Ostkreuz, Collage © Björn Paulissen


The laboratory of lifestyles; or, the differences of equality

by Julia Cornelius / translation by Max Bach

Stepping out of the Ringbahn at Ostkreuz, a terrific view opens up onto a labyrinth of dimly-lit stairways, old roofs, crumbling train platforms and pedestrian bridges. In the middle of it all workers, tourists, students and bohemian-hedonists stream past fast-food stands filled with lively activity and kiosks in the shadow of a timeworn water tower; vacant lots grow around the tracks and high-rises stick up in the distance.

Ostkreuz was and is East Berlin's main connecting station for commuter train traffic (a giant construction site for a new major intersection will characterize the acoustics of the quarter for years to come). Here at this station, exuding a sort of morbid charm yet full of life, the allure of Friedrichshain, the old industrial workers' neighborhood, is made palpable.

Yet this Friedrichshain is an ambivalent place: Uniform and incoherent, attractive and unsightly, bohemian and ordinary. A transitory neighborhood, with surges of people coming and going. According to statistics, the people who move into Friedrichshain, like those who have stayed, are predominantly young, German, and vote red or green. Together with the inhabitants of their sister district Kreuzberg, they battle against the massive urban development project Mediaspree, gentrification and cultural conflicts. Different lifestyles without migration backgrounds meet in Friedrichshain, sometimes pushing each other around, other times relaxed, tolerant, enriching.

Particularly at Boxhagener Platz, whether Saturday morning at the vegetable market or Sundays at the afternoon flea market, the neighborhood between Ostkreuz and Warschauer Straße seems like a gem that could just avoid "Prenzlauerberg-ification." The cafes, bars and clubs are still within one's means, there are squats and alternative living projects like Lasterburg and Hängerburg on the corner of Modersohnstraße and Revalerstraße, subculture alongside mass processing. Between young designers' stores and hip haircutters, long-established shops have still managed to survive. Chubby-cheeked tots dressed like their parents play in the sandbox and inactive fountain as their guardians sip coffee while keeping an eye on them, and a few steps away a group of punks crack open their first midday beers. This mostly peaceful coexistence makes the area around Ostkreuz so interesting.

Not far from the former Stalinallee with its neo-classical majestic buildings at Frankfurter Tor and the connecting pre-fab apartments of late GDR times, the neighborhood is characterized by nineteenth-century buildings that are already renovated or still under the dust of time. The variegated occupants, from alternative to totally normal, are reflected in the shops on the residential streets. Here many small galleries, bodegas, kindergartens, small production firms and young designers' shops line up next to electronic stores, cleaners, and flower shops. And astrological gemstones, Goth accessories or 1940s Hawaiian shirts for the true Rockabilly are for sale in specialty shops.

Nonobjective observation gives the impression that in no other place in Berlin is so much diversity concealed behind such statistical sameness. The beginning of the process of gentrification threatens to bleach out this multicolored urban fabric. Nonetheless, the hope persists, in watching the goings-on of the quarter's residents, that this piece of Berlin will preserve its unorthodox core.

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