Prenzlauer Berg

Saturday 24.09.16

Word of the Day: die Kastanie(n) = chestnut(s)

Today was my first free day in Berlin. I decided not to go into the centre of Berlin to do touristy things, as I have a very special visitor arriving next weekend and I am sure that sight-seeing will feature during her stay.

Instead I went for a walk around Prenzlauer Berg, the area where I am currently staying. I say currently because it is only a temporary solution, whilst I look for a more permanent flat. First impressions were very pleasant. Relatively little of Prenzlauer Berg was destroyed during the war, unlike other parts of the city, so most of the buildings are still in the altbau style – lovely old houses with attractive and ornate façades from the beginning of the 20th century. Coupled with the cobbled streets and wide, tree-lined avenues, I felt like I could have been in France. I particularly enjoyed walking down Kastanienallee, a large cobbled street lined with chestnut trees, under which small children were eagerly searching for shiny conkers. There were lots of cafés with people sitting sipping their cups of Kaffee outside in the sun, as well as boutique shops, galleries and small parks.

Although little of the area was destroyed during the Second World War, the area was rather neglected during the time of the German Democratic Republic. The East German government chose to focus its attention on constructing large, new Plattenbau blocks of flats, in order to try and deal with the accommodation crisis. As a result, the older houses gradually fell into disrepair. Many families chose to move away, and it got to the point where people often didn’t know which buildings were habitable, let alone to whom they belonged. Enter the squatters. It provided a perfect opportunity for musicians, artists, grassroots activists and students, who moved in and took over the abandoned and dilapidated buildings. Over time, Prenzlauer Berg developed into a hotspot for the “alternative” and a focal point of the Berlin art scene.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many of the buildings that had belonged to the GDR state-owned housing associations were bought up by private investors. A period of intense renovation began, and the Altbauten in Prenzlauer Berg once again began to shine. From the 1990’s, the area began to see a distinct gentrification; rents rose significantly, and students and artists were gradually priced out of what became a highly sought-after district among young families, professionals, and more affluent people from Southern Germany. As a result, today the district has a cosmopolitan, European feel to it, and the number of prams, slings and balance bikes would definitely entitle Prenzlauer Berg to being nicknamed Nappy Valley.

A closing remark: whoever knew that dog ice cream was a thing?! I found a shop dedicated to it on my explorations in Prenzlauer Berg. Sounds very “Northcote Road-esque” to me (London reference…)