It’s 9:30am at Kottbusser Tor. Just past Rossmann, two women clad in hijabs are having breakfast al fresco while a man in a hybrid outfit of pyjamas and denim sits nearby, looking high off his mind. Here, among the prefab jumble of gambling bars, döner stands, baklava joints and other nondescript shops otherwise known as the Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum, a collection of bourgeois bohemian types nibble away at chia seed pudding and gluten-free cake, literally on display behind floor-to-ceiling glass windows in a shop that looks like it was teleported in from Prenzlauer Berg. Welcome to the cosy world of Kremanski, as devised by Andreas Bembenek, a fortysomething Bavarian abdominal surgeon who decided to relocate to the neighbourhood in 2014 after an eye-opening midlife “gap-year” trip through South America. He wanted to start a new career as a café owner, and found Prenzlauer Berg “too boring!”
We had break-ins. But once we made it clear we’re here to stay, the theft and robberies stopped.
Kotti, by contrast, proved almost too interesting. The newly opened café’s boho vibes – courtesy of Bembenek’s friend, artist, interior designer and chef Julian Rouvroy – attracted not only hipster patrons but would-be robbers. “The first eight or so months of opening, we had break-ins. The gangs saw me as a rookie. But once we made it clear we’re here to stay, the theft and robberies stopped,” remembers Bembeneck with some pride. “If you have five crimes in two weeks and you let it affect you, then it will affect you…” Instead, the energetic Kremanski owner concentrated his efforts on interacting with the neighbourhood around him, from “the Latin people who live in Kreuzberg and Neukölln” to locals struggling with gentrification. This past January Kremanski hosted an event on the demonstrations and housing occupations in Kreuzberg in the 1970-1980s. “The area is changing rapidly and we need to work on our Kiez all together.” And Bembenek is definitely helping effect that change. A few years ago, the idea of paying €5 for a glass of wine on Kottbusser Tor would’ve been inconceivable. But the surrounding shop and bar owners seem to have accepted him as one of their own. He himself lives just a short walk away, and his son attends the local Kita. “People from the community support us,” he says. For example: “Our neighbours backed us up when we were forced to pay a fee for early-evening open-air music. We lost, but it still meant a lot.”