Kreuzberg

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de:Berlin-Kreuzberg

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Kreuzberg

Kreuzberg is possibly the most well-known of the boroughs (Bezirke) of Berlin.

Located south of Berlin-Mitte, it was a separate political entity until the administrative reform of January 1, 2001, when it was combined with Friedrichshain to form the new borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Since these two boroughs are linked only by a single bridge over the Spree river, the Oberbaumbrücke, this combination seemed awkward to many residents. The two boroughs also could not agree on a common location for the future borough's city hall, so the present location in Friedrichshain was decided by throwing a five-Mark coin.

Overview

May Day graffiti in Kreuzberg. The text reads, "May 1st: Cars burn, bulls die". "Bullen" is a derogatory German term for the police approximately equivalent to "pigs" in English.
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May Day graffiti in Kreuzberg. The text reads, "May 1st: Cars burn, bulls die". "Bullen" is a derogatory German term for the police approximately equivalent to "pigs" in English.

People who have heard of Kreuzberg probably think of two things: Turkish immigrants, and the yearly May 1 riots. Both stereotypes are somewhat valid (although the borough has more to offer than that) and result from the fact that before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kreuzberg was in a somewhat isolated position with its eastern parts almost entirely surrounded by the Wall. This less-than-attractive residential area consequently had cheap rents.

In fact, Kreuzberg is sometimes called the largest Turkish city outside of Turkey. In 1999, of its 146,884 inhabitants, 49,010 did not have German citizenship (of which the large majority was Turkish). Especially in the eastern part of the borough, the streets have a distinct, almost oriental flair. Still today, streets like the Oranienstraße are full of restaurants and bars, offering food from many places of the world.

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Kottbusser Tor (Metro train station)

Kreuzberg's other distinctive trait is its alternative culture, which mostly originated in the 1980s. The traditional yearly May 1 demonstrations turned into violent riots in 1987, which, for reasons not entirely clear, continue every year until today. Many attempts have been made in recent years to prevent the demonstrations from turning violent, but neither police tacticts of de-escalation nor a "hard hand" policy have been successful at stopping looting, burning of cars, and smashing of shop windows – all of which have almost become accepted as a yearly force of nature.

History

As opposed to other boroughs of Berlin, which mostly originated in older villages, Kreuzberg is not much of a historical entity. Instead, it was only formed as such in 1920 with the formation of Berlin in today's borders. Its name is simply that of its highest elevation – the Kreuzberg (literally, "cross mountain") of 66m above sea level, a traditional place for weekend trips with small restaurants, which received its name from an 1821 monument by Karl Friedrich Schinkel remembering the liberation wars against Napoleon I of France. Except for its northernmost part, today's "Kreuzberg" – which even didn't exist under that name – was a very rural place until well into the 19th century.

This changed when, in the 1860s, industrialization caused Berlin to grow explosively. This called for extensive housing – much of which was built exploiting the dire needs of the poor, with widespread land speculation. Many of Kreuzberg's buildings originate from that time. Far into the 20th century, Kreuzberg was the most populous of Berlin's boroughs even in absolute numbers, with more than 400,000 people, although Kreuzberg was the smallest of the boroughs. As a result, with more than 60,000 people per square kilometer, Kreuzberg had the highest population density in Berlin and consequently probably the worst living conditions.

In addition to housing, Kreuzberg was also one center of Berlin's industry. The so-called Exportviertel along Ritterstraße consisted of many profitable small businesses, and the "press quarter" along Kochstraße was the home of most of Germany's large newspapers as well as the Ullstein, Scherl, and Mosse book publishers.

Both of these industrial quarters were almost entirely destroyed during World War II, with the bombings of a single night from February 3, 1945. In remembrance of the old tradition, the Axel Springer press company erected its German headquarters at Kochstraße again, right next to the Berlin Wall.

After World War II, Kreuzberg's housing rents were regulated by law, which made investments unattractive. As a result, housing was of low quality, but cheap, which made the borough a prime target for immigrants coming to Germany (and Berlin).

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Schlesisches Tor (Metro train station), Kreuzberg

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kreuzberg has been located in the middle of the city again. Although the borough is not free of social problems, it is no longer quite the ghetto it used to be. Instead, lawyers, doctors, and other small businesses have moved there, attracted by the initially cheap rents and many 19th century housing that survived the bombings of World War II. Some parts of the borough are thus becoming more and more attractive as a residential area even for prosperous people. Today, Kreuzberg has one of the youngest population bodies of any borough in a European city; statistically, its population has been swapped completely twice in the last two decades.

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