I feel it, don’t you?
It’s like struggling against a fierce wind when you cross the Tiergarten west towards Zoo Station.
I was at Café Einstein in Schöneberg the other day, and our teacups and cutlery kept moving across the table. The knife pointed due East.
And then, on my bike back towards Alexanderplatz, I desperately had to apply the brakes as I plunged down Unter den Linden.
What’s going on?
Berlin’s centre of gravity has shifted from West to East, it’s almost impossible now to escape the momentous tug.
Take a look at the following map where the yellow line represents where the Berlin wall used to be and blue lines suggest the subjective forces of gravity…
Yes, once upon a time there were two cities with two centres. Each exerted its pull on its environs: Zoo Station in the West, and Mitte in the East.
Now that the wall has come down, the old East-Berlin centre, like an increasingly magnetic star, has dragged Kreuzberg into its orbit. As the gravitational power of Zoo decreases, more neighbourhoods look to Mitte as the centre of the city. Its force is so strong that neighbourhoods as far away as Schöneberg, decidedly in the orbit of Zoo only a few years ago, now look to Mitte. Zoo continues to be the declining centre for a decidingly aging population, and for those neighbourhoods farther West. Kreuzberg’s new status at the centre of the city means it is gentrifying quickly.
The fact that Berlin has two centres, and one exerts more influence today, provides answers for common questions:
Q: Why is there lots of space in Central Berlin. And I’m not talking about areas where the wall used to be?
A: There is a lot of empty space in areas that were peripheral in former West Berlin. Take the windy areas between Schöneberg and Kreuzberg, around Yorkstraße near the S-Bahn line, for example. These spaces perplex visitors, who feel the tug of Mitte, because they now consider these areas pretty close to the city centre. In fact these areas were once on the city’s periphery, where it was natural to have more open space.
Q: Why is there so much protest about rising rents in Kreuzberg these days? I saw those guys on May Day burning cars. What’s up there?
A. Here’s a historical answer for you: western boroughs, like Kreuzberg, which used to be on the edge, are now at Berlin’s centre. You will notice that Kreuzberg used to be pressed right up against the Wall in West Berlin, the extremity of the city. It was a ghetto for marginalised immigrants and punks, many of whom did not want to do their military service (you were exempt if you lived in Berlin). Now, with Mitte, the historic pre-war and current centre of the city, just north, these populations are fighting to keep the advantages of being peripheral but are now dealing with city-centre rents.
And it depends on who you ask if gentrification is the beginning or the end of the neighbourhood. More on Kreuzberg in coming posts.