From Berlin’s “problem district” to more expensive than spießig Charlottenburg: Kreuzberg’s made quite the transformation over the decades, but migration continues to shape its identity and reputation as a district.
The bulk of Kreuzberg’s diversity stems from the ’50s and ’60s, when guest workers were recruited by West Germany to fill labor shortages after World War II*. Kreuzberg’s dilapidated housing became home to guest workers, primarily from Turkey. The district soon came to be known as “Little Istanbul”. In 2014 you would still be hard pressed to find a block without a Döner Kebab stand or five, but the district’s diversity extends far past Anatolia.
Along with districts like Neukölln and Wedding, Kreuzberg is renowned for its immigrant integration challenges that include low educational attainment and poor German language skills, high unemployment rates, crime and drug abuse, and gentrification. At the same time, the area has become increasingly attractive to students, hip expats, and young families. The result is a veritable array of nationalities, cuisines, houses of worship, and attires, as vivid as the graffiti gracing the walls of its gray housing and slender canals.
There are many popular spots in Kreuzberg, but the Maybachufer canal is perhaps one that most poignantly displays the cultural fusion that makes Kreuzberg a very special place to call home.
An Ode to the Maybachufer
If I go away, I’ll remember the swans. And the walls of graffiti they floated along.
Rows of satellite dishes, speckled across gray concrete. Lingerers outside Kaiser’s, empty bottles at their feet.
Men huddled over pear-shaped glasses of Çay. Girls in tiny shorts and tights, snags in their thighs.
A market with only two rows, but infinite choice. Vendors calling “lecka! lecka!”, hints of somewhere else in their voice.
Hair smothered by scarves or impossibly fake dye. Individuals by words: “expat”, “immigrant”. You or I.
Where “German” ends and “other” begins, we futilely try to decide.
But the swans. They just keep floating by.
– By Sophia Burton
The Maybachufer Turkish Market (U1-Kottbusser Tor or U8-Schoenleinstrasse) runs on Tuesdays and Fridays from approximately 12pm-6pm. Go for the cheap produce and spinach-cheese Gözleme.
* West Germany recruited 14 million guest workers between 1955 and 1973 during the post World War II “economic miracle”
For more on Turks in Germany and guest worker programs:
For more on Kreuzberg: