Tuesday, January 15, 2008


There it is, my new neighborhood, the Gleimkiez in Prenzlauer Berg. As you can see, it sticks out into nothing, a place where the Wall once ran. In fact, it was within the "security zone" of the Wall, and, had it not been made up of a solid mass of inhabitable apartment buildings, it would have been demolished for that reason. Instead, the DDR, not wishing to incur the ire of its citizens, allowed it to stand, but erected a checkpoint on the periphery which required a special one-time pass for visitors' entry. The residents were restricted to those citizens of the DDR authorized to carry weapons, in case the "fascists" came swarming over the Wall: Stasi, army, police. Merchants working there -- bakers, butchers, etc. -- had special passes. I learned all of this from a historical marker the Wall Documentation Center has up at the top of Mauerpark.

In the photo, you can see the lights of the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn Sportpark, a huge complex which includes a soccer stadium and the Max-Schmelling-Halle, where Bob Dylan played last year. You can also make out the Fehrnsehturm in Alexanderplatz. One thing that surprised me is how close much of the city is via public transportation from here, be it Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstr., or even Westend. The Schönhauser Allee stop has the Ringbahn, which is awfully fast (I made it back from Ikea, way down south, in less than 30 minutes) and the S1, the central north-south line, as well as the U2, which goes all over the place, and the M1 tram, which gets you to Hackescher Markt in about 15 minutes. It's also got a huge shopping mall with a decent supermarket. Another huge mall, at Gesundbrunnen, is a ten-minute walk from the bridge you see in the picture.

The actual neighborhood itself is refreshingly underdeveloped, although I don't guess that'll last for long. Still, there is a flavor of the Old East here:

This won't last long, I'm afraid. Walking down Gleimstr. with BiB the other night, he confirmed that this is, as I'd been told, a concentration of gay bars, and we all know that's a harbinger of gentrification. Another sign is the presence of The Bird, the reigning monarch of the absolutely authentic American hamburger in Berlin. Another star attraction is Omoni, a Japanese-Korean restaurant with a superb sushi chef and mind-blowing Korean dishes. (Both of these will be written about soonish in Hungry In Berlin, which moving has kept me absent from of late). A few designers' shops have begun to sprout up, and even (gasp!) a couple of art galleries.

As with the rest of Prenzlauer Berg, young people pushing baby-carriages dominate the streets during the day. I'm reliably informed that both Neukölln and Wedding have higher birth-rates than Prenzlauer Berg, which was trumpeted as the "fertility capital of Europe" at one point not long ago, but the population here is predominantly young, and I really feel like a geezer, since I'm an obvious expat and yet I'm not 30 years old like the other ones are.

But I like the neighborhood, and I'm settling in somewhat, although I remain conflicted about how much work I want to (or can afford to) put into this apartment if I'm not going to be here too long. The best solution seems to be to take it all a day at a time, doing some unpacking chores every day, working every day, and figuring out what's what as I roam the streets.

Being a churl and an oaf, I neglected to thank the folks who helped me in the move, and so I do so now. First, the amazing Studentix moving team, whom I recommend to one and all. After that, the dynamic duo of Natalie and Connie, whose superhero comic will soon be on the stands, edited by Marie. Other notable assistance came from Ben and Yuhang, construction consultants extraordinaire, Mike and lady B, the dancer for on-the-phone impersonation ("nobody can tell I'm not a man on the telephone") which brought Deutsche Telekom to its knees and got the installer out on a Saturday -- incredible! -- and arranged for the heating-repair guy, Lou, for imperiling his respiratory system while packing books, John for standing guard, and a special pre-thanks to Kean for the trip we'll no doubt make soon to get a living room rug.

Some of these people were rewarded with beer 'n' burgers at the Bird, a couple with Korean stuff at Omoni, and all will receive certificates as Knights of the Couch -- people entitled to stay at my place -- once I reach Montpellier.

Which, I swear, someday, I will.


Marie Javins said...

I hope Natalie and Connie like spandex!

Karl-Marx-Straße said...

The area is clearly growing on you... but the gay bars - some of them have been there since the 1970s (or older), and while a load more must have opened since the wall came down, I haven't noticed any great increase in their number in the last 8 years or so (I used to live not far from that part of town). I suspect the queers with money are still in Schoeneberg, and are staying put.

Bowleserised said...

I think all I did was eat burger, but you're very welcome!

Anonymous said...

I think the image of Prenzlauer Berg being fecund comes from the concentration of young parents and children visible in the "classic" Altbau areas which are now desirable places to live. Prenzlauer Berg also has its fair share of interwar housing complexes and Plattenbauten where I always have the impression the tenants are the same old geezers who've been living there for the past 20 or 30 years, which would bring down the average birth rate quite a lot. Also, I'm sure the ethnic structure of Wedding and Neukölln is more likely to result in larger family units.

By the way, the reason why your Treppenhaus has that odd arrangement of flats every half-set of stairs is probably that the area is on quite a slope (for Berlin that is), so the Hinterhaus is half-a-storey out of sync with the rest of the building.


You have a extremely interesting blog.

Arabella said...

A geezer? All you need is a stylish scarf....or perhaps a Homburg.

Katchita said...

After 5 weeks of tenous Email contact, I'm at a friend's house with Broadband. Back to Berlin Feb 1st & I want to see your new place, but most of all, I want MEAT MEAT MEAT. I doubt I've eaten meat more than once in every 10 meals or so here. So I'm up for having my first American hamburger in who knows how many years. Mad cow, here I come.