This year I have heard Minsk being compared with Berlin surprisingly many times – in the media, on Twitter, during tipsy talks at weekend parties. In the latter case, such talks would most likely be initiated by someone who had recently been to Berlin, remained stunned – and was then convinced we’re moving in the same direction.
The loud comparison with Berlin should be flattering to Minsk – at least it is meant to be a compliment, even though the continuation of the phrase would be “almost like the new Berlin”.
By autumn I have grown more annoyed of this parallel then of the habitual “your city is so clean” compliment from Moscowers.
When a place becomes “the new something”, it will never be better than the original
One of the reasons behind my reaction could be that people are only getting used to praising Minsk, and do it cautiously – “not bad but still not as good as somewhere else”. This also has to deal with our habit of downsizing self-worth and being unnecessarily modest. A stereotype about Belarusians that is still a sad reality.
So, back to Minsk in 2018.
Minsk is not the new Berlin. Luckily.
When a place becomes “the new something”, it will never be better than the original. It may become a good copy at its best. But being a copy – even a copy of a cool city – is a so-so option.
Minsk 2018 is kick-ass. Not only thanks to certain bars, art spaces or events – all of which, by the way, have noticeably upgraded this summer. Top places are a good thing, but how many top places are there in Berlin or Kiev or Moscow or anywhere else?
It is thrilling to come to cities that already have created their landmark culture, style, and flair. It is much more thrilling to live in the moment of that creation and be part of it.
Minsk today is vibrating. Its people are growing and developing. Its streets lure you out of the home. Its face and character are taking shape at this very moment – and you can observe it with your own eyes. And get involved.
The city is changing at all levels. Yes, the police on streets are still more a worrying than comforting sight, bureaucracy eats up hours of your time, horrible old-school social ads still hang on billboards. But state-owned factories adapt to hipster districts they are located in and play along – by organizing festivals, for example.
Or take, for instance, the national football team who collaborates with Symbal.by (a brand that produces clothes and souvenirs with traditional designs and promotes Belarusian identity – note BelarusFeed) and rebrands their mascot from an old school knight into a transformer.
Minsk is a kick-ass vibrating city that’s still shaping its character. And everyone can be part of it
In the meantime, young Minskers get hired by cool companies or create their own, develop their skills at lectures and workshops and give back by holding their own, run half-marathons. Or at least they CAN do all that – and there are more and more opportunities opening up in Minsk.
Footballer Alexander Hleb is 37 years old, the player is gradually ending his career in BATE. Fifteen years ago 20-year-old Hleb was conquering German Bundesliga, where he was considered one of the most gifted legionnaires. And today’s Minsk is just like the young Alexander Hleb. He might be not the fastest and sharpest, but he is certainly a smart and talented player. Good on his own, without any loud comparisons.
This is exactly why Minsk is not the new Berlin. Minsk is just a cool young city with a 951-year-long history. And all it needs now is support like the one Hleb was getting a decade ago. So let’s forget the unwanted comparisons. Or just include them in the not-to list of stereotypes next to the tacky “Minsk is a clean city”.
Alex Gorbash is a journalist and editor specializing in music and city life. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff.
The original text was published on 34mag.net. Translated by BelarusFeed.