You can’t think about the Bergmannkiez neighbourhood in Kreuzberg without including Victoria Park. A large park that rises onto a hill where the monument, “Befreiungskriege” is situated.
A walk in Victoria Park needs a little leg power as you pad your way up the steep climb. There is a pathway that winds its way through trees and stays close to the artificial waterfall tumbling down from the top of the hill.
Monumental Memories of the Past
The monument at the top is a memorial to the Liberation Wars, “Befreiungskriege”, set by King Frederick William III of Prussia.
When you get the top of Tempelhofer Berge, as it is called, many people refer to it by it’s old name, “The Kreuzberg”, it’s worth hanging around a while to enjoy the view out towards the East. The view extends outwards along Grossbeerenstrasse in straight line. The eye can see for kilometres out into the city.
The real Bergmannkiez starts at the corner of Mehringdamm and extends along Bergmannstraße, in a straight line towards Sud Stern.
“Kiez”, means neighbourhood, in the same slang way that Londerers once referred to their own neighbourhood as a “manor”. A Spanish person’s barrio is the same.
The idea that you live in a kiez creates the feeling that you are a part of the neighbourhood. You don’t just live in an apartmnent building in some part of town, you live on the manor, the Kiez.
Living in your kiez should be a revelation, a way of finding your way into a city and its feeling.
At the moment, Bergmannkiez is a desirable neighbourhood, it’s always been the alternative for people who liked living in Kreuzberg and wanted to be close to the action, but not right in it. “Kreuzberg 36”, is known for its heavy street actions of the past, 1st of May riots, demos, and general craziness of people letting off steam without much control on the valve settings. Kreuzberg 36, is closer to the where the Berlin Wall was situated, was always the busy, noisy corner of Kreuzberg where the residents were generally quick to action, and fast to make sure the Berlin Government/City Planners understood that their new-plans for a renovation job was not going down well with locals.
Bergmannkiez, up the road from Kreuzberg 36, is a busy place these days. Bars and cafes, restaurants offering dishes from various nationalities, places to meet and just drink a coffee for an hour. If you need a cool drink, and are into trying out some well built cocktails, then Limonadier in the Nostitzstrasse, number 12, will set you up with a tasty cocktail drink that will blow your mind. The staff are helpful, and very knowledgeable about how to make real cocktail.
Coffee can be found all along Bergmannstrasse. If you venture off into the side streets, you’ll be dog-legging your way around a very interesting neighbourhood, and easily find your way back to the main Bergmannkiez street.
You can walk away from Bergmannstrasse and take a look at the architecture of “Altbau” houses, these are apartments that have been solidly built to last. Thick walled structures built after the Second World War. The Government promised the people housing, as quickly as possible, and made building a priority in order to get people housed quickly. They also told the Berliners that the new housing would only last a few years, so they’ll be renewed again shortly after.
Orderly Work, that Lasts Half a Century
It turned out that German building projects can only be done properly, and the houses turned out to be rock solid dwellings that are still the best option for a flat these days. The can be seen as a remnant of how things were once done, properly.
Berlin is full of scattered Flea-Markets. Despite prices in shops dropping to all time lows, open markets still continue to be a fascination for many Berliners.
Chamissoplatz, situated between Willibald-Alexis-Strasse and Arndtstrasse, is the location for a Saturday market. Small, and only along one side of the Platz, delicatessen foods, breads, cheeses, and drinks are worth a look. A real treat for a Saturday morning.
English Food and Tea and Biscuits
Walking back down the hill from Chamissoplatz, turn right and walk along Arndtstrasse, you’ll see that new shop has moved into this quiet street. “”Broken English“, has been around in Berlin for at least two decades, offering a range of foods and drinks, chocolates and biscuits that represent typical English food. A cup of tea and your favourite type of biscuit in your Berlin flat, can make Berlin life seem like a luxury.
Broken English moved away from its old location in Kortestrasse, close to Sudstern, the Platz between Gneisenaustrasse and Hasenheide which leads down to Hermannplatz.
It’s now a part of the Bergmankiez crowd, and run by new owner Antje Blank who took over after the original owners, Robin Campbell and Dale Carr , decide it was time to enjoy a retirement in Valencia.
Broken English is well worth a visit to stock up on tea and biscuits through to your favourite steak and kidney pies, cheese – cheddar, of course, or marmalades and jams to smear generously on to Sunday afternoon scones.
The Market Culture
Stroll back down to Bergmannstrasse and turn right, a walk towards the red and white barriers close to Marheinekeplatz, and if it’s a Saturday or a Sunday, you’ll find the local kiez market.
The market is a jumble of assorted secondhand clothing, books, records and Cds. Some stall owners specialize with a single idea, like hats and gloves, handmade. They do business in winter with their wool collections, the umbrella seller who has small but interesting selection of secondhand brollies, will always stand you good on a rainy Saturday morning – a fiver for a decent brolly shouldn’t be sniffed at.
You’ll find markets all over Berlin, in fact, in every district there are at least two or three. The biggest are found in Mitte, around the Museum Insel, and then the Famous 17 Juni Market that was once the go-to, worth getting out of bed for, Berlin flea market. Today, it’s about the same as every other flea market.
Occasionally, the market will be cancelled due to harsh weather. Storm warnings, heavy downpours forecast for the weekend, will inevitably make your open market experience a bit sparser than normal.
Chocolate cake and delicious Coffees
After browsing the market and picking up a curious bargain don’t leave the Bergmannkiez without trying coffee and cake at “Frau Behrens Torten” cafe farther along the road, back towards Mehringdamm, it’s on the left just passed Neto and Edeka supermarkets.
Traditional styling of the tables, long table cloth and candle, makes Frau Behrens cafe warm and comfortable. Cosy corners at the back of the cafe, or sit close to the windows in winter and enjoy the sights of passers by in Bergmannstrasse.
In summer there is a street terrace outside, several tables well situated and not too close to walkers. Some places hog the street with their terrace tables and place the chairs so that your back is often clipped by a passing biped. Not at Frau Behrens, it’s all about comfort and above that, fantastic cake and coffee – or tea if that’s your choice.
Once you “do” Frau Behrens Chocolate cake, you never forget the experience and you tend to recommend it to everybody. It’s one of my favourite places in the Bergmannkiez and not without good reason. It’s simply the best. Friendly staff, helpful and quick to serve you – in spite of being run off their feet most days.
Restaurants and Pub-like Berlin Bars
If a meal is what you’re after, then head back down to the corner of Bergmannstr and Nostitzstraße. on each corner you see a restaurant, two, “Atlantic”, a cafe and restaurant-bar. The opposite side is occupied by the restaurant, “Lupita”, described as a Mexican Restaurant. You can get a good steak in there, and the staff are very friendly.
Both restaurants have ample seating and an outside street terrace with good seating.
If you are into Italian food, take a walk to Mehringdamm 72, and enjoy the comfort and food in “Primavera”. Good Italian cooking, and plenty of space to enjoy an evening eating and drinking wine.
If you look at the corner of Mehringdamm at the major crossroads of Bergmannstrasse, you´ll see various bars and cafes that all worth visiting.
Rubens Coffee Lounge, large premises and decent coffee, I’ve been told. “Destille”, a bar for drinking alcohol. It’s been around a long time, and was once a pit stop for night hawks heading out for a late night in the clubs and kneipen (small bars) of Berlin. Today, it makes sure it offers not just the locals, but tourists an enjoyable drinking atmosphere.
Berlin is still a creative city. Wherever you go, walking along its streets, you’ll see something to remind you that Berlin loves the creativity of its residents.
Artists, writers, as well as other arts such as gastronomy, photography and music and dance, are home to the artistic impulse. Many people come here to discover their art, to find out if they are an artist. They are looking for an artist’s adventure, and if they know how to search and rummage their way through Berlin’s streets, they’ll probably find what they are looking for.
There’s a place in Berlin for every walk of life. It depends on what a person intends on doing, how long they want to stay and how adventurous they are. Berlin is a robust city because of its diversity.
Recently, that diversity has been under threat from property developers who have chosen Berlin’s excellent neighbourhoods as its new playground.
Most of the property developers are non-Berliners, non German, and have zero cultural interest in Berlin – so, they don’t understand the city as a place.
I liken them to the “asset-strippers” of the 1970s. Investment firms who buy companies that have grown into a mega-structures, strip them of many components that can’t be seen as a valuable, and sell them for a profit.
The investment companies who are attempting to package Berlin’s landscape into an attractive investment for private owners, who want to make an income from rents, are destroying the exact structure that makes Berlin attractive. Low rents, possibilities to live and enjoy life without the pressing burden of only chasing money to pay the bills to survive.
Berlin goes through changes, and always survives in one way or another.
Many people claim that it’s all about start-ups and corporations grabbing plots of land. There is a trend to have offices in Berlin just to be close to the action. But, it would depend on what sort of action you are looking for.
The underlying structure of what Berlin is, and what it represents to the people is still there. Go to neighbourhoods such as Wedding, Neukölln, and Friedrichshain, and you’ll still see the creative attitude of its residents shining through.
Property developers tend to believe that they can package and sell these creative neighbourhoods to well off middle class people. The sort of people who like the idea of creativity, relaxed neighbourhoods, and to be able to go for coffee and croissants in their local area are often snobbish, or disconnected from that lifestyle. They want it, but they don’t like to feel it.
So often the results of a neighbourhood that was totally cool, creative and buzzing with life, was sold out to middle class money, then bit for bit, it was dismantled with each rough and ready looking cafe being replaced by a corporate chain offering expensive coffee and muffins that taste like colourful plastic pillows.
The rents increase and the creativity – something that needs space and time, not profits and lots of cash, is forced out through the fear of increasing rents.