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Berlin is now one of Europe's most popular urban tourist destinations. But the thousands of young travelers visiting the German capital are looking for more authentic Berlin experiences beyond museums and tourist spots. As NPR's Eric Westervelt reports, in one neighborhood at least that has bought them into conflict with the locals.
ERIC WESTERVELT: It's a balmy summer evening in the Berlin borough of Kreuzberg, and people are starting to congregate on the Admiralsbruecke - a romantic 19th century bridge with intricate iron work, gas lit lamps, cobble stones, and a gorgeous view of the canal, a tributary of the Spree River.
Recently listed on a tourist website as the bridge where the locals go, the Admiralsbruecke has become hugely popular with twenty-somethings who fly in on discount airlines searching for the, quote, "real" Berlin.
After dark there are street musicians, people hanging out and lots off imbibing. Pete Stark from Melbourne, Australia was so impressed with the bridge, he became a regular during his brief vacation.
Mr. PETE STARK (Tourist): We rode past the bridge and saw a whole bunch of people drinking, and so we thought we'd come along and have a few beers. Yeah. And we've been here, yeah, maybe three times. Yeah, it's been fun. A lot of people here, good vibe.�
WESTERVELT: Local resident Rinaldo Kellner, whose ground floor apartment is a stone's throw from the bridge, says early on in the night the bridge is a wonderful place to sit and take in the summer air and sights. He calls the din emanating into his garden yard part of the fabric of urban life.
But the father of two says the scene often turns grim after midnight -especially on weekends - when he and his family would rather be sleeping.�
Mr. RINALDO KELLNER: (Through translator) As the night progresses, the noise worsens. People start to holler, smash their beer bottles. I have to shout at the people urinating in my garden. In the morning there's garbage everywhere.
Ridiculous things happen, like last week, when four young drunk American guys thought it would be fun to climb the trees in front of my house and flop into my yard. Do I really want to have to witness that at 2:00 in the morning?�
WESTERVELT: Residents are so annoyed with the drunken antics, the broken glass and the electric music well into the wee hours, that the local authorities have brought in a team of professional mediators to create a dialogue. Doris Wietfeldt is a member of the team that spends three nights a week on the bridge mediating between residents and tourists - or what she terms bridge users - as well as the police, and local businesses.
Ms. DORIS WIETFELDT (Mediator): We find when we're on the bridge we can walk up to the people and I'd say at least 80 percent are open for discussion and they say, oh yeah, we understand the situation and we know music is a nice thing but at the same time people have to sleep at night.�
WESTERVELT: Even Berlin's mayor has stepped in to try to help. The idea, mediator Wietfeldt says, is to find a solution together. So far none is forthcoming.�
But tourism is a major pillar of Berlin's economy, pumping billions into the city every year. The number of tourists has more than tripled in the last 15 years.
Sedat Uyulgan's business is booming, selling cold beer from his news kiosk near the bridge. He says Berliners need to make peace with their city's popularity.�
Mr. SEDAT UYULGAN: (Through translator) Berliners need to learn to accept tourists. Berlin is a poor city. We need them. But look at the upturn here in Kreuzberg. Every corner has a beautiful cafe, it's multicultural. What more do you want?�
WESTERVELT: Well, for starters, many locals want a good night's sleep, and a more coherent plan from City Hall for how Berlin manages its growing tourist industry and the local conflicts that success can sometimes provoke.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.�
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