BERLIN, Germany — Kottbusser Tor is one of the centers of Berlin’s Turkish population. Despite being maligned in some sections of the German press as an area of high drug use, where residents — often immigrants — fail to assimilate into larger Germany, the bright white of its modernist design, punctuated by yellow balconies and a multitude of satellite dishes, speaks to a population of residents looking for a brighter future while still maintaining connection to wherever else in the world they come from.
Spend any amount of time around Kottbusser Tor and wider Kreuzberg, and you’ll begin to realize that Kreuzberg is no longer the home of junkies, punks and newly-arrived immigrants. Young professionals have moved in, and corner tea houses are being replaced by trendy, third-wave coffee shops. The older pubs and bars are in some cases giving way to hipster establishments that locals derisively call loungeroom bars.
Change in Kreuzberg is symptomatic of wider conflicts occurring in the suburbs and across Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the cheap rents and empty spaces of a recently reunited Berlin allowed for artists and young people to move into the city throughout the 1990s. Berlin became the capital of cool — poor but
sexy — and the city became an attractive destination for those who wanted to assume some of its cultural cachet. But as Berlin further develops into a center of European power, those who created its image are being forced out, further and further away from the city center.
Conflict points have developed around the issue of gentrification as rising rents displace established residents, changing the character of the city. One current point of contention is Berlin’s bid to host the Olympics in 2024
. Advertisements on subway stations and tram lines declare that “Wir wollen die Spiele” — we want the games — while hastily-placed posters on the sides of apartment blocks say the opposite, calling for resistance to the Olympics in Berlin.
Near Kottbusser Tor and hidden away from view on Adalbertstraße is the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum. Its glass staircase, filled with quotes from local residents and pictures of them smiling, is an alternative to the monumental museums of Museumsinsel in the middle of Berlin.
Instead of presenting works of art pilfered during
colonization, the museum features stories about the history of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, two districts of Berlin which are undergoing rapid change. Above a small bookshop and a printing press, a room chronicles the growth of these areas, inviting visitors to experience them through the world and words of its residents.
Another floor up and an exhibition charts the history of significant places within the district, from parks to hospitals, that have all experienced varied lives.
Finally, on the fourth floor, visitors can walk over a map of the area, traversing over numbered dots that correspond to audio tracks available on handed out iPods. Here, moments of conflict, joy and numerous memories play out for listeners.
The neighborhood museum has always had a role to play in the development of districts. In contrast to the mega museums which pull tourists in to many metropolises, the neighborhood museum sits demurely behind the scenes, waiting to be discovered by both inhabitants and visitors.
In an age of rapid gentrification, in which cities across the world struggle to provide for their residents as they draw in international capital, such a neighborhood museum is an important site that gives a sense of the district and maybe its future, beyond glossy real estate brochures seeking to paper over real diversity and provide a blank slate for investment.
Connor Pearce is editor-at-large. Email him at email@example.com.