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Kreuzberg: The Melting Pot in the Heart of Berlin

On average, 14,837 people per square kilometer, or a total of 154,010, live in Kreuzberg, the most artsy borough in Berlin. Artists from all over the globe, students, party people, startup and restaurant owners and other Berliners who live and work here love this place.

Kreuzberg, which officially is part of the double-borough Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, offers it all, an exotic mix which does deserve the ‘melting pot’ label. Turkish vegetable and furniture stores, alternative restaurants, authentic cuisine from everywhere in the world and the most inventive shops: It is all here.

Ilse Böger is a shop owner who appreciates the alternative lifestyles people lead in Kreuzberg, as well as alternative kinds of businesses they run in this hip Berlin borough. Böger owns an unconventional store herself. In 1997 she founded ‘Kadó’, the first shop in Germany dedicated to licorice exclusively. Where did she establish it? In the funky Graefe Kiez neighborhood, which is one of the nicest parts of Kreuzberg.

Food is what you want? No problem. Not in Kreuzberg. Not at ‘Markhalle Neun’. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

“We import licorice from all of Europe, from Iceland to Sicily”, she says. It all started when Ilse Böger noticed the choice of licorice offered in Berlin was rather modest. She started importing it from the Netherlands by going to Amsterdam by car. At Berlin street markets, she sold a lot of it. Soon she decided to go one step further. The rest is history. ‘Kadó’ has been successful ever since.

Out of the more than 13 million tourists from all parts of Germany and abroad who show up in Berlin every year, many visit Kreuzberg. They appreciate interesting shops such as ‘Kadó’ or the dusty antiquarian bookshop in the same neighborhood, which is being run by a long-haired guy with a Swiss accent who makes one thing crystal clear: “I don’t want to be photographed”. Neither does he want free publicity for his little shop.

Especially in spring and summer, both tourists and Kreuzbergers love taking walks along Landwehr Canal, which connects the river Spree to itself. In front of the ‘Am Urban‘ clinic, there used to be two stationary restaurant ships. The Turkish one got destroyed in a fire some years ago. The other one is ‘Van Loon’.

These seagulls wanted bread crumbs. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

On this ship, Karsten Sahner and his colleagues offer smoked salmon, more delicious fish dishes and meals of other kinds. During the winter, guests sit down in a cozy setting inside the ship, in summer they sit on the deck, where it is easy to feel like the king of the world.

For 30 years, Sahner has been at this Kreuzberg location where he is “very happy”. The likable guy in his late forties remembers his restaurant ship was already there when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. “That day, we crossed into the East at Moritzstrasse.”

Also he loves talking about the two smaller ships he runs, the ‘Philippa’ and the ‘Josephine’. During the warm season, guests can eat freshly made food on those vessels while taking rides along the Spree and the canal. “Hey, whenever it is about water, contact me.”

Digesting all the food is easy at Viktoria Park. Just walk up that hill fifty times in a row. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Kreuzberg is a culinary paradise in many ways. Turkish doner kebap is all over the place. Some of the best doner ever is being offered at ‘Hasir’, in the heart of Kreuzberg, but there are small fast food doner places at almost every corner.

Bergmannstrasse, another Kreuzberg hot spot, and the neighborhood around it, are full of excellent restaurants with affordable dishes. They include Thai and Vietnamese places, ‘Aki Tatsu’, a Sushi place in which ‘happy hour’ never ends, and two Latino restaurants which call themselves Mexican, ‘Que Pasa’ and ‘Lupita’.

But the most authentic Mexican place in all of Berlin is located elsewhere in Kreuzberg. In Skalitzer Strasse, ‘Ta’ Cabrón’ offers all the tacos, quesadillas and frijoles lovers of that cuisine need. Zuc-hi Garcia La Madrid, who is actually a lawyer, deals with the breakfast on weekends. “Our ingredients come directly from Mexico”, he says.

On special occasions they even sell tamales. Many members of the rather large Mexican community in Berlin, a total of 3,000 paisanos, believe ‘Ta’Cabrón’ is the place to go. ¡Claro que si!

Markthalle Neun, an old indoor market, is yet another tourist magnet. Just around the corner from ‘Ta’Cabrón’, it offers countless stands with international food. This week, the place was invaded by Austrian wine growers, for one of their specials.

But is Kreuzberg all about eating and drinking? Yes. Well, no. There is a lot to see too, for instance Oberbaum Bridge, yet another great spot, crosses the Spree river. In the late 19th century, two bridges were supposed to be constructed in the area, a regular one and a train bridge. But in 1894, the construction for a combined bridge started. The outcome is this picturesque bridge with nice arches.

Oberbaum Bridge might be the most photographed object in Kreuzberg, and maybe even in Berlin. While homeless Berliners, who sleep under the bridge’s arches, wake up in their sleeping bags and grab their breakfast beer bottles, the first professional photographers, with their huge Nikkor lenses, are already there. So are countless selfie-shooters.

Graffiti is all over the walls of Kreuzberg. Little galleries can be found too, in between alternative clothing stores, but also gambling halls and smelly fast food places. If the expression ‘street life’ had to be allocated to any borough in any city on this planet, it would have to be Kreuzberg.

Jewish life is thriving too. At Café Mugrabi at Görlitzer Strasse, owned by a kind Israeli guy, hipsters and regular visitors have delicious food and good drinks in a friendly atmosphere. In spite of the rise of antisemitism in Germany and other parts of Europe, many young Israelis still live in Berlin, lots of them in Kreuzberg.

Not so far from the ‘Van Loon’ restaurant ship, right at the canal, the Fraenkelufer Synagogue is operational. But since the main building was badly damaged by the Nazis in 1938 and during the Allies’ raids on Berlin in 1945, it had to be removed in the 1950-s.

Now, some 60 years later, a large initiative involving politicians from left to right intends to have the synagogue rebuilt. At this stage, the small congregation there is using the original synagogue’s outbuilding. Police officers are watching that place 24 hours per day, and they know why guarding it is absolutely necessary.

In two of Kreuzberg’s nice parks, Hasenheide and Görlitzer Park, families with kids of all nationalities share the good air with African and Arab drug dealers, many of them. While most Africans greet passers-by in a friendly way, even those who do not want to buy their illegal drugs, the Arab dealers snap at everyone they hate. “Get lost, c*nt”, they would tell elderly ladies who just want to enjoy the park on a nice day.

Once in a while, dozens of police officers raid the park from all directions, in several vehicles. They usually catch a few drug dealers, but have to let them go since the evidence is either not good enough or there is none. The same dealers usually return to the same park a day later. Apart from drugs, Hasenheide Park also offers the nicest playground ever.

Pat Appleton, a Liberian-German vocalist, has been living in Kreuzberg since 2003. “Kreuzberg is impolite and naughty, just like me”, the lead singer of the hip German Techno Jazz group DePhazz says. She has a favorite spot in this borough. It is Viktoria Park, located in the south-western corner of Kreuzberg.

Whoever wants to enjoy the stunning Viktoria Park view of Berlin, needs to walk up a small hill, one of the few in Berlin. Up here, at the monument, almost the entire city can be seen. Besides, this is a very romantic spot.

Kreuzberg has it all, including big problems. Rents are just not affordable anymore, even for members of the large middle class. But the borough does accommodate the Modern Art Museum, the Jewish Museum and the excellent Technology Museum.

Yes, Kreuzberg has it all. And it is far more than just a Berlin borough. Kreuzberg is a feeling, an attitude, a lifestyle. And it is still hipper than hip, as it was in the late 1960s, when this former Western borough housed ‘Kommune 1’, the first commune ever.

This was the place where flower power, free love and a scandalous lifestyle, from the perspective of narrow-minded, prudish Germans at the time, originated. The student revolution had one of its strongholds in Kreuzberg. So did the squatter scene.

But the revolutionaries from back then have become grey and old. Today they own expensive apartments in the Graefe Kiez. Many have become centrists or liberals, but they are still here, where it all began. Kreuzberg. The place to be. For those who can afford it.