Neukölln, Part 1: Gentrification As Supposed To Be?

The often celebrated process of gentrification has lost importance in the debate about the city over last years. Why? Because gentrification is no longer an exciting process with an uncertain product at the end. Nowadays we know the result, as we did not twenty years ago. Gentrification means overaged yuppies drinking cocktails, speaking loudly and complaining about every single sound in their street as soon as they finished their last mojito… not a really interesting atmosphere for a city’s further development. An intriguing question is: could there be another result of gentrification? Will there be a next generation of ‘gentrified’ neighbourhoods with a different, perhaps more cultural result instead of commercial result (as far as we can speak about ‘results’)?

The upcoming Berlin neighbourhood Neukölln could be a great example. Neukölln is a collection of hyper innovative initiatives. This makes this city part south of Kreuzberg completely exciting. On first sight nothing special seems to happen, but behind the facades of small houses all kinds of things are going on. Project spaces, concept galleries, mini cinemas and Wohnzimmer bars pop up. Where else would you find a micro gallery dedicated to sound performances, presenting a new piece of conceptual sound architecture every Sunday? Where will you find an in-house flea market or art gallery/cinema/bar at only thirty square meters? Neukölln is mind blowing and definitely inspiring.

Creating new concepts for spaces is the connecting idea behind these initiatives and projects that arise in Neukölln, often done by combining functions that are seldom combined (shop/bar, cinema/gallery space), or by creating new functions from scratch. The bottom line is that Neukölln’s inhabitants show to search for an enrichment of their city’s programme through a combination of entrepreneurship and creativity.

To me this is a brilliant example of gentrification as it is supposed to be. It’s a process lead by private initiatives, that changes the urban programme, rather than the physical appearance of the city. An unexpected context that attracts a new avant garde is created. Neukölln is not imitating what happened before in Berlin’s former successfully gentrified areas like Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg, but finds its own way, adding a contemporary piece to the city.

Later I will write more about a couple of neat Neukölln places.