Once tiny villages scattered along the Spree river, later an illustrious metropolis in the golden twenties; destroyed, divided, reunited, and now a cultural hotspot in the heart of Europe. The appearances of Berlin are as manifold and varied as its history. Those who know the city well still struggle to capture it in a single image, to tell a single story about what makes Berlin ‘Berlin’. Fact is, Berlin is unique and special, and full of contradictions – a short stroll through the streets of the town will reveal contrasts between the old and the new, East and West, between splendour and decay. As the German capital once consisted of numerous little villages that have grown together it is difficult to point out one proper city centre. Rather, the many faces of Berlin are found in the different districts and boroughs, and even there within every single Kiez – Berlin’s small neighborhoods with a strong sense of community and identity. If you want to understand Berlin, you have to understand its boroughs, thus we want to introduce you to the unique history, flair, and spirit of each of Berlin’s boroughs in our newest series Berlin Boroughs. Make Industriepalast Hostel Blog your starting point for an exciting and interesting journey across the German capital week by week. And of course we start right in front of our own doorstep: in Friedrichshain.
Life and style between the past,…
Once a dungy working-class quarter in the GDR, today a trendy hotspot. Organically grown neighborhoods clash with the wildest nightlife in all of Germany, with visitors from all around the world hungry to party hard. Creative neighborhood projects face gentrification and large-scale construction projects. Friedrichshain is a place of contrasts, and its development is somewhat representative of that of the German capital altogether.
What started as a number of small towns surrounding the fishing village of Stralau grew to become a large industrial area full of steam engines, factory halls, and tenements in the 19th century. What was still called Stralauer Vorstadt (“Stralau Suburb”) those days grew continuously towards the east and thanks to several train stations it had already pretty good traffic connections to the rest of the prospering Prussian capital. It was only in 1920, after the First World War and as part of the redistribution of Greater Berlin, that the district Friedrichshain was born. Named after its largest public park, Volkspark Friedrichshain, the Gründerzeit apartment buildings here were mostly home to working-class families. The quarter was therefore a stronghold of communists and social democrats. The emerging movement of the National Socialists were not a big fan, obviously, and there were many violent clashes and attacks. One member of the Nazi goon squad SA, Horst Wessel, got killed during such a clash in the early 1930s, and was later made into a martyr by the Nazis. Under Hitler’s regime the entire quarter was even renamed Horst Wessel District.
During the bombing raids of World War II, vast areas of the quarter were reduced to rubble. Since it lay in the eastern sector of Berlin, the district became part of the German Democratic Republic and from 1961 on was bordering the Berlin Wall. For the many homeless families of the post-war period housing was built quickly, and one of the most prestigious construction projects of the young GDR was realized here: the so-called Stalin-Bauten, monumental buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee designed in the wedding-cake style. From the 1970s onwards it was mostly high-rise concrete blocks that stretching into into the sky here. Only the quarters surrounding Simon-Dach-Strasse and Boxhagener Square, as well as Samariterstrasse kept their charming Gründerzeit flair.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the big exodus began: Many of those inhabiting the run-down old buildings moved either to the West, now open to citizens of the former GDR, or to more modern vacant apartments in the east. What remained was a lot of abandoned property – and previously unimagined free space. Artists, hedonists, punks, musicians, and other creative minds moved in and simply stayed, with no rental contract but a spirit of anarchy. These squatters, many of whom had moved here from subculture borough Kreuzberg on the other side of the river, shaped and coined the quarter in the 1990s and consolidated its reputation as a creative urban playground – which still attracts millions of visitors every year. Some of these organically grown cultural projects survived to this very day, like exceptional RAW-Gelände on Revaler Strasse. But the manifold free space attracted something else, too: Germany’s young techno music scene felt very much at home here and many an abandoned building was turned into a legendary techno club, often attached to an electronic record label, like Berghain ancestor Ostgut. The wall, that used to separate Friedrichshain from neighboring borough Kreuzberg was mostly torn down, except for one colorfully painted stretch along the river: today’s East Side Gallery.
Around the turn of the millennium, a new wind began to blow in East Berlin. Investors from Germany and abroad discovered the potential of the “waste land” in the old-and-new German capital and promised a golden future – for Friedrichshain and their own wallet. Giant urban development project “Media Spree” became the apple of discord: modern office buildings constructed along the shores of the Spree river were supposed to attract international media corporations to settle in East Berlin. Those who had lived here during the GDR already, and those who had turned Friedrichshain into a creative Mecca in the 1990s suddenly agreed that this meant nothing but gentrification and displacement. The naturally grown Kiez structures were in danger. In the end, only part of the mega-project was realized, with Friedrichshain having looked like a giant construction site for over 20 years now.
Around the same time however, the world discovered Berlin (once again) – as a fascinating travel destination, and as a cheap base for artists, yuppies, and start-up founders who couldn’t afford to live in other cities anymore. Friedrichshain in specific was seen as a safe haven for alternative lifestyles, subcultures, and also: techno music. Thus, a dense network of world-famous nightclubs such as Berghain, Bar 25 (now: Kater Blau), Salon zur Wilden Renate, or Suicide Circus emerged. The Gründerzeit quarter around Boxhagener Square became a hip hotspot with boutiques, cafés, and trendy stores. Neighboring Simon-Dach-Strasse soon became a popular nightlife district, with bars and restaurants and an ever-growing number of party people from all around the globe.
…and the future
Friedrichshain is a quarter that has always been evolving and changing. Many of the current qualities of this the trendy borough go back to the structures that emerged during the age of squatters and hedonists in the 90s. The wild nightlife and a still vibrant creative scene define the image of the quarter. But already other stakeholders have appeared on the scene: On the spree river, around event venue Mercedes Benz Arena, a whole new district is being built, with shopping malls, entertainment venues, and office towers. Thus, Friedrichshain will keep on changing and will look very differently from today in as little as 10 years already. In how far the anarchic creative scene will manage to survive this change remains to be seen. In many ways, the development of this borough between Oberbaumbrücke and Alexanderplatz mirrors the development of the entire German capital. That alone should be reason enough to allocate enough time to leisurely stroll around the streets and corners and explore this fascinating microcosm.
Your cozy and stylish accommodation in the heart of Friedrichshain is Industriepalast Hostel right on Warschauer Straße. Ask for a top-floor room and enjoy an unforgettable view across Friedrichshain. How about a little sample? This is the view out of your 5th floor window:
Picture: Datei: #88815946 | Urheber: parallel_dream – fotolia
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.
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