Welcome back to the sixth part of this article series, where I’ll be taking you on a virtual tour of Berlin’s 12 Bezirke and introducing you to each district’s history, reputation and attractions.
Today’s article will take us to the dynamic and vibrant district of Neukölln. Lauded as an up-and-coming Kiez that embraces both the old and the new, many people like to describe Neukölln as a district of contrasts. But the area has its fair share of problems too…
Neukölln. Photo: Hans Benn via Pixabay
The history of Neukölln is almost as extensive as the history of Berlin itself, first being mentioned in 1360. Its architecture harks back to the Gründerzeit – a period of rapid industrialisation and unprecedented economic growth in 19th-century Germany and Austria.
Neukölln remained an independent borough until its incorporation into the city of Berlin on 1st October 1920. It was formally part of the American sector of West Berlin from 1945 to 1990 and attracted a large immigrant population, clearly displayed through the district’s embrace of all things ‘multikulti’ today.
One of the more interesting architectural elements of Neukölln is Gropiusstadt. This ‘city-within-a-city’ housing estate was constructed between 1966 and 1975 by Bauhaus founder and architect Walter Gropius.
Designed and erected in a modernist style, the estate has since gained a reputation for being a ‘brutal, rough and hopeless ghetto.’ Christiane F., a German actress and writer, documents her experience of living in Gropiusstadt as a drug addict in her autobiographical work Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo.
Today, Neukölln has a population of approximately 330,000 people and is subdivided into 5 localities: Britz, Buckow, Rudow, Gropiusstadt and Neukölln (yes, one of the subdivisions of Neukölln is confusingly called Neukölln).
Neukölln is renowned for its eclectic mix of old and new, busy and quiet, rich and poor. Not only does the Bezirk have the highest percentage of immigrants in Berlin (about 40% of its population was of non-German origin in 2010), but it also has the highest levels of unemployment. As of November 2021, 24,709 people are unemployed in the area, 11,675 of whom are so-called Langzeitarbeitslose (residents who have been unemployed for one year or longer).
In recent years, however, more students and creative types have flocked to the district to take advantage of its relatively cheaper housing prices. Gentrification is now in full-swing; rent is increasing and locals who can’t afford it are being pushed out of the borough to the outskirts of the city.
The Bezirk has been completely transformed over the years. Bars, cafés and vintage shops are popping up on every corner. Art galleries, creative spaces and arthouse cinemas are filling Neukölln’s empty spaces, and the area has become so culturally and linguistically diverse that many tourists feel like they have been transported to a different part of the world when they visit. Northern Neukölln, just south to the district of Kreuzberg, has become so fashionable that it is informally referred to as ‘Kreuzkölln’.
Since September 2021, the electoral constituency of Berlin Neukölln has been represented by the SPD’s Hakan Demir. The Greens and the CDU also do well in this area.
To hear more about what the residents of Neukölln think about their own district, watch this video:
Things to do
Due to its reputation as a district of contrasts, you’ll never run out of things to do in Neukölln and there is definitely something for everyone.
Rixdorf is more like a village than a subdivision of a capital city. This is one of the most historical areas of Berlin, around which the district of Neukölln grew, with the famous Richardplatz at the centre. The buildings function like a time machine and give you a good idea of what the area used to look like when it was founded in the mid-18th century.
Whilst Schloss Britz and the Gutspark are not too far from Rixdorf geographically, they offer a significant change of scenery. The palace used to be a manor house and now contains an exhibition on how people lived in the Gründerzeit. With its meandering paths, exotic plants and endless rows of lime trees, Gutspark is a lush, green oasis hidden within the urban jungle.
Rixdorf and Schloss Britz are both a testament to the sheer amount of diversity in Berlin. From small villages to grand palaces, Berlin feels more like an amalgamation of many smaller cities as opposed to one city with an easily identifiable centre.
The Landwehrkanal connects the upper part of the Spree at the Osthafen (Eastern Harbour) in Friedrichshain with its lower part in Charlottenburg, flowing through Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Tiergarten. It’s worth venturing out of Neukölln, following the path along the canal and just seeing what you come across.
In the Tiergarten section of the canal, for example, you’ll find a memorial for Rosa Luxemburg, positioned where her body was thrown into the water on 15 January 1919 in the wake of the Spartacist Uprising.
And that was your brief introduction to the district of Neukölln! Our next stop will be Pankow…