Photo by Veronica Jonsson
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Or at least, it wasn’t supposed to happen this fast.
I moved to Schillerkiez in the heady days of 2012. Remember 2012? Berliners were moaning about Berlin being over but New Yorkers hadn’t quite caught on yet. The splat of red paint with which anti-gentrification vandals had baptised Schillerbar was barely dry. I rolled my suitcase into an apartment building emblazoned with the legend Rollkoffer raus! and populated by musicians, artists and middle-aged Turkish men of unknown profession. My room was redolent of mould, and when I left the window open a crack to air it out, my MacBook got stolen. All was as it should be.
Fast forward some 22 months. My flatmate’s girlfriend moves in, and I’m given the boot. Rents in the area now all but unaffordable, I’m contemplating Wedding when a Hail Mary text message leads to a room just down the block from my old place. There’s just one problem: I’m not sure I’ll get along with one of my new living companions. But in the end, it turns out not to be such a big change. Like my old flatmate, she’s a bit messy and a bit inconsiderate, has art lying all around the apartment and keeps me up at all hours. Unlike my old flatmate, she’s two years old.
Her mum is just one of the 3494 Neuköllners who gave birth in 2012. Compare that with 3014 in 2007 and you have a 16 percent birth rate increase in five years – more than nearly any other district in Berlin. Certainly more than Pankow (which includes Prenzlauer Berg), where the rate increased just four percent. The message is clear: Prenzlauer Berg’s parents are done having babies. Neukölln’s are just beginning.
And nowhere is this more evident than in the Schillerkiez. Within the approximately two square kilometres between Hermannstraße and Tempelhof there are now five primary schools, 16 Kitas, multiple waffle and ice cream shops, a children’s clothing store, a café with a kids’ play area, several others that don’t need one because they’re overrun with screaming brats anyway, a newly established Familienzentrum and a Wochenmarkt where bearded dads squeeze their prams past one another to get to the best organic kale. The red paint on Schillerbar has faded to a pleasing pink, just another bit of neighbourhood colour. Same with the “How to Prevent Rent Increases” graffiti on the building across the street, now papered over with babysitting flyers.
The thing is, Schillerkiez was always supposed to be a staid haven for upper-middle-class families. Back in 1900, when Neukölln was still called Rixdorf, the district mayor Hermann Boddin founded the neighbourhood on former farmland as an effort to draw high earners to what was then a working-class area. Thus the Schillerpromenade with its park benches and wide, tree-lined meridian; thus the miniature grid of pedestrian-friendly surrounding streets; thus the establishment of not one but two primary schools. Since air travel hadn’t even been invented yet, Boddin couldn’t have anticipated the 1923 opening of Tempelhof Airport, or the resulting noise and exhaust pollution that drove rents low enough to attract an influx of low-income guest workers in the 1950s and 1960s.
By the time Tempelhof closed in 2008, the gentrification of Neukölln was already beginning to creep downward from the Maybachufer, and the transformation of Tempelhofer Feld from a noisy wasteland to a wide-open park with offbeat charm accelerated the neigbourhood’s return to its former status quo with rubber-band-like velocity. It’s only natural that the Germans and expats who had moved in, now in their late twenties and early thirties, would take a look around at their suddenly kinderfreundlich surroundings, shrug their shoulders and get down to procreating.
So I get it. I do. But dammit, I don’t have to like it. I thought we had a few years of ‘gritty-but-hip’ still left in us! We’ve skipped transcendently past that stage and are now at the part where vomit found on the street is most likely to have come from a toddler who’s eaten too many Kinder Riegel, as opposed to a suspenders-wearing, experimental-music-loving Italian design student who’s eaten too many Kinder Riegel. Gone are the chances that an empty shopfront will transform into a gallery, a moustache comb emporium, one of those brunch nooks where coddled Brooklynites make overpriced coffee in high school chemistry sets. Instead, it inevitably turns into yet another Kita.
The way I see it, I’ve got two options. I could move to Prenzlauer Berg and wait until the products of that neighbourhood’s baby boom, now in their early tweens, reach legal drinking age and start shaking things up. Or I could stay here, settle down and start popping out kids myself. Hell, I’d know exactly where to find darling little hats for them.
Originally published in issue #126, April 2014.