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Berlin Neighbourhoods: Prenzlauer Berg

From counter culture to cafe culture, graffiti to gentrification; get to know this old GDR neighbourhood.

You can tell the state of gentrification of an area by the number of prams and bicycles with toddler carriers, its organic food markets and the artfulness of its graffiti.

Prenzlauer Berg, locally known as "Pregnant Hill" for having the highest birth rate in Berlin, is in a state of family-friendly gentrification. These quiet, attractive streets are becoming home to Berlin's Gen Y as they evolve into parents and leave grungy Kreuzberg behind for the next generation of students.

Lying to the north-east of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg is all about cafe life in tree-lined avenues. Sidewalk cafes spill onto cobbled streets and craft beer gardens fill inner courtyards. The suburb is awash with vegan and organic menus of worldly flavours.

Prenzlauer Berg's artful aesthetic has long attracted the creative sector. In its flea markets, boutiques and art houses you find the up-and-coming, and the already famous, in German filmmaking, music and design.

The cafe culture and arts scene has also attracted an international following. Prenzlauer Berg draws hipster refugees from London, New York and Australia looking for a trendy, but relatively cheap, lifestyle and a barista who knows their latte from a flat white.

But the suburb's makeover is more a reflection of its past, a rejuvenation rather than an abstract gentrification.

Capitalist Start, Communist Takeover

The urban planned district was built to deal with the industrialised city's population growth. It's wide, tenement lined boulevards attracted working-class families and light industry.

Most of its buildings were of the late 19th Century "Wilhelmine" style - 4 story stone buildings on large plots of land. And, as the district suffered less devastation from WWII than most other Berlin suburbs, most still remain.

In 1947, Prenzlauer Berg was allocated to the Soviet sector. When the wall went up in 1961 the suburb stood up against the GDRs western edge.

It was maybe this proximity to the West that attracted artists, Christians and the gay community, making it the counter-culture hub of East Berlin. This didn't go unnoticed by the Stasi. In an attempt to counter the counter-culture and unravel the peace movement, Prenzlauer Berg also housed Berlin's highest concentration of Stasi informers and agents.

Revolution and Squat Houses

It was in this politically charged suburb that the 1980s Peace Revolution was centred. Prenzlauer Berg's Gethsemane Church, on Stargarder Strasse, was one of the main meeting places for opponents of the Soviet regime. Thousands attended candlelight prayer vigils and peaceful demonstrations in the church plaza, culminating in mass arrests.

However, the Stasi was unable to prevent the tide from turning against the regime and the increasing push for democracy and reunification. On 9 November 1989, the Politburo announced the opening of Berlin's borders. Tens of thousands East and West Berliners swamped the city's border crossings, ensuring they would never be closed again.

After the wall fell, many residents of Prenzlauer Berg left their dilapidated houses for the city's west side. East Germany's state-run business closed and state housing was abandoned or sold off to private investors as renovation projects.

Taking advantage of the empty buildings, West Berlin students and anarchists moved in next door to East Berlin's democratic socialists and Berlin's largest squatter community developed. Inside the colourful, graffiti-clad buildings artistic and political cooperatives hosted events, honed commune living and occasionally clashed with skinheads.

Although most of the squats were cleared by the early 2000s, the area still retains its artsy-boho feel, albeit more upmarket.

While new folk are moving in, many of the earlier residents are still here - they've just grown a little older. And, with more cash in their pockets and children in tow, prefer wine bars, organic vegan cafes and microbreweries.

But the graffiti remains.



WHERE IS IT: Prenzaluer Berg is in Berlin, North East of Mitte. Schonhauser Allee runs through the centre of the district.

HOW TO GET HERE: Schonhauser Allee is the most central station with U-bahn U2; Subway S8, S9, S42 & S42 and the tram M1 all stopping here.

WHERE TO GO: Prenzlauer Berg is best enjoyed walking. There are an enormous number of cafes around the district as well as boutiques and artist run galleries. For architecture fans, notable buildings include: Hotel Oderberger a former 19th Century swimming pool; Fat Hermann Berlin's first watertower (and possibly its first Concentration camp); Rykestrasse Synagogue ; which is the largest in Germany and the Breweries on Milastrasse and Knaackstrasse. On Sundays there's a flea market in Mauer Park.



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