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Neukoelln Quickly Becoming One of Berlin's Hippest Districts

November 23, 2011

Johanna Uchtmann, DPA, November 22, 2011

Berlin's Neukoelln district has long had the reputation as an area suffering from high unemployment and social deprivation. But its image is slowly changing as it becomes more and more popular with tourists and young partygoers.

Neukoelln's poor reputation is well founded and probably reached its zenith in 2006, when teachers from the area's Ruetli school caused a national furore in Germany by writing a letter to the senate office demanding the school be closed down because they would not be able to deal with violent youngsters anymore.

However, there is another side to the district as evidenced by the annual 48 Hours Neukoelln festival, which has been running since 1999 and involves a weekend of theatre shows, lectures and other events.

It also appears that problem areas attract artists and other creative young people.

"It's because it's cheap," explains Reinhold Steinle, who organizes tours of Neukoelln. "So many young people have moved in here over the past year, more than anyone could ever have imagined," he says.

Steinle's tour takes in enchanting gardens, cobblestone alleys and historic guild houses, presenting a different side to Neukoelln than the run-down image normally presented in the media.

Heinz Schwarzenberger, meanwhile, is the owner of a Neukoelln bar called "A," which has attracted ever-increasing numbers of hip young followers since it opened its doors in 2007.

However, Schwarzenberger refuses to accept that his establishment could be considered a scene bar or that Neukoelln is a rough area.

"There are bad people in Berlin just like every big city," the former squatter says. "Some of them are very loud in Neukoelln but that's only in certain places."

The area of northern Neukoelln between the Landwehr canal and Sonnenallee has particularly grown in popularity over the past three years and has been dubbed "Kreuzkoelln" as it borders the neighbouring Kreuzberg district.

The area includes Weserstrasse, where "A" is situated, alongside numerous other bars which are all frequented by tourists, backpackers and students looking to experience new music and enjoy Berlin's shabby chic image. The Huettenpalast hotel where visitors stay in caravans and small wooden huts in an old factory instead of normal hotel rooms is also a major attraction in Kreuzkoelln.

"Gelegenheiten", which translates as "opportunities", is another bar on the Weserstrasse. The former butcher's shop is now occupied by young people with matted hair, wearing corduroy trousers and enjoying a beer. "I put my feet in the air and they sprouted wings" is the message written on the bar's window in red lipstick.

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