Culture in the “Ghetto”
by Gernot Schaulinski / translation by Rachel Marks
Pulling into Wedding's S-Bahn station, the Ring practically mutates into a high-speed rail. Glass, steel, concrete: this station holds its own among the best of the Intercity-Express's railway station. Its architectural appearance finds its counterpart in a pharmaceutical corporation's neighboring buildings; it almost seems as though the train station were the international company's gate to the world. But indeed a tour of the globe's continents begins on the street. With its many immigrants, one could call this part of the city the Kreuzberg of the North. The vernacular switches between the Berliner's "Icke" and the accented "Isch." Wedding is colorful, straightforward, and price-conscious. Here the Döner skewers bear their meat with pride; the ubiquity of jogging suits suggests a never-ending game day; judging by the sheer volume, telecafe conversations may very well be held directly with the far corners of the earth.
Despite its diversity and bustle, Wedding is considered a problem district – indeed keeping in line with its history. Founded at the behest of nobleman Rudolphus de Weddinge in 1200, the town has preserved its blue blood today only in name. The earliest charters mention the young Wedding as an abandoned settlement. After the city deed changed hands from the Spandau cloister to the city of Berlin in 1588, the estate pulled itself back together, though farming quickly retook the land thereafter. Only at the end of the eighteenth century, under Friedrich the Great, did the site develop and found its own colony. One hundred years later, Wedding had become a blue-collar district, famous and infamous for its tenements. In the four decades after 1870, the population increased 15 fold.
At this time the district might as well have had a question mark in its coat of arms, as the social dilemma here was here particularly pressing. Socialists and Communists offered answers and shaped the political culture. Wedding became a Communist stronghold. Here the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) achieved its highest election results, and conflicts with the state were inevitable. On May 1, 1929 knee-high barricades set up on Kösliner Straße provoked the police to excessive violence, resulting in eleven deaths and the name "Bloody May." "Red Wedding, greets you comrades, be ready with your fists!" – with their battle song, Hanns Eisler and Erich Weinert created an evergreen of German music history. The piece was played again and again at political events and demonstrations. The Nazis rewrote the text, and in the GDR the song remained a huge hit.
Today the traditional worker's neighborhood houses but only a few workers: 40 percent there rely on welfare. The high percentage of immigrants, the poverty, and a not very flattering crime rate have tarnished the district with the reputation of a "ghetto." A stone's throw from the Ringbahn, a theater brings exactly this clichee to the stage in their incredibly successful soap opera Good Wedding, Bad Wedding. The plots of the numerous episodes make one thing clear: politicians on a populist hunt for "the German Bronx" should look further. Wedding is poor, un-sexy, and raw– but it's no catastrophe. On the contrary, many young artists and creative types have here found a space to develop, a freedom long since priced out of other areas. Ateliers, galleries, cultural clubs, and readings invite exchange; bars and cafes bring together enthusiasts of every shade and color. An exciting quarter with a longer way to go between pockets of culture. The Wedding isn't the next Prenzlauer Berg, but instead it preserves the optimistic upheaval and joy of experimentation the other has lost, the atmosphere that shapes the world's image of Berlin.