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.

 

18

Chateau Rouge

CR intro

 

For the past few weeks Paris has had me in its picturesque, seductive clutches. It was fun but looking back at my images I did wonder, where was the challenge? Normally my thing is to seek out the beauty in the ‘unbeautiful’. And ‘unbeautiful’ ain’t Le Marais nor Les Batignolles.

It was time to get back to my mission brief.

My choice for this week was also influenced by the recent election here. All the talk about immigration leading up to the big day was a stark reminder that for many, Paris is a crowded 25sqm room shared with a handful of other people, and no prospect of a job any time soon.

Nowhere could this be more true than in the 18th arrondissement, around a neighbourhood called Chateau Rouge. Also referred to as la Goutte d’Or, this is the Little Africa of Paris. Exotic foods, tick, but also a slew of problems that can’t be fixed overnight, even if there is a new government in power.

Quickest ‘history’ ever – the hood is named after a red castle that no longer exists. Done.

Okay, iPhones away (will explain later), cameras away (ditto), let’s swagger…

 

Part 1: F-f-f-fashion

Amazingly, Chateau Rouge is just minutes away from tourist-crazed Montmartre and its top drawcard, the Sacre Coeur. One minute it’s all pretty pretty, then suddenly you’re wondering, what happened? Where did Paris go?

Unlike Faubourg Saint Denis, where there are really just a few streets dedicated to African hair and where there’s a strong bobo presence, this neighbourhood seems to be entirely African and Arab. Markets here offer gombo not oysters or foie gras, and you have to elbow your way through or be elbowed. Shops are filled with colourful African materials not trendy western gear. Butchers are halal. Welcome to Little Africa.

But at the end of the main open-air market a police car is almost permanently parked – along with the colourful exoticism are serious drug and crime problems. Add illegal immigration into the mix and you start to understand why the locals were incredibly unhappy about me and my camera pitching up. One woman explained that some Africans would even be afraid I might use their photos to do, er, black magic.

Up against it, I very quickly realised that any sort of in-depth photographic exploration of the area wasn’t going to be possible. No one was about to invite me into their lives and share.

At one point I almost abandoned ship. Then I’d get some kind soul to agree to a photo (even if they did give me no more than five seconds to take the shot) and I’d think, okay, maybe this will work.

Since I wasn’t going to be able to do anything too deep, I decided to explore one particular facet of Little Africa – its fashion.

The neighbourhood is filled with men and women who continue to dress as they would if they still lived in Africa – only now they’re in Paris, amongst the berets and trench-coats. The shock of hot, vivid colour against a sea of western blah and sombre tones is just fantastic.

Then there are the Africans who take their colourful heritage and apply it to a more contemporary look. I especially loved the men who wear suits, but in a playful, inventive way. I’d actually go so far to say that it was in Chateau Rouge that I saw the most interesting fashion that I’ve seen so far in all of Paris (not that I hang with the fashionistas of course).

Fashion, as an expression of one’s culture… très intéressant!

 

Little Africa, 'Lowest Prices'

Little Africa, 'Lowest Prices'

 

 

 

Chateau Rouge is right next door to the Sacre Coeur

Chateau Rouge is right next door to the Sacre Coeur

 

 

 

First up, the men…

 

 

Sayra

Sayra

 

 

 

Zongo, fashion designer

Zongo, fashion designer

 

 

 

The man below was very reluctant to be snapped. I explained I just wanted to take a shot of his inventive tie and not his face. “But it’s my creation” he said. Eventually after minutes of discussion he caved – and I had precisely three seconds to take the shot.

 

 

 

when worlds collide

when worlds collide

 

 

 

Next was Jean, interior designer. Different story entirely. He was one of the few who was quite happy to be photographed – and why not? Just look at that suit.

 

 

for one thing, Jean is wearing Burberry with a purple tie and tartan cap. Dangerous!

for one thing, Jean is wearing Burberry with a purple tie and tartan cap. Dangerous!

 

 

 

I ran into Jean again a few days later. He was wearing the same suit but with a different hat, tie and shoes. Could I please take another shot…

 

 

 

and he did!

and he did!

 

 

 

even Obama gives Jean's style the thumbs up

even Obama gives Jean's style the thumbs up

 

 

 

Then there were these guys…

 

 

 

check me out!

check me out!

 

 

 

religious bling

religious bling

 

 

 

after a trip to the Hammam he felt cleaner and brighter all over

after a trip to the Hammam he felt cleaner and brighter all over

 

 

 

Part 2: Senghor from Senegal

Okay, so this dude in his voluminous boubou deserves a section all of his own. I know nothing more about him other than his name and where he comes from, but my imagination rushed into the vacuum of information and filled it right up. To me he’s a witch-doctor-ish, magic man who appears out of nowhere and travels not by metro but by forces unknown. You could have knocked me over with a chicken feather when he said, yes, you can photograph me.

 

 

Senghor from Senegal

Senghor from Senegal

 

 

 

with one wave of my magic wand, I can make 1000 volts shoot through the air

with one wave of my magic wand, I can make 1000 volts shoot through the air

 

 

 

where'd you get those D&G sunnies from?

where'd you get those D&G sunnies from?

 

 

 

off to make magic with his gombo

off to make magic with his gombo

 

 

 

And while we’re on the subject of magical things…

 

 

and the note on the bottle said, Alice, EAT ME

the note on the bottle said, Alice, EAT ME

 

 

 

Part 3: The women

Like my experience of observing the sari clad Indians of Sydney’s Harris Park, I loved watching the African women in traditional dress glide down the streets, so unFrench and yet so much a part of modern day Paris.

 

 

and Chateau Rouge

and Chateau Rouge

 

 

 

wild prints

wild prints

 

 

 

she buys her flowers from Barbes Market to match her hair

she buys her flowers from Barbes Market to match her hair

 

 

 

waiting

waiting

 

 

 

Then there’s the modern look…

 

 

 

Doris, with Jennifer in her hair

Doris, with Jennifer in her hair

 

 

 

Henna girl

Henna girl

 

 

 

French stripes

French stripes

 

 

 

Of course, an African woman’s hair is a big deal. Braided, shaved, extended, coloured, whatever. You gotta do something to your hair.

 

 

now and then

now and then

 

 

 

Part 4: Beyond the fashion

I would have liked to have explored the Arab, Muslim side of the area more – but couldn’t. I lost count of how many Arab men I asked to photograph – in my best French and as respectfully as possible. They were just not into it.

Anyway, the deal is that the neighbourhood has mosque problems. I think there might be two but I only visited one – and from the outside only. You’d miss it if you didn’t notice the small sign, or the collection box sitting on the street outside, raising money I assume to improve the current one or maybe build a new one.

It wasn’t long ago that space problems meant that Muslims in the area were allowed to pray on the streets in front of the mosque. There was all sorts of hoo ha over that and the practice was banned late last year.

There is, however, a major development happening soon – a new, very modern looking Islamic centre is being built nearby and as far as I understand, the mosques might have prayer rooms inside.

 

 

they have their iphones, he has his Islam

they have their iphones, he has his Islam

 

 

 

they must be green with envy of other grander mosques

they must be green with envy of other grander mosques

 

 

 

things are looking up - a new Islamic centre and a new government

things are looking up - a new Islamic centre and a new government

 

 

 

The Wrap

I am fascinated by the African presence in Paris. I understand the reason – France needed labour post-war so they invited all of Africa in – but I just find the contrast between the two cultures so incredibly striking.

It was therefore quite exhilarating to hang out in Little Africa this week. And as frustrating as it was to not be able to photograph more and different facets of the area, I did enjoy the challenge.

So what did I find beautiful in this decidedly unbeautiful neighbourhood? The vibrant colour and the ‘fashion’ for sure, but also the energy of the place. It’s hard to describe but it feels excitable, edgy, as if any minute it will reach a crescendo and… pop!, the whole place will implode.

Oh, and the warning to put away your iPhone and camera? Just passing on what I was told. Apparently if you wander around chatting on your iPhone, you’re very likely to have it plucked out of your hand. And one guy told me his friend was carrying a DSLR camera with the strap around his neck and had his arm broken when someone wrenched it so hard to get the camera off him.

 

 

 

Chateau Rouge, and bleu, orange, vert, rose

Chateau Rouge, and bleu, orange, vert, rose

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

A lovely Australian blog follower living in Paris for a little while took Coco off this week for some home schooling followed by cartwheels in the park. Coco loved it so hopefully, if the budget holds out, there’ll be a little more of it. On my side, I’d just like the dreary grey stuff to disappear so I can have fun with the sun again, in a photographic sense. And I’d like more sleep too. But who doesn’t?

And to all those in Australia, Happy Mother’s Day!

This suburb has been brought to you by Zoe Thompson

I’ve decided to change my post date to Sunday or Monday by the way. It’s only taken me five months to work out that I’m probably missing a lot of good stuff that happens on the weekend by making my post day Friday and my so-called ‘day off’ on Saturday.

Which would suit you better by the way – Sunday or Monday?

See you next week.

 

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