Neukölln, first mentioned in history as far back as 1360, has long been repute for having a high immigrant population. According to statistic, more than 160 nationalities live in the burough of Neukölln of which the Turkish population is the largest represented group. The Turkish influence on the area is hugely noticeable in the offerings of restaurants, fast-food outlets and supermarkets. Turkish bakeries are the bomb and the plethora of Doner Kebab outlets will soon have you hooked on Berlin’s favourite fast food, aside from the Wurst. You can’t beat the hallowed Currywurst! I haven’t taken count, but walking through the area, there seems to be a small pub on every corner and more Shisha lounges than anywhere else in the city.
It has become an area that has attracted hipsters, artists, creatives and everyone else who can’t afford to live in the overpriced trendy neighbourhoods. It is an area plagued by high unemployment and low educational levels, an area one might call seedy and dilapidated. Stepping into Neukolln one is greeted by a lively street culture. It is not odd not to hear German, except maybe on Tuesdays and Fridays, as many Berliners come to the biweekly Turkish market. Best value for money on fruit, vegetables and meat. I am in little heaven when I step into one of the Turkish butcheries. Lamb, not really loved by Germans and mostly not available in the usual supermarkets, is offered as chops, roasts, shanks or any which way you want your cut. Granted, it doesn’t quite taste like my favourite Karoo lamb, but a splash of olive oil and a few twigs of rosemary make this German lamb every bit as succulent.
Many buildings, adorned with graffiti, are showing their age. Graffiti has become part of the urban culture in Berlin and apparently there is an honour code among sprayers. They have decided to be artists and not vandals. It has created a mini-tourism subculture as nowhere in the world are there so many graffiti styles. Once one recognises it as art, the blemish on the walls transform into a glorious adornment.
Maybe a bit macabre for some, but a walk through some of Neukollns 8 cemeteries is deeply calming as you ponder how poor the world would be without its graves, without its memories of the mighty dead. Not your thing? Opt for one of the more than 10 parks in the area. Britzer Park is a personal favourite. This landscape park covers an area of 90 hectares and offers lakes, hills and a kaleidoscope of flower beds. Berliners are particularly proud of Tempelhof Feld, a former airport. After the airport closed in 2008, the city of Berlin converted the 386-hectare open space and one of the world’s largest buildings in a central location for public use. Today, the area has a six kilometre cycling, skating and jogging trail, a 2.5-hectare BBQ area, a dog-walking field covering around four hectares and a vast picnic area.
Neukolln is seemingly constantly evolving but personally, Neukölln is far nicer to visit than it is to live in.