I live in Friedrichshain. And often, when I come into contact with people who live in one of the other ‘big five’ districts in Berlin and tell them that I live in Friedrichshain, the information elicits one of three responses: A mocking snigger, a pitying nod of the head, or undisguised disbelief. The sentiment behind each of these responses, however, is the same: “Why would you want to live there?”
For the sniggerers, nodders and disbelievers, the raw edge that the area may have once had in the ‘90s, as one of the districts immediately in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, has well and truly been blunted. Into the 2000s, Kreuzberg, and subsequently Neukölln, took up the baton as Berlin’s trendy centres. Mitte got slick and shiny and became fashion and tourist central, and Prenzlauer Berg calmed down and became the refuge of scenesters who’d become parents.
Friedrichshain, meanwhile, fell through the cracks. Dilapidated in a real rather than edgy sense and only gentrified to the point of Biomarkts, not third wave coffee, it earned a reputation, both in itself and compared to its neighbours, of being uncool. It was because of this prevailing sense of uncool that when I used to organise meetups with friends, I’d invariably be required to turn my back on my neighbourhood and head to meet them in their area — usually Kreuzberg or Neukölln. On the occasions that I did stay faithful to F’shain, I’d head to its limits and the after-hours clubs that lay there — unaffected by the rest of the district’s supposed anti-vogue pestilence.
And because I spent the majority of my time ‘out’ elsewhere, when friends or relatives came to visit me, eager to get to know my life here and the locality that I’d chosen to live it from, I had nowhere to take them, no exciting places to show them close by.
Finally, after one such visit, I accepted that I really didn’t know much about the area that I lived in, beyond the quickest ways to get out of it and the way to Edeka — or Kaiser’s if it was closed. So, I decided it was about time to get to know my Kiez: To cut through the scorn that poured in on it from elsewhere, and see if there was more to it than RAW Tempel (‘gritty’ and graffitied Berlin served up, self-contained, on a platter for tourists), Simon-Dach-Straße (where fun goes to die) and the disproportionately high concentration of fast-food enterprises.
And, as it turns out, there is more. Much more. In fact, I’d venture as far as saying Friedrichshain is pretty fucking cool — who’d have thunk it? What’s more, my meanderings from Landsberger Allee down to the Spree at the Oberbaumbrücke gave me a different perspective on the area.
You see (and this might require some suspension of disbelief, the sort you’d employ when reading a Shakespearean tragedy, science fiction or The Daily Mail), Friedrichshain is like — and fear not, this isn’t turning into a hippie free-for-all, it’s just a metaphor — a sort of liberal-bohemian family.
The mum and dad of this family used to be hardcore. But now they’ve mellowed and like nice cheese, craft beer, eating brunch and shopping in places that sell local stuff, produced sustainably. They are, for example, the Hops and Barley (a micro-brewery on Wülischstraße), Proviant (a deli-cum-bistro that sells amazing cured meats, cheese and carries a small selection of Berlin-produced spirits, also on Wülischstraße), and the Butterhandlung (an uncharacteristically high-grade resto on Scharnweberstraße).
Their first child has imbibed her parents’ sense of culture, and is present in the various art galleries and indie cinemas. She’s the summertime-only Freiluftkino Pompeji by Ostkreuz, the Durchsfenster Geheimkino (where, as the name suggests, you enter by climbing in through a window), the Adamski Gallery in one of the Stalinbau at Strausberger Platz, and the ever-evolving project space on Landsberger Allee 91mQ.
Child number two, meanwhile, went a different route, taking advantage of some liberal parenting methods to stay out late, drinking and becoming a disciple of electronic music. Her spirit lives in the clubs alluded to earlier in this piece (Berghain, ://about blank, Wilde Renate, etc.) and the all-night electro Kneipes such as Minimal (on Rigaer Straße) and Süß War Gestern (Wülischstraße again).
That leaves Kind nummer drei, who has rebelled against mum and dad’s open, new-agey lifestyle by becoming an introvert. She likes retro-gaming, puzzles and getting sauced in bars of a more intimate and quirky ilk. She is the Computerspielemuseum on Karl-Marx-Allee, the one-room crystal maze that is Trap on Gärtnerstraße, the incognito [f.u.c] bar on Travestraße, and chilled cocktail joint The Antlered Bunny a stone’s throw away on Traveplatz.
And then there’s Grandad, who I’ve invented to give an honourable mention to Lisa — an old school Kneipe opposite Volkspark Friedrichshain that’s cool because it’s not cool. And because you can get still a beer and a schnapps there for under €2.
Now, I could go on introducing family members and naming places, but a brother gotta be aware of his word count. I could also ponder the part that the progression of gentrification in the area has had to play in the sprouting of some of the locations I mentioned above — third wave coffee has indeed begun to rear its smug-as-fuck head. But that’s not a thread that I want to tug with this article, so let’s segue to the morals of this jumble of words and places.
The first: Love thy Kiez. Spend a little time with it, explore its contours, give it a little back rub. Chances are you’ll find something, or several somethings, more than worth your while and enrich the life you lead in your area in the process.
The second? There’s more to Berlin than Kreuzkölln. In fact, there’s more to Berlin than the five districts that we — a non-native, predominantly expat community — commonly perceive to signify the limits of the city: Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Friedrichshain, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg.
I didn’t know what Friedrichshain had to offer. To a large extent I still don’t. But I’m going to keep finding out. And then I’m going to hit Treptow, Lichtenberg, Reinickendorf or maybe even risk being bored off my tits in Charlottenburg — wherever. ‘Cos there’s bound to be some good shit in these places that’ll make it worth my while too.