Thursday, April 19, 2007

What I like about Friedrichshain

Berlin Friedrichshain is in the former East of the City; it's now joined together as a local government district with Kreuzberg, across the river (Spree?). It's a bit odd because Kreuzberg is full of migrants and Friedrichshain is relatively 'white' and German. It's the place my son moved to when he first lived in Berlin. At the time I knew nothing about it and was a bit dismayed that he had not gone for Prenzlauer Berg, the 'in place', but actually, I think Friedrichshain is cool.

To be fair I have never spent more than a few days there, so perhaps I am not the best judge. I also know that there are many issues in Friedrichshain, such as racist attacks - but these exist in Prenzlauer Berg, too; only the other day I thought I heard a racist comment in PB. However, this article in the Berliner Zeitung totally slates Friedrichshain, and I don't think the author, Sabine Reichel, is being entirely fair. She's a journalist in her 60s (grew up in the 50s she says) who moved from Los Angeles to Friedrichshain; but she's a native Hamburger, so to speak. Probably she does not have the right background and expectations to survive in Friedrichshain.

So she complains and complains... about her cold flat (which might apply anywhere in Berlin, surely), the rudeness of the shop assistants, the number of people with body piercings, the dog shit (fair enough), the market, people sitting around in parks, drinking and listening to loud music, the public transport system and its clientele, and so on. She thinks Friedrichshain is a fake, but finally she realises that she may just have got old.

I like Friedrichshain because it's different and it's funky. During my Berlin trip I visited the far west of the centre, Wilmersdorf, and found myself in a neighbourhood where the only people under 70 were Polish care assistants, and the flat I looked at faced a hospital and a funeral parlour. The capuccino was cheap, though! Prenzlauer Berg is becoming stunningly beautiful, but also very gentrified and middleclass - as is reflected in some of the very expensive shops there. Now everyone has young children - in 20 years it'll also be a pensioner's paradise.

I like the mix of people in Friedrichshain, most of whom are quite young. Many of whom are punks or have other reasons for piercing their faces - and they will pay for it later with dental bills. At the same time there are also many more established residents from before the wall came down. Perhaps coming from California the writer was not used to a slightly robust way of communicating. Those of us who spent much time in the satellites of Glasgow, Scotland, can well deal with that - but I found all shop assistants friendly, apart from my first visit to a little ear ring shop in Kopernikusstrasse. And if they are grumpy, you just grump back or you are so nice to them that they finally melt. It's nice watching people and seeing what they do and how they behave. The punks don't worry me, the racists do. It would be good if Friedrichshain was more ethnically mixed, but perhaps that will develop.

The buildings range from stunning to decayed, though the modernisation is moving on relentlessly. There are lots of little interesting shops selling all sorts of weird and wonderful things, and there is a great little bookshop, Buchbox, which may not have that many books, but almost all are those I would read. Other shops range from a busy organic supermarket to cheap supermarkets, and a wide range of other goods, many cheap and nasty, and others quite ok. And there is the little market in Boxhagener Platz which on a Saturday has a wide range of vegetables, organic and otherwise, meat, delicatessen etc, and on a Sunday is a flea-market where, if you look carefully, you can pick up interesting things.

There is the cutest little cinema set in the groundfloor of a block of flats, and Friedrichshain now has many restaurants for all levels of income, except the very highest. It's between two lines of the S-Bahn allowing for quick transport to other parts of Berlin - yes, you get crazy people in the S-Bahn, but you do in public transport everywhere. It's because they can't get a driving licence what with being drunk or crazy...and welcome to the real world! I would be happy to live in Friedrichshain, though I would not necessarily buy a flat overlooking a park....