25

Neukolln

N intro 2

 

Apologies for the late post – without warning, winter returned to Berlin last week, and with it, bucket loads of rain.

In between the thundery downpours we managed to get out long enough to have a nose around various bits of Neukölln, a borough just south of last week’s Friedrichshain. 

I say ‘bits’ because unlike Friedrichshain, Neukölln is enormous. So I chose two neighbourhoods to focus on – the northernmost tip, also called Neukölln (and where our apartment happens to be), and one in the south, Gropiusstadt.

As I quickly discovered they are very different worlds and too much for one post. So I’ve split them into two, starting in the north with this post and then heading south with a post in a few days time (two in one week? can you cope?)

Same facts about the borough in general. Located in the former west, but only just – it has one of the longest sections of border with the former East Berlin. Name comes from Berlin’s former twin settlement of Cölln. Almost half the population are from immigrant backgrounds, mainly Turkish, Arab and Kurdish. One of the poorest boroughs, with unemployment, drug and ‘social issues’. Popular with students, artists and travellers.

Okay, starting with North Neukölln, let’s wander.

 

Part 1: Different stories

Admittedly I’ve only been in Berlin for five minutes but as far as I understand it, North Neukölln has come into its own in the last few years primarily because neighbouring Kreuzberg – where the apartment blocks are just that much nicer – got too expensive. 

Various peoples, from Turkish immigrants to artists, students and travellers, couldn’t afford Kreuzberg anymore so they moved south to Neukölln. And now North Neukölln is just like Kreuzberg (hence its nickname, Kreuzkölln) but cooler.

Well, that’s what some people told me. Others said it was too rough and druggy.

In fact, in the last week I’ve heard all sorts of things about North Neukölln; it’s such a mix of cultures and characters that depending who you speak to, you get a different story. It’s cool, not cool. A wonderful melting pot, a failed melting pot. It’s thriving because of travellers. It’s being ruined by travellers.

At the end of it all the only thing I knew for certain? The olives are much cheaper at the Turkish Market than in the shops.

 

the (organic) corner shop

the (organic) corner shop

 

 

 

 

a constant stream of travellers - Raquel, from Portugal, works as a Brazilian tour guide

a constant stream of travellers - Raquel, from Portugal, works as a Brazilian tour guide

 

 

 

 

Lou and Lulu, from France

Lou and Lulu, from France

 

 

 

 

Lou likes Neukolln for its colourful mix

Lou likes Neukolln for its colourful mix

 

 

 

I can’t comment on the night life in North Neukölln – I’m such an old fart – but apparently it’s where ‘real’ Berliners head after dark. While the international techno crowd make merry in the massive clubs across the river in Friedrichshain, locals party here in former brothels and smaller bars.

 

 

eagle rock - Italian RocknRoll, lives in Wedding, in Neukolln for a drink

eagle rock - Italian RocknRoll, lives in Wedding, in Neukolln for a drink

 

 

 

 

rough diamond - he says he's a jeweller, do we believe him?

rough diamond - he says he's a jeweller, do we believe him?

 

 

 

As in other poorer Berlin neighbourhoods that are rapidly changing, the anti-gentrification movement is in full swing here. I read one flyer from ‘AntiGen Neukölln’ warning “students, artists and travelers” about evil landlords and real estate investors pushing up rental prices – “As these prices are still cheap compared to the rental prices in their hometowns.. everything seems to be fine, but, not for all… Slowly but surely, the poorest and most vulnerable people are forced to leave behind the life that they have built… their friendships, their places, their communities, their memories…Whatever you do, don’t pay too much rent!”

So what exactly are rents like here? Someone I know pays $150 per week for a 55m2 one bedroom apartment – and that includes heating. Seems incredibly cheap to me but then I come from crazy-prices-Sydney.

 

North Neukolln is getting yuppier by the day

North Neukolln is getting yuppier by the day

 

 

 

 

heartfelt hatred

heartfelt hatred

 

 

 

 

Part 2: The Turkish market

The Turks were invited in after WWII as ‘temporary workers’ – and never left.

Apparently Berlin today has the second largest Turkish population after Istanbul. Whether that’s accurate or not I don’t know. But it’s definitely true that there’s a huge Turkish population here – many of whom call Kreuzberg and North Neukölln home.

While the whole immigration issue is highly controversial, I didn’t meet anyone who had a problem with the Turkish market that happens every Tuesday and Friday down by the canal.

Fresh food, free entertainment and, like I said, cheap olives.

And definitely the place to come if you like a crowd – most of the time Berlin feels so empty to me, but at the Turkish market it’s wall to wall.

 

where is everyone? at the Turkish Market

where is everyone? at the Turkish Market

 

 

 

 

sunshine - Wafaa from Sudan

sunshine - Wafaa from Sudan

 

 

 

 

By now Duaa, below, will be a married woman. But when we met her she had five days to go. Her eyes lit up when she talked about the impending nuptials. Born in Lebanon, she moved to Berlin when she was just five months old.

 

I love you, will you marry me - Duaa

I love you, will you marry me - Duaa

 

 

 

We met Hoda walking along with her boyfriend. She was born here but comes from a Palestinian background. I asked her how she felt about Berlin. “Too crowded”. Then she thought again. “But when I like people, I love it.”

 

Hoda

Hoda

 

 

 

After you’ve filled your bag with fresh bread, cheese, fruit and veg – and cheap olives – there’s free entertainment.

 

that's entertainment - hanging out by the canal

that's entertainment - hanging out by the canal

 

 

 

 

all ages welcome

all ages welcome

 

 

 

 

the canal, Maybachufer

the canal, Maybachufer

 

 

 

 

Part 3: The Turkish Mosque

Given how large the Turkish and Arab population is in Berlin, and the fact there are about 300,000 Muslims in the city, I imagined I’d see quite a few mosques around the place. But it turns out that although there are about 80 mosques and/or prayer rooms, most of them are hidden away in apartment blocks.

There are, however, two ‘proper’ mosques – the largest of which happens to be in Neukölln.

Şehitlik Moschee is fairly new – finished in 2005 – but it’s designed in the ancient Ottoman style and was built alongside a Turkish cemetery dating from 1863.

While it’s kind of out of the way, on a major road with lots of green around, I still got quite a shock to see this little piece of Istanbul with its shining white minarets piercing the sky in grungy-gritty-graffitied Neukölln.

 

culture shock

culture shock

 

 

 

 

little Istanbul

like walking into Turkey

 

 

 

 

Berlin to Istanbul

Berlin to Istanbul

 

 

 

 

The first time we visited the mosque we just had a quick look around and left. As we were leaving we met husband and wife, Yunus and Sukrau. They explained they both had Turkish parents but had been born in Berlin. I asked them a question they must get all the time but were gracious enough to answer: did they feel German or Turkish? Yunus replied, “In my heart I am Turkish, but in my head, German.”

 

my heart is Turkish, my head, Germanv

my heart is Turkish, my head, German

 

 

 

The next time we visited happened to be on the first day of Ramadan (my lack of research never ceases to amaze me). Coco seemed quite concerned – no food or drink during the day for an entire month? – until she found out kids didn’t have to participate until they became teens.

 

'Welcome Ramadan 2012'

'Welcome Ramadan 2012'

 

 

 

 

an age old ritual - Friday prayer on the first day of Ramadan

an age old ritual - Friday prayer on the first day of Ramadan

 

 

 

We met 30 year old Pinar and her five month old son, Baturkagan, standing in the courtyard just before prayer. She and her husband are heavily involved in the running of the mosque, particularly on the education side of things. Like Yunus and Sukrau, Pinar was born in Berlin – but just from the way she was dressed you could tell she felt more Turkish than German. She explained that her parents had always encouraged integration but that she loved the Turkish culture; she and her husband visit Istanbul once a year and dream of living there.

 

Pinar and five month old Baturkagan

Pinar and five month old Baturkagan

 

 

 

I asked Pinar about the whole multicultural-Muslim question. In her opinion Muslim people are neither accepted nor understood by the majority of German people who still ask the same questions about terrorism at the mosque’s information days.

Pinar talked about being a minority – yet at some schools in Neukölln, it’s the ethnic German kids who are in the minority. Neukölln is still living down an incident in 2006 where teachers at a local school with a hugely migrant student population spat the dummy, demanding the school be shut down due to the out of control violence.

I left the mosque that day with Angela Merkel’s words from 2010 ringing in my ears – “The approach to build a multicultural society and to live side by side and to enjoy each other…has failed, utterly failed.”

 

culture clash

culture clash :: 1

 

 

 

 

culture clash :: 2

culture clash :: 2

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Airport turned park

Most – okay, nearly all – of Tempelhofer Park isn’t in the borough of Neukölln. But it’s a stone’s throw from Şehitlik Mosque and when I studied my map, I noticed that a very slim slice of the park, the easternmost bit, also appears to be inside the boundary line.

Good enough for me. I love this park so much I’d use any excuse to include it.

So Tempelhofer Park was once an airport – Flughafen Berlin-Tempelhof. Designed and built by the Nazis in the 1930s, British architect Sir Norman Foster called it “the mother of all airports”.

The semi-oval building is huge, Europe’s largest stand-alone structure. But just as impressive is its history; when the Soviets tried to starve West Berlin in 1948-1949, the airport saved the city by enabling planes to deliver supplies.

The Berlin Airlift endeared the airport to every Berliner – so much so, when there was talk of closing it down in 2008, there was a huge outcry. It failed to keep the airport open but thankfully the city didn’t redevelop the site or mothball it. Instead in 2010 it opened the entire area to the public, aside from the buildings, and said, go play. Cycle, rollerblade, run. Play soccer, fly a kite, whatever, it’s yours.

Looming on the horizon, however, like a small dot of a plane that will inevitably reveal itself, is a question mark over the park’s future. They say it’s going to be turned into an ‘urban park landscape’. But what’s so cool about it now is it’s an old airport with real runways that you can roam around on. Why mess with that?

 

stormy past, uncertain future :: 1

stormy past, uncertain future :: 1

 

 

 

 

stormy past, uncertain future :: 2

stormy past, uncertain future :: 2

 

 

 

 

stormy past, uncertain future :: 3

stormy past, uncertain future :: 3

 

 

 

 

transporting provisions not people - the Berlin Airlift

transporting provisions not people - the Berlin Airlift

 

 

 

 

ready for take-off

ready for take-off

 

 

 

 

airport turned meadow - Iris and daughter Marie, picking flowers for oma - grandma

airport turned meadow - Iris and daughter Marie, picking flowers for oma - grandma

 

 

 

 

ta da

ta da

 

 

 

 

off to deliver the flowers

off to deliver the flowers

 

 

 

 

an afternoon game of fußball

an afternoon game of fußball

 

 

 

 

fun in whatever weather

fun in whatever weather

 

 

 

 

Berlin 2012 vs Berlin 1930s

Berlin 2012 vs Berlin 1930s

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Watch out where you walk

Stolpersteine are all over Berlin but I saw my first ones in North Neukölln. I’d heard about these mini monuments which commemorate Holocaust victims but because they’re small and on the ground, they’re not easy to spot. Translated as ‘stumbling blocks’, the small brass blocks record the name of an individual, the date they were deported and the name of the concentration camp they were ermordet – murdered. They’re positioned outside the last known home of the individual, laid flush with the pavement.

I found them incredibly moving in the way they quietly announce the terrifying fate of an individual.

 

stolpersteine -The Wolf family

stolpersteine -The Wolf family

 

 

 

 

you can't erase these memories

you can't erase these memories

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

I read somewhere that Neukölln was once called the “Bronx” of Berlin, and still today you can read all sorts of scary statistics about the place – it’s the poorest, the most crime ridden, the place immigrants like the Romanians are flocking to in order to take advantage of Germany’s social welfare, etc etc.

Yet in the three weeks we’ve been living here, in an apartment in North Neukölln’s Hermannplatz, I’ve grown to like it more and more – precisely because of the mix of people. But the kids who live across the road are on the streets until midnight. And the men who hang on the corner, in the half shadows, what’s their story?

Still, the olives are cheap.

 

Coco at Tempelhof

Coco at Tempelhof

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco may be all smiles in the image above but there have been tears too this week. Another traumatic episode of home schooling where I just couldn’t get her to understand a fairly simple maths concept. She ended up sobbing on the bed as I went into some kind of shock, petrified that a part of her brain had stopped developing due to the lack of regular schooling.

In my downward spiral I questioned whether or not I should pull the pin on this project. Am I ruining my daughter? was all I could think. I am just so sick of worrying about her – not only the lack of a maths brain – but the fact she’s a single child with a single mum, playing on her own as I spend endless hours on the computer, processing images and working up these posts. And yes, travelling around the world should be an amazing experience but when people ask her if she’s enjoying it, she usually replies, yeah, but I don’t like the tagging along with mum ‘blogging bit’.

It doesn’t help that Berlin is an exhausting city to explore – fascinating but exhausting – and comes after six months of constant travel and work. We are both tired, the sort of tired that can’t be helped by a good night’s sleep; I’ve caught myself fantasising about the project ending so I can sit still for a week, a month.

And I’m suddenly homesick, really homesick. I’ve never felt more Australian in my life, never loved my country more.

But I can deal with me; this project is relentless and exhausting but ultimately incredibly satisfying and rewarding. It’s when my daughter starts showing signs of wear and tear that I start to wobble.

And then. Just as I was thinking through the repercussions of calling it a day. She utters these words: “I really like blogging now”. And then, “I realise how lucky I am.”

In the nick of time, Coco. In the nick of time.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Alison Reeve

 —

I’ll post the second Neukölln installment in a few days time. And then it’ll be back to regular programming – I hope.

 

24

Friedrichshain

F intro

 

Willkommen in Berlin!

When I did a poll on which cities people wanted me to visit most for this project late last year, Berlin topped the list.

Having never been, I had no idea why. All I knew was that it was party central and covered in graffiti. And oh yeah, something about it being ‘where it’s at’ in terms of art, design etc.

So I was definitely curious. But also slightly terrified that I’d find nothing to photograph but party people and, well, graffiti.

Now, I knew before I arrived what most people know about Berlin: Hitler, WWII, the Wall, then no Wall. But until I started having a nose around the place, I really hadn’t grasped just how bizarre this city’s recent history is. And really I’m talking here about what happened post-WWII, culminating in the Berlin Wall shooting up overnight in 1961 and dividing the city in two for the next 30 odd years.

I just can’t get my head around waking up one morning to discover you’ve been either fenced in or fenced off, from family and friends – and for the East Berliners, any chance of any sort of freedom. What the Nazis did was horrendous beyond words. Shocking, harrowing, horrendous. But a wall going up in the middle of your city? I just find that so bizarre.

So thinking about which area to start with, I felt drawn to somewhere in the former east. While those in West Berlin were the ones who were literally walled in, they were still free. It was the East Berliners who were suddenly no longer able to move – or think – freely.

I ended up choosing Friedrichshain, half of one of Berlin’s 12 boroughs and formerly part of East Berlin.

Some facts: Formed in 1920 as a largely working class district. Badly bombed in WWII. When Berlin was divided up post WWII, Friedrichshain became part of the Soviet occupied sector and then the GDR, with one edge running along the border that became the Berlin Wall in 1961. Post reunification in 1989, squatters moved into the empty apartment blocks. Today, it boasts a lively restaurant/bar/club scene and is gradually being gentrified.

Okay, let’s wander.

 

Part 1: Time warp

Berlin’s past is so shocking that I spent my first week here obsessed with trying to see the city through the eyes of someone living here during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

To begin with, I was most curious what the former East looked like – aside from Karl-Marx-Allee, the showcase avenue of the GDR, it appears to be be filled with masses of fairly bleak looking apartment blocks built between 1950s-70s. Many inhabited, some still derelict from GDR days.

For the benefit of those who’ve never been, here’s a handful to paint some sort of picture…

 

just a facade - Karl-Marx-Allee, the showcase avenue of the GDR

just a facade - Karl-Marx-Allee, the showcase avenue of the GDR

 

 

 

 

west vs east - consumption vs socialist ideals

west vs east - consumption vs socialist ideals

 

 

 

 

circa 1950s

circa 1950s

 

 

 

 

ghostly - derelict GDR offices

ghostly - derelict GDR offices

 

 

 

 

I found myself desperately wanting to get inside some of the derelict buildings, especially those that the Stasi were rumoured to have worked from. One of the most hated secret police forces in history, the Stasi used all manner of devious methods to spy on people – my favourite is the cloth piece they laid on chairs that would pick up the scent of anyone sitting there, later used by dogs to hunt someone down.

My time travelling was aided by a vintage fashion fair we stumbled on just outside Friedrichshain. We were just about to jump on the U-Bahn subway when I spotted an older couple who looked like they had just walked out of the 50s. Birgit and Thomas were going to the vintage fair so we tailed along with them – a perfect opportunity to ask questions and hear some stories from a couple of native Berliners.

Birgit told me that when the border was sealed overnight in 1961, she was a nine year old, visiting her grandparents in East Berlin. Even though she lived in the west, she was forbidden to cross back. Luckily people in West Berlin were allowed to enter the east for a short while after so her parents were able to reach her. They smuggled her back into the west; had she been discovered, she would have been taken from her grandparents and sent to an orphanage. Her father died a few years before the Wall came down so she would never have seen him again. I had goose bumps listening to her story. Can you imagine?

 

August 13, 1961 - Birgit remembers it well, the day her life almost changed forever

August 13, 1961 - Birgit remembers it well, the day her life almost changed forever

 

 

 

 

had she been forced to stay in East Berlin, she could've been monitored by the Stasi

had she been forced to stay in East Berlin, she could've been monitored by the Stasi

 

 

 

 

Having arrived at the vintage fair, there were a number of other women dressed in 50s fashion.

 

50s time warp - Claudia :: 1

50s time warp - Claudia :: 1

 

 

 

 

50s time warp - Claudia :: 2

50s time warp - Claudia :: 2

 

 

 

 

vintage

vintage

 

 

 

 

the time warp continues - Karen

the time warp continues - Karen

 

 

 

 

On another day, visiting the Stasi Museum (I had to, I was so intrigued) I met Sarah, a makeup artist attending something nearby the museum to do with fashion week and skate-boarding. In my delirious time-warped mind, I thought she would have made a great spy. More James Bond than Stasi but you get my drift.

 

Sarah, make-up artist today but back then she might've worked for the Stasi

Sarah, make-up artist today but back then she might've worked for the Stasi

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Past to present

I find it fascinating that a city with such a shocking past now has such a decadent, hedonistic present.

For 30 years half of its citizens were denied basic freedoms. Now you can pretty much do whatever you want and be whoever you want to be.

First up, a group of 20-somethings that describe themselves as ‘erotic activists’. The flyer they gave me explains that they make films of themselves having sex to raise money to save the forests.

 

'erotic activists' - members of ****forforest

'erotic activists' - members of ****forforest

 

 

 

 

making 'eco porn' to save nature

making 'eco porn' to save nature

 

 

 

 

'saving the planet is sexy'

'saving the planet is sexy'

 

 

 

 

I met the group through one of its members, Tabea, when we dropped past a flea market near one of the main streets in the neighbourhood, Simon-Dach-Strasse. Living somewhere outside Berlin, this 19 year old had a kind of Blade Runner look about her that appealed to me. Still at school, she told me she loves Berlin because where she comes from, she’d be judged for what she wears. Here, nobody bats an eyelid.

 

Tabea

Tabea

 

 

 

 

Just around the corner from where the erotic activists were hanging out I met another soul who obviously relishes Berlin’s non-judgemental chilledness. Cedrik, or C-drik as he likes his name to be written, is a gentle, articulate man with one of the most original tattoos I’ve ever seen. From Belgium and the Congo originally, he has covered himself with a tattoo design that reminded me of a cross between a Dalmatian and a leopard, and then added a brightly coloured, perfectly coiffed mohawk to top it all off.

 

in the 70s the punk scene had to be underground

in the 70s the punk scene had to be underground

 

 

 

 

today, you can hold your tattooed, pierced, mohawked head up high

today, you can hold your tattooed, pierced, mohawked head up high

 

 

 

 

what a difference 25 years can make - from repression and surveillance to complete freedom

what a difference 25 years can make - from repression and surveillance to complete freedom

 

 

 

 

as free as

as free as

 

 

 

 

we got the same eyebrows C-drik

we got the same eyebrows C-drik

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Normal life – getting from A to B

Like most of Berlin, Friedrichshain is bike crazy. There seems to be a dedicated bike lane almost everywhere you look – and look you must, as it’s often perilously close to the pavement you’re walking on. Stray into the bike lane at your own risk!

Bikes here carry kids, the groceries, building materials and small dogs.

 

crossing from east to west has never been so easy

crossing from east to west has never been so easy

 

 

 

We met Loni and her owner, Angelika, navigating a small stretch of busy pavement to get into their apartment block in Friedrichshain. Angelika, a website designer, has lived in the area for over a decade. She enjoys it despite the fact she has to fight her way through the crowd outside her front door every weekend.

 

where even the doggies are chilled

where even the doggies are chilled

 

 

 

 

unless there's a treat on offer - Loni and Angelika

unless there's a treat on offer - Loni and Angelika

 

 

 

Evelyna was on her way home after picking up her two kids from childcare when I hailed her down to have a chat. She’d recently returned from 15 years in New York, where she met her American husband. They decided to come back to Berlin because they felt it was a better place to bring up kids. We must have talked for 30 minutes and not once did her tiny passengers stir in their cosy looking Croozer.

 

precious cargo - Evelyna and her kids

precious cargo - Evelyna and her kids

 

 

 

 

As I said, the place is bike mad, with rows and rows of the things parked all over the place. Some more loved than others.

 

pimp my bike - practical to pretty

pimp my bike - practical to pretty

 

 

 

 

Aside from bikes, the other main forms of transport apart from one’s own feet are the U-Bahn subway and the skateboard.

 

I'll pick you up at 7 from the train station

I'll pick you up at 7 from the train station

 

 

 

 

skaters

skaters

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Stories from the photoautomaten

It wasn’t that long ago that those in the GDR were being photographed, filmed and recorded against their will. Today, people happily cram into Berlin’s old style photoautomaten to take photos of themselves. Unlike modern photo booths that take pretty boring colour photos for passports and whatever, these pics come out in black and white with pleasingly blotchy edges.

Better still, the photoautomaten in Friedrichshain sit out in the open air instead of being stuck underground in some dark corner. Perfect for scanning the legs of the occupants and trying to imagine what the rest of them looks like.

 

First up, we met three schoolgirls around 12 years old who lived in the area. Their favourite thing in life? “Going to the movies.”

 

Irma, Matilda and Bella

Irma, Matilda and Bella

 

 

 

 

their favourite thing, the movies

their favourite thing, the movies

 

 

 

 

Next, Mona and Thomas, from Norway, in Berlin for a few days before heading to a music festival nearby. Turned out Thomas is half Australian and has visited his relies who live near Melbourne a number of times.

 

Mona and Thomas - from Oslo, Norway

Mona and Thomas - from Oslo, Norway

 

 

 

 

ready to party

ready to party

 

 

 

 

On another day we met Vanessa, 26. I couldn’t help notice she seemed to have half her house crammed into the booth with her – her pillow, flowers, a huge bag. When she emerged she explained that she was making a story-book of the photos for her boyfriend who’d gone to Iceland for three months to do part of his film studies at a film festival there. Originally from south Germany, she’s lived in Berlin for seven years and loves it – for “the freedom and the music”. When she’s not making photobooks, she plays in a band and is studying Traditional Chinese Medicine.

 

Vanessa

Vanessa

 

 

 

 

making a photobook for her faraway boy

making a photobook for her faraway boy

 

 

 

 

Lastly, Felix. His legs gave nothing away – when he emerged from behind the curtain, his mohawk surprised me. As did his story – he was in Berlin for a while doing some training for his degree in nursing. And no, he doesn’t have to get rid of his mohawk as it often amuses the patients.

 

trainee nurse, Felix

trainee nurse, Felix

 

 

 

He seemed like a lovely guy so I was happy to run into him again a few days later as Coco and I were walking past the photo booths. He was there with his girlfriend, also a trainee nurse, and wanted to know if I’d like to photograph them together.

 

Felix and Meike

Felix and Meike

 

 

 

 

Felix solo, Felix with Meike

Felix solo, Felix with Meike

 

 

 

 

These particular photoautomaten are strategically placed right next to a vendor selling the local specialty, currywurst – a smoked sausage smothered in tomato sauce and curry powder with fries. An ideal snack while you’re waiting for your turn at the photobooth or for your pics to emerge.

 

waiting patiently for his master - and his share of the currywurst

waiting patiently for his master - and his share of the currywurst

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Moving to Berlin? Join the crowd.

Unlike every city we’ve visited so far, Berlin isn’t full to the brim. As a result, rents are still cheap and people are moving here from all over Germany and the globe. ‘It’s like New York in the 80s’, I kept hearing. Arty, edgy and cheap.

 

but Berlin's a lot cheaper

but Berlin's a lot cheaper

 

 

 

 

Daria and her boyfriend are about to move to Berlin from Cologne. “It’s never boring here.”

 

saved from boredom by Berlin - Daria

saved from boredom by Berlin - Daria

 

 

 

 

Kristine, a personnel manager for a local club, has lived here for a while. “If you don’t feel free in your own city, come to Berlin.”

 

'Berlin's a place to feel free' - Kristine

'Berlin's a place to feel free' - Kristine

 

 

 

 

But. As much as the city seems like a bargain to many, rents and prices have gone up markedly in recent years. There seem to be building sites everywhere as apartment blocks are either being renovated or replaced. None of which impresses those who have been able to live either incredibly cheaply or for free in squats for the past so many years.

When the Berlin Wall came down and the GDR was no more, apartment blocks were abandoned by East Berliners fleeing to the west. Squatters moved in and made the buildings their own. But in the last decade most of them have been forced out by a government that’s no longer happy to call itself ‘poor but sexy’.

Walking around a former squat quarter in Friedrichshain, where militant types still live and rage against the relentless tidal wave of gentrification, recently done up buildings have been splatted with paint and graffiti.

 

home - first to East Berliners, then squatters and now the renovators

home - first to East Berliners, then squatters and now the renovators

 

 

 

 

before and after gentrification - around Rigaer Strasse

before and after gentrification - around Rigaer Strasse

 

 

 

 

the voice of anti-gentrification

the voice of anti-gentrification

 

 

 

 

the government doesn't want to listen to the squatters any longer

the government doesn't want to listen to the squatters any longer

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure whether this building is a squat or privately owned. But I liked it. A great improvement on the former GDR’s colour scheme of cement grey.

 

formerly concrete grey

formerly concrete grey

 

 

 

It’s not just the ‘yuppie renovators’ who are so disliked. Tourists are also not popular with some. A few days ago I asked a German guy wearing a t-shirt with a ‘Berlin does not love you’ design if I could take a photo of it. I found the irony funny – he did not. He let rip with a few expletives and was totally indignant. Coco is still talking about it.

 

 

The Wrap

If Friedrichshain is anything to go by, Berlin is not a city that reaches out and hugs you straight off. It took me several days to get my eye in and to understand that it can be remarkably quiet and uneventful for a so called happening city; I walked for hours on end at times without taking a single shot.

As frustrating as that was, I’ve been totally captivated by the central contradiction of this city – a decadent party town in a city with such a shocking history.

And once I’d worked out what Berlin’s magnetic pull seems to be all about – the fact that you can afford to live here while you re-invent yourself into whoever and whatever you want to be – I felt much warmer towards the place. In fact, if I was 25 again, Berlin would definitely turn my head.

You can just tell this city is going to make history again one day – maybe it’s making it already.

 

 

 

birthday photos - the nine year old and I

birthday photos - the nine year old and I

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco and I had a great time with our mates in Madrid. Too short – just four days, two of which I spent writing up the last Rome blog and then my regular monthly Fairfax piece – and stinking hot, but it was so good to see some familiar faces. Coco and her friend Elyse did not stop nattering the entire time and we celebrated Coco’s ninth birthday a few days early with them and then again when we got to Berlin. Two other dear friends just dropped in for a few days here and Coco produced candles and chips for her third birthday bash. Hopefully she’s done now.

This suburb has been brought to you by Annie & John Welch

See you next Monday.

 

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