Living in Berlin

Gentrification Alert: Wedding

At dinner last night on Schoenleinstraße in Kreuzberg, I was surrounded by people who live in Wedding and love it.

Are you surprised? Wedding?!

This is what I overheard: It’s Berlin at its most multicultural; it’s edgy and arty; it’s got great transport links all over the city;  it’s still incredibly cheap. Don’t tell anyone: Wedding’s a secret!

A secret?

Honestly, I’ve had a hard time figuring out Wedding. When I get off the U-Bahn at S-Bahn Wedding and walk north, I shield my eyes from the ugliness: the brutalist Burgeramt that looks like it’s about to fall over, the aridity and shabbiness of the public parks at Leopoldplatz; the migraine-inducing six lanes of roaring traffic on Müllerstraße. The tawdry commerce of the beat-up Karstadt and your usual suspect chain stores disgrace the memory of a historically ‘Red’ neighbourhood. The only thing I find reassuring is the diversity of people on the streets.

Don’t worry, I think your secret’s safe.

Now hopefully everyone has written off Wedding after that last description and stopped reading this post. The rest of you probably know already that Wedding has a number of low-key Kiez that are off the radar for most Berliners and some beautiful parks (including the mountainous one built over the old Nazi flak tower at Humboldthain).

One of the most exciting places here is Stattbad Wedding (a disused swimming pool now used as a theatre, film, and arts space that has become an institution for the local arts community).  I like this place so much that it deserves a separate post in future. There’s also plenty happening around U-Bahn Nauener Platz (U9), with a crop of wine bars having opened on Malplaquetstraße (Spiritus Mundi and Weine und Geflügel) and good restaurants (Berlin’s best pierogies are here at Pierogania).

But today, I went off to explore the Sprengelkiez (the area around U-Bahn Amrumer Straße (U9)), which seems less urbane than the area around Nauener Platz, but somehow more under threat of massive changes of gentrification.

If you’ve been reading the German blogs on gentrification in Wedding, the Sprengelkiez is the neighbourhood that is mentioned most often. ‘Gentrification pioneers’ are coming in, bringing up rents, and this is already part of local public debates organised by a Rental-initiative group. There’s plenty to hint that there is change in the air here. There’s a mix of attractive Altbau ‘Classikers’––rambling old-world apartments which fetch ever-increasing prices with their dwindling market in Berlin––with Neubau social housing of often low-income immigrants.There’s the telltale sign of a new Bioladen (organic food shop), with a group of yummy mummies  sipping Italian coffee outside, near a couple of new funky cafés. (I’m always a little taken aback that the signs of encroaching gentrification are also the same ones which might make the neighbourhood a nicer place for young and arty people to live). There’s also the fact that there’s a big hospital complex nearby, and soon the German Intelligence agency offices (the BND) will open a few stations away on the U6 line–with 2000 new employees transferred here from Southern Germany looking for a leafy place to live.

You follow the main axis Torfstraße from the U-Bahn station to the canal and pass many African goods stores, and an African media bookshop and community centre. The neighbourhood is incredibly diverse: there’s also a Pakistani dry goods store, and (apparently very good) Korean (Shikgoo) and Indian (Naveena Path) canteens. When you get to  the canal there are some pretty café terraces (of Fünf und Sechzig, the oldtimer Deichgraf, or Auszeit with its vintage chic). Down Triftstraße, in a lot hidden behind some high-rise housing, where we hear the sounds of someone practicing a Chopin Étude, there are some shabby stairs leading into a basement. There is located a remarkable and hidden microbrewery called Hausbrauerei Eschenbräu, one of those unexpected and hidden places that might wow your visitors with your local knowledge of Berlin.

But the impression of the Sprengelkiez is ultimately a little like that of the canal it looks over which is shaggy, unkempt, and dotted with industrial installations. The domesticated comfort of Kreuzberg’s Landwehrkanal is not on offer here. The charm is something different: patchy, rough and unfinished. Acquaintances who live here describe it to me as: ‘a quiet place to come home to’ or ‘a little bit on the edge with a fast train’. It’s true you can be at Zoo station in 7 minutes flat by U-Bahn, or in Mitte by bike in not that much more time. But the Kiez has the feeling of an island, a slightly forlorn separateness, which it shares with so much of exposed  and ramshackle Wedding. And hopefully it’s precisely this patina of degradation, which overlays the diversity and hidden fascinations of this vast area of former West Berlin, which will keep the arriviste surgeons and spies at bay for just a little bit longer.

Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.

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