Staging a ‘Chinatown’ in Berlin: The role of city branding in the urban governance of ethnic diversity

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Series Details Vol.24, No.3, July 2017, p290–303
Publication Date July 2017
ISSN 0969-7764
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Migration is predominantly directed towards cities that have been facing a highly competitive global environment within the last 30 years of globalisation. Against the background of economic restructuring, cities are looking for new forms of city branding. In this process, ethno-cultural diversity is increasingly regarded as an asset, leading to the branding of migrant neighbourhoods, especially those characterised by migrant economies. These agglomerations of shops, cafés and restaurants provide places of leisure and consumption for cosmopolitan urbanites.

This paper shows how Berlin’s municipal politicians failed in staging ‘Chinatowns’ and ‘Asiatowns’ as ethnically branded commercial districts and argues that the Vietnamese migrants who are primarily addressed by these projects are not readily marketable by a city-branding approach. The assumed common identity of Asian migrants in Berlin and the city’s top-down municipal approach contradict the structures of the heterogeneous group of Vietnamese residents.

This paper traces Berlin’s transition from a reactive to a proactive approach in the marketing of ethno-cultural diversity. My approach is to embed the Dong Xuan Centre in Berlin-Lichtenberg, a Vietnamese-run wholesale centre that was founded through Vietnamese agency, in the local discourse on Asia- and Chinatowns. The study shows that the centre’s management appears to be an active agent in the branding process of the project, modelling itself after the global brand of ‘Chinatown’. However, the centre’s vision of a place of cultural life and trade contradicts German planning laws, a conflict that has led to ongoing negotiations between the centre’s management and the district government, thereby hindering its branding.

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