went up. Original inhabitants couldn’t afford it and were forced to move away. Gentrification it’s called. “People started blaming the Swabians for it. Saying that nowadays, you can only hear the Swabian dialect in Prenzlauer Berg. That we are taking over Berlin,” Achim says, shaking his head.
Schwaben in Berlin
After seeing the graffiti, Achim decided he had to do something. “And what better way than to show who we are in theatre.” Achim started the website “Schwaben in Berlin” and together with a group of actors he produced the first Swabian theatre play in 2011. “It was a charm offensive, we wanted to take it all light hearted, show who we are and use a lot of self-irony.” The piece was received very well in Berlin and the rest of Germany. It led Achim to organise more events, even a ‘Schwabiennale’. This is a one-week of cultural events about the Swabians.
Achim felt that with their self-irony, people started appreciating the Swabians again. But this year, things turned a bit ugly again in the quarrel between Berliners and Swabians. “There is this anonymous initiative called ‘Free Schwabylon’, they claim that they want to close off a certain part of Prenzlauer Berg, so that just Swabians can live there. I’m not sure if it’s a joke, or who is behind it.
Free Schwabylon attacked a statue in that area, throwing spätzle at it earlier this year. “Well, that showed me that the person behind this is not a Swabian. A Swabian is very thrifty, he would never throw away food, let alone our spätzle!” Achim laughs. “But to me, what this person is doing is nonsense. We tried to take it all light-hearted. Free Schwabylon however takes away the lightness of it all.”
Achim himself never felt personally attacked by the graffiti or bad name the Swabians have. “Once I got a phone call, it turned out to be someone who sprayed the graffiti. First he was blaming me for the higher rents of the houses. Then he told me he also felt that people discriminated against street artists like him. It turned into a nice conversation; he even came over to do the graffiti for our theatre décor! It was the moment that we both understood that the other person was not a cannibal. That’s wonderful.”