Kreuzberg is one of many features of Berlin. It was also the main feature of the alternative art tour. About halfway through the tour, we hopped on the U-Bahn in Alexanderplatz and headed to Kreuzberg.
“I love Kreuzberg because it’s dirty and it’s poor,” our tour guide said the moment we left the underground station and stepped out into the frigid late November air, onto the streets of Kreuzberg. She was right about that. The buildings were run down and covered in street art (most buildings in Berlin are covered to some extent in street art). Near the station there was even an old, torn up mattress laying on the street. Yet, despite the dirt and the poverty, it is a district that is colorful, imaginative and vibrant.
I also noticed a lot of Turks and other people who hailed from the Middle East. Scarcely did I see any Germans or other Europeans in the area. The largest number of Turks and other migrants who had flocked to Berlin in 2015 live in Kreuzberg, our tour guide explained. Many young people also live in Kreuzberg. That’s because it remains a cheap place to live.
Even though Kreuzberg was part of West Berlin, the people there have adopted and held onto extreme left wing policies. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Alexanderplatz and other areas of Eastern Germany were re-built, transforming these places into a wealthy metropolis where corporations like Starbucks and other brand-named outlets sell their merchandise to moneyed Tourists. The people of Kreuzberg are strongly against big business and have successfully kept corporations, like Starbucks and McDonalds out of their district.
The people of Kreuzberg ardently believe in community: They help one another in times of trouble, they provide shelter for the homeless and they stick up for one another. They will rise up and riot over any injustice that is inflicted on them. There is even a community of people in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin who live in small trucks on land that does not belong to them. Normally this is an illegal thing to do but in Berlin, it has become the norm.
The next day, I hopped on the U-Bahn and headed further east to Datscha, a restaurant located on Gabriel-Max Strasse. This restaurant is located in the Friedrichshain district, a district that was once part of East Berlin. Like Kreuzberg, I noticed this area also had a community of people who lived in an abandoned area. It was hard to tell exactly which type of buildings these people lived in as I was walking on a bridge and a building several stories high, partially obscured this community.
On my way to the Datscha restaurant, I took a wrong turn. I found myself walking down a street, in a community that seemed devoid of life save for a few passerbys. The buildings were old and covered in graffiti. Several stores and restaurants that once thrived, were boarded up with metal curtains. I could hear a few children playing in the park nearby, but the park itself was mostly empty. It felt like this community had been forgotten about.
The images of that community are imprinted in my mind. Never before in my life have I seen anything like it. But at the time, I wasn’t able to pause and let the surroundings evoke emotion in me because I was a little stressed out, having no clue where to find the street where the Datscha restaurant was located.
After stopping and asking for directions, I finally found the Datscha Restaurant, a quaint Soviet themed café located in a neighborhood as old as the one I had just walked through. Yet, it was more active. The server, a young lady who looked to be in her early twenties, greeted me warmly and presented me with a menu. The restaurant was not large, but it was clean and it had a traditional feel to it. I cannot find the right words to properly describe it, but the atmosphere there was welcoming.
I looked at the menu for several minutes, flipping through the pages, reading through the options and trying to decide what I wanted to eat. It was past twelve and I was quite hungry, having eaten very little that morning. However, I ended up ordering a Riesling Wine and spent at least half an hour sipping on it.
I learnt one thing from that menu: The Soviet government did allow their people to take holidays. The Datscha was a home (what we in the west refer to as a getaway home) in which people could relax and spend a given time pursuing their passion, be it gardening or sunbathing.