Kreuzberg is regarded as one of the most diverse districts of Berlin. It has emerged from its history as one of the poorest quarters in Berlin in the late 1970s during which it was an isolated section of West Berlin, to one of Berlin’s cultural centres in the middle of today’s reunified city. Kreuzberg is often divided by locals in two distinctive parts: the ‘SO 36’ and ‘SW 61’, which roughly correlates with the old postal codes for the two areas in West Berlin.
Compared to other districts in Berlin, Kreuzberg has quite a short history. Kreuzberg was considered as a rural area until the 19th century. After the 1860s, growing industrialization changed Berlin. This called for extensive housing, much of which was built exploiting the needs of the poor.
Many houses were built in Kreuzberg and as a result, its population increased. Profitable small businesses emerged, turning it into the heart of Berlin’s industry. During the Second World War industrial quarters were heavily damaged.
The end of the Second World War necessitated the influx of guest workers, who helped filled the void in Berlin’s work force. After an agreement signed in 1961 with Turkey, Turks became the largest percentage of guest workers in Germany and their presence is still felt today on the famous weekly market on Maybachufer for example.
Immigrants were attracted to the area by its cheap rents, as the state controlled rents and investors therefore stayed away. In the late 1960, more and more Turkish immigrants, artists and students began moving to Kreuzberg. A part of Kreuzberg therefore later on earned the nickname “Little Istanbul”.
Kreuzberg also has a strong connection with counterculture. It was enclosed by the Berlin Wall on three sides. This turned the district into even more of an enclave. Those who were able to move further west were quick to do so – leaving more room for others, dropouts and idealists of all kinds.
It became the home to the Berlin’s punk rock movement as well as other alternative subcultures and was long the epicentre of Gay life and arts in Berlin. Especially the SO 36 (South East) part of Kreuzberg became known for its ‘counterculture’. The neighbourhood was filled with draft dodgers, artists, poets, pop stars and students.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kreuzberg suddenly found itself again in the middle of the city. The initially cheap rents and high degree of 19th century housing made some parts of the district more attractive for a much wider and wealthier variety of people.
As Berlin continues to evolve at a rapid pace – becoming a larger center for tourists who flock to the city in part to see this counterculture – Kreuzberg can be seen as a microcosm of gentrification. A district struggling to hold on to its early principles and identity.