• Germany's news in English

Neukölln: Beyond the hype

Exberliner · 20 May 2009, 15:54

Published: 20 May 2009 15:54 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Low living costs haven’t just drawn cool types: they’ve attracted lots of poor people as well, adding to the existing social misery. Exberliner Magazine explores what Neukölln really is: colourful melting pot or Hartz IV ghetto?

The view is stunning. You look over the rooftops of the city: there’s nothing but blue sky above you.

“I never wanted to live in Neukölln,” Wiebke says.

But then she found this maisonette apartment. One-hundred-and-sixty-three square metres, two floors, €4.50 per square metre.

“The rents are just so cheap here,” says the 27-year-old Hamburgerin. On her roof terrace, the latest issue of Vogue lies on the bench next to the coffee table.

“Neukölln is not as crummy as you’d think,” she adds, crossing her long legs and displaying a pair of strappy, high-heeled sandals.

“Actually, when you step out on a sunny day like this, you feel like you’re on a summer vacation in Istanbul.”

Wiebke has lived on Richardstraße since last year. She founded her own start-up while she was still a student. Some might call her a yuppie. She is, but in the positive sense of the word: she has worked hard to get to where she is now. She was one of those pioneers who were drawn to Neukölln by its low rents and rough charm – and love it there.

With people like her around, hip new cafés like Ä on Weserstraße or Rudi Marie on Weichselplatz have moved in. This is the heart of the “Neu-Cooln” that made the German headlines.

Seven floors down and one U-Bahn stop away, Punky sits in Hermannplatz with his friends. He’s got a bottle of Sternburg in the one hand and a joint in the other.

At 30, Punky is unemployed: an ex-junkie now clean, he claims, thanks to methadone. He has Hepatitis C. He talks about his days on Hermannplatz, about fights with Turkish drug gangs, about knocked-out teeth and broken jaws.

But these days, life is good for Punky. Last night he found a stack of beer bottles on a burnt-out Landwehrkanal restaurant boat. Since then, he and his friends have been having a party. It’s 11 in the morning and his pupils are as small as pinholes.

Two realities, one district. According to Neukölln’s boss, the Bürgermeister and 60-year-old born-and-bred Neuköllner Heinz Buschkowsky, Wiebke’s rosy planet is far-removed from reality. Back to earth: “The situation is drastic ... Neukölln has become a receptacle for disadvantaged members of society.”

The statistics are indeed alarming. According to a study published last November, social problems are twice as prevalent in Neukölln as in Berlin as a whole. The unemployment rate is shockingly high: every fourth Neuköllner does not have work (24.8 percent compared to the 14.5 average for Berlin). Up to 40 percent of the local immigrant population is jobless. Neukölln has become the capital of Hartz IV recipients.

The study’s conclusions are harsh: “Positive trends don’t reach Neukölln.” As a matter of fact, cheap rents haven’t only drawn cool students and daring yuppies, but also poor people from across the city. And for anyone comforted by the thought that the “Neu-Cooln” trend would have a positive impact on the situation, the facts will be disillusioning. If there is some progress in one part of the Bezirk, the problems simply relocate. Northern Neukölln, for example, is turning into a social ghetto. The bleak streets around Schillerpromenade are lined with countless internet cafés, cheap tailors and one euro stores, and frequented by gangs of kids that have nowhere to go during the day.

The situation of youths like these is especially worrisome: 70 percent of Neukölln’s children come from families that live on Hartz IV or other welfare benefits and are more susceptible to sliding into drug abuse or petty crime. They’re also particularly vulnerable to a certain kind of paedophile who prey on their forlorn condition and material need: little gifts – a PlayStation perhaps? – are used to win the children’s trust. That’s why Berliner Jungs, a non-profit organization that helps sexually-abused boys, has its central counseling office in the Schillerkiez.

“No matter which kid you ask on the street here, something has happened to him,” Berliner Jungs’ Wolfgang Werner says.

Back at Wiebke’s loft, the young entrepreneur takes a deep drag from her cigarette.

“Of course, there’s a second reality in Neukölln. But you see it only if you try to look for it. I guess that’s not good.”

Many choose to ignore that reality in the happy-go-lucky side of these parallel worlds. Ramona Diedrich, 39, is standing eating a currywurst. In her arms, she is holding one-and-a-half-year-old Samira, whose father is of Arab origin. The family lives a couple of blocks away from Hermannplatz, on Mainzer Straße. Glancing over at Punky and his friends, she shrugs her shoulders.

Story continues below…

“You just try to avoid these people,” she says. “Apart from that, I love living in Neukölln. I love the people who live here. This variety, I need that!”

And this is the answer you get from almost everyone you randomly ask on the street. The new Neuköllners love the multikulti, the feeling of ‘real life’ they find on its streets, and the old established Neuköllners are happy about the hip young things because they are making the Bezirk livelier.

All in all, the perception on the ground seems absolutely at odds with the statistics.

“The different people who live here blend together into one colourful mixture,” Melanie says, drawing an on-tap beer. She works as a waitress at a restaurant that opened two years ago on Pannierstraße, just around the corner from the infamous Rütli-Schule.

Melanie lifts the tray and hurries out to the tables where a crowd of artists and students sits. The sweet smell of shisha smoke hangs in the air. On the other side of the street, a group of adolescent Turkish guys passes by. One of them points to the bar and shouts out its name: “Freies Neukölln.”

The group laughs. Then they walk on, disappearing down Sonnenallee.

Click here for more from Berlin's leading monthly magazine in English.

Exberliner (editor@exberliner.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

Eurowings cabin crew union to strike all day Thursday
Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: A union representing cabin crews on Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings has announced that strikes will last all day Thursday as ongoing contract negotiations continue to falter.

Hesse hopes to set example by building Iraqi orphanages
Refugee children in northern Iraq. Photo: DPA

The wealthy central German state of Hesse has set aside €1 million to build a school, family homes and an orphanage in northern Iraq, in an effort to help refugees there.

The Local List
10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
David Hasselhoff. Photo: DPA

Whether it be efficiency, humourlessness or a love of a certain Baywatch star, there are many cliches stuck in the heads of foreigners about Germany. But how true are they?

Fake Germanwings victim relative convicted in Cologne
A torn piece of metal at the crash site in 2015. Photo: DPA

A German court on Wednesday gave a woman a year's suspended jail sentence for posing as the cousin of a victim in last year's Germanwings plane crash and obtaining compensation offered by the airline.

Couple accused of torturing, murdering women go on trial
The so-called 'house of horrors' in Höxter where the couple allegedly tortured and killed women. Photo: DPA.

A couple accused of luring women to their village home with personal ads started trial on Wednesday over charges that they tortured and killed at least two of their victims.

After July attacks, govt drafts new video surveillance law
Photo: DPA

The Interior Ministry is drafting a law which will enable public spaces to be filmed for surveillance purposes as a reaction to deadly attacks in July, according to a newspaper report.

Merkel: murky internet giants distort perception of reality
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Tuesday for internet giants to make public their closely-guarded algorithms, claiming that they are not giving people diverse enough information.

Pegida leader 'paid court costs with group's money'
Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann. Photo: DPA.

The leader of the anti-Islam movement reportedly used money from Pegida's coffers to pay for two personal court cases, German media reported this week.

Anger as Berlin scraps Turkey concert on Armenia genocide
The Dresden Symphony Orchestra. Photo: DPA

Germany's foreign ministry Tuesday scrapped a planned symphony performance on the Armenian "genocide" in its Istanbul consulate, sparking accusations that it was caving in to Turkish pressure.

10 ways German completely messes up your English
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd