GÖRLITZER PARK, a patch of grass and concrete, has a seedy air. Its tall walls are covered in graffiti. Near the entrances, young African men stand around hassling bystanders, asking if they want to buy some “kiffen”. Yet in many respects, the “drug park” (as locals in Kreuzberg, a trendy district of Berlin, often call it) does not live up to its ugly reputation. On a Saturday afternoon, it is mostly full of 20-somethings sitting around on the grass in groups sipping coffees and beers. Young parents pass by with pushchairs. University students on picnic blankets peer into their textbooks. Over the course of an hour or so, not a single one of the drug dealers in view seems to make a deal. For most of the locals, they are a hassle—not a service.
Few European cities do youth culture and hedonism better than Berlin. Young people flock—or, if truly cool, just drift—here from all over the world. The nightlife runs until dawn, techno beats flood its streets. Yet as with Görlitzer Park, the wild appearance belies reality. The city’s middle-aged artists and musicians complain that its young hipsters are taking the edge out of its nightlife by trying to make money out of it. Their entrepreneurialism is driving up rents. “The city of heroin addicts, David Bowie and Iggy Pop has disappeared,” says a Berliner who was not yet born when the Thin White Duke came to stay. In its place is a town where people come to study, work and boost their creative careers, not just party.
Berlin is still an unusual city; the temperance of its youth is not. In 2002 just 13% of German teenagers had never had an alcoholic drink; by 2012, that figure had risen to 30%. Among 18- to 25-year-olds, the proportion drinking at least once a week has fallen by a third since the early 1990s. Cannabis use has dropped, too, and the number of deaths attributed to the use of illegal drugs has fallen by half since 2000. Similar trends are seen across the Western world.