Nice day for a white Wedding: Berlin’s ugliest but most charming suburb
“Wo ick wohne? Wie alle feine Leite, Berlin W. hinten mit en ‚Ding‘! –?? – Na Mensch, vastehste nich, Berlin Wedding!“ – Hans Ostwald, Der Urberliner
“4€, bitte” the man said chirpily. “Entschuldigung, nochmal ? ” I asked, incredulous about the price. “Ja, 4€” he repeated.
I handed over the coins, wondering in the process how this lovely, cheerful man and his family could possibly make a living. This was the asking price for a yummy, doughy lump of spinach-filled goodness and a big cup of Turkish tea at a gözleme café in a little known corner of Berlin.
A few weekends ago, desperate to escape the tourist trap that my street has become, (Dutch retirees, Barcelona art students, Americans who shop at the Kollwitzmarkt Saturday markets) I had the urge to go where no tourist goes: Wedding.
When I first moved to Berlin and met people living in Mitte, Prenzlauerberg and Kreuzberg, they told me that everything I need to see, know and do about Berlin is contained within the radius formed by their three suburbs. I came to realise very quickly how wrong that was.
I first came across Wedding when I took a German language course at the Volkshochschule Mitte last Spring. I intentionally ticked the box for the Wedding campus (although technically, Wedding and Mitte have now fused together into one Council agglomeration as part of a cost-cutting exercise a few years ago by the city’s Senat).
Two times a week, I would ride my bike to class jetting past Tetris-like residential buildings and unkempt public spaces. I’d constantly have to break on my bike, for the infinite number of many people, old and young, who seemed to be limping about on some kind of walking frame or wheel chair. The thing that struck me the most about this place though was its unmistakable multi kulti factor, which reminded me of many suburbs in my home town of Sydney. Afro hair dressers next to a Turkish nut shop and coffee roastery, opposite an Italian espresso bar squeezed haphazardly adjacent a typical German corner Kneipe (pub).
I hadn’t been back to Wedding since my class. This visit, I wanted to see the World War Two era Flak tower which was supposed to be somewhere in the area.
The Flak towers were large, above-ground, concrete bunkers built in the cities of Berlin, Hamburg , and Vienna from 1940 onwards. They were used by the German Luftwaffe to defend against Allied air raids on these cities during World War II. They also served as air-raid shelters for tens of thousands of people and to coordinate air defence.
I walked across the road from the Gesundbrunnen S-Bahn station to Humboldthain park, passed an army of mothers walking their babies in prams, young kids kicking a soccer ball around and a group of old Croatian men playing bocce. I eventually came upon the remains of Flaktower III. It is possible to walk up to the top of it and in the warmer months, take a tour of the Flak tower’s underground. I didn’t know what to expect – it is rather decrepit and has morphed into an outdoor canvas for all sorts of amateur graffiti and political messaging. There was mostly locals and a few photography enthusiasts out and about on this crisp, sunny Saturday afternoon.
Flaktower in Humboldthain park
There is a local saying which goes “Habt Spass, wenn ihr in den Wedding geht.” Have fun, if you are going to the Wedding. No one really knows why the locals refer to the suburb as ‘der Wedding’ (The Wedding) and the fact that non-residents don’t realise they are supposed to use the definite article is an interesting social and linguistic oddity. Unlike its English meaning, symbolic of joy, happiness, togetherness and eternity, unfortunately there is no linguistic correlation in German. It is just the name of place and is one of the few place names with an article (in the Berliner dialect one would say “Er wohnt uff’m Wedding“ oder „am Wedding“- “He lives on the Wedding or at the Wedding”)
Wedding’s colourful mix of people and its bustling streets seem to be in contrast to its trendier neighbour Prenzlauer Berg, which lies in the former East Berlin. There is something about its concrete blocks and grey streets which gives me the feeling that I would not want to find myself here after dark – which is a rarity in Berlin.
While decades of war, isolation and gentrification have shaped the demographics and architecture of many other neighbouring suburbs, Wedding is an exception. Social change has been slow here – it was one of the poorest suburbs in the 19th century, reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ London with infant mortality, unemployment and tuberculosis rife.
Abandoned building, once part of the beer brewing teaching and research department of the Technische Universität
It is one of the Berlin districts which has arguably changed the least in the last one hundred years. While the artists and activists were progressively driven out of Prenzlauer Berg in the late 1990s by wealthy southern Germans setting up art galleries, advertising executives from Hamburg and Scandinavian real estate investors, Wedding has not got a large slice of this prettying-up pie. Ongoing poverty, high unemployment rates and with many of its residents on some form of social welfare, has meant that Wedding still has its “lefty” political affiliations. Many of the city’s most outspoken soap box commentators (and CDU critics) can be found here.
After 1945 until German reunification, Wedding ended up in West Berlin, as part of the French occupation zone of Berlin. Since the post-war German “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic miracle), the area was a magnet for Turkish and former Yugoslavian Gastarbeiter (guest workers), many of whom continue to live in the apartments given to them by the German state and who decided to settle in Berlin. Then in the 80s came the wave of Africans and other migrant groups from the Middle East, fleeing persecution in their home countries and seeking better opportunities. The 90s saw a wave of economic migrants from the former USSR and other ex-Communist countries in the Caucasus.
At a Turkish market
There are, however, quite a few hidden gems as I discovered. The suburb boasts one of the most un-marketed UNESCO world heritage sites in the world: Schillerpark. Designed by Bruno Taut in the late 1920s, it is as exemplary a piece of Modernist urban design as you are likely to see anywhere. There is also the former Luisenbad, said to be the source of the suburb’s natural spring and which is now a public library.
Schiller memorial at Schillerpark
While it is not one of the prettiest suburbs in this city by any means, what it lacks in beauty, it surely makes up for in the charm and authenticity of its people.
Photos from judith74 .
‘Nächste Ausfahrt Wedding’ offers guided walking tours (in German) with locals and includes visits to the African shops, Turkish hairdressers and gives an insight into many hidden parts of the suburb
Humboldthain Park and Flaktower III (S-Bahn and U-Bahn Gesundbrunnen)
Gesundbrunnen Mall (S-Bahn and U-Bahn Gesundbrunnen)
Turkish, African and other shops on Mullerstr. and Seestr.
Eat: Sirin Gözleme opposite S-Bahn Wedding (12 Müllerstr., Wedding)