Kreuzberg — “Little Istanbul”
Kreuzberg, an enclave of Berlin that has become known as ‘Little Istanbul’ offers a slice of vibrant Middle Eastern life in the centre of the German capital
Loud, messy, colourful, vibrant – the Berlin district of Kreuzberg transcends easy definition. It resembles instead an impossibly kinetic and unpredictable mass of action, energy and life, an irrepressible beating heart in the centre of Berlin that is probably the most ethnically-diverse few square miles in the city and indeed, the country. The reason for this is largely down to the borough’s Turkish population, a concentration of Anatolian life that began being transplanted from the Middle East since the late 1950s as ‘Gastarbeiter’ (guest workers). Marginalised by mainstream German society, they clustered in low-rent, run-down ghetto-like areas and there, to the consternation of the more conservatively-minded elements of German society, flourished.
The people who come here are mixed, from every community, every place
Back when it was on the frontline of the Berlin Wall, there was a tense, uncertain atmosphere, reflected through a lively anarchist scene. David Bowie camped out in the area at the time with Iggy Pop, and the Turkish population continued to grow and strengthen as new generations of Turkish- Berliners were born and became a new breed, defining themselves by both Western and Eastern traditions. Today, following the fall of the Wall and the steady influx of artists, creative musicians and the ubiquitous hipsters from around the world seeking to imbibe a little of that special Kreuzberg vibe, the district has a much more relaxed and dynamic texture than in years gone by.
It has become known locally and abroad as ‘Little Istanbul’ and, at the heart of the district, lies the Turkish street market – a testament to the city’s ongoing fascination with the lives of its guest ethnic minorities. Ranged along the banks of the Landswehr Canal that winds through Kreuzberg, it is all bustle and noise, a riot of mingling aromas and enticing scents of fresh breads and grills, a hubbub of German and Turkish voices, a heaving mass of shoppers from across the city coming to get their fix of ‘multi-kulti’ produce and assorted comestibles. The market began as a crucial venue for immigrant families to get hold of the essentials for home cooking that German stores barely imagined could exist. Held every Tuesday and Friday, it’s a delicious smorgasbord of fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and dairy, as well as toys, ornaments, fabrics and clothing, knick-knacks (always a huge hit with kitsch-loving local hipsters) and sacks of herbs and spices. For pretty much rock-bottom prices, one gets a surprisingly high standard of merchandise.
The market is primarily all about the atmosphere, quintessentially, undeniably and utterly Kreuzberg. However, not all things in Little Istanbul are Turkish. There is a tiny enclave of native Lebanese, and proudly flying the flag for Berlin’s Beirutis is Maroush, an open-fronted café that manages to pervade the entire area with a magically-enticing aroma of grilling meats, spices and falafel at all hours of day and night. Youssef Issa, the owner and founder, set the standard from day one, insisting on fresh ingredients and top-quality culinary practice. ‘We have been here eight years now,’ he says, standing regally on the pavement by his packed café. ‘And the people who are coming here are mixed, from every community, every place.’ Why does he think Maroush has succeeded so well in Berlin? ‘Because we started well! We try to do everything as the best, and people like this. We respect our work here.’ Sitting on a sunny sidewalk table and asking Issa what makes his restaurant unique he bursts into a tirade of emphatic assertion as to the quality of Maroush’s home-made food. So, for the Berlin visitor seeking a special take on the city, a swing through Kreuzberg’s Middle Eastern highlights is considered as mandatory.