After years of being billed as up-and-coming, Berlin's Neukölln neighborhood is in the midst of wild gentrification. Rents have raised considerably and the locals have changed dramatically since it was romanticized by David Bowie with his song "Neuköln".
Still, this neighborhood is the current darling of new immigrants and a great place to base yourself for some of the best nightlife in ever-changing Berlin. Pick up your camera and get ready to instagram the best of this bezirk, including its history, highlights, and how to get there.
History of Berlin's Neukölln Neighborhood
Located in the southeastern section of the city, Neukölln was founded in the 1200s by the Knights Templar. First an independent city known as Rixdorf, village life centered on Richardplatz. It became the place to party and had a negative reputation.
It was was absorbed into greater Berlin in 1920 as the eighth administrative district of the federal capital. With that came a re-branding and Rixdorf became Neukölln (or "New Cölln"). Not that this solved its reputation for hedonism.
During WWII, the area was partially destroyed but maintained many of its historic buildings. It later fell under control of the American sector under the Four-Power occupation of the city. The Berlin Wall lay along its border with neighboring Treptow, making Neukölln fairly isolated and adding to it being undesirable.
Because of this, apartment prices remained low and immigrants (usually guest workers from Turkey) made a home here. It was identified as one of Berlin’s problemkieze (problem neighborhood). Nevertheless, students, squatters, and artists followed, eventually elevating the area's reputation. Neukölln remains one of Berlin's most diverse neighborhoods with about 15% of its inhabitants of Turkish origin. But the newer immigrants tend to be English or Spanish-speaking and from Western countries. It is still multikulti (multicultural), but looks much different than it used to.
This transition has resulted in sky-rocketing rents and an explosion of dive bars and vegan cafes alongside the kebab shops and African grocers. In what might be the kiss of death, it has often been deemed the coolest neighborhood in Berlin.
Areas of Neukölln
Neukölln lies southeast to trendy Kreuzberg and its population has swelled as the citizens continues to grow and expand past the more traditionally attractive kiez. Vast Tempelhofed Feld is in the west of the neighborhood and Sonnenallee runs through the district, from Hermannplatz to Baumschulenweg.
Central Neukölln is composed of three areas:
- Rixdorf: The traditional heart of Neukölln was once just a wayward village, but this is now the most grown-up section of the neighborhood.
- Reuterkiez or Kreuzkölln: This area closest to Kreuzberg has been the first to experience the population explosion from the center. With the influx of new immigrants has come third wave coffee shops, uber trendy shops, and most expensive real estate.
- Schillerkiez: Located along the western border, this is the current trendsetter in Neukölln. From here visitors have easy access to Tempelhofer Feld and Volkspark Hasenheide, as well as the grittier elements that made this area so desireable.
This area inside the ring is generally thought of as the whole of Neukölln, but the bezirk actually continues past the ringbahn and the motorway to encompass Britz, Buckow and Rudow. These quiet neighborhoods have a very different vibe than that of central party-centric Neukölln.
The bezirk is bordered to the south east by more residential neighborhoods of Alt-Treptow, Plänterwald and Baumschulenweg which fall under the seperate bezirk of Treptow-Köpenick.
What to Do in Berlin's Neukölln Neighborhood
While the newest burger bar or bio (organic) coffee roaster are specialty cocktail bar are a destination in themself, Neukölln also has epic parks and historic allees (streets). Here is what to do in Neukölln:
- Tempelhofer Feld: Once the sight of the inspirational Berlin Airlift, it was quite a dilemma of what to do with the space when they finally closed the antiquated airport down. Luxury condos, a space for refugees, or a recreation area? Lucky for the people of Berlin, it was decided by public vote to turn the enormous 386 acre field into a public park. Today, visitors can enjoy festivals, a community garden, grilling, sport on wheels of all sorts, or just the bizarre experience of walking down an airport runway.
- Richardplatz: This is the center of what was a charming village. These are the oldest buildings in Neukölln: the quaint church, blacksmith in the middle island, and a few residences. This sleepy micro-neighborhood is the site of one of the city's best (and busiest) Christmas markets on the weekend of the second advent. Visit secret Comenius-Garden year-round for total tranquility within the city and a philosophical stroll.
- Klunkerkranich: Among the many fashionable biergartens of Berlin, this relative newcomer might be the coolest. Discreetly located on top of the shopping mall Neukölln Arcarden, this roof top bar is an Instagram wonderland of rough-hewn benches, garden paths, sandpit for the kiddies, and spectacular views of the city. And if you miss the summer —don't stress! The small interior plays host to various events, film screenings, and parties throughout the year.
- Hasenheide: Another green space safely situated on the ground is the sprawling park of Hasenheide. Its the ideal place to lounge in summer or watch a movie at the sunken amphitheatre style freiluftkino (open air cinema).
- Sonnenallee: Once divided by the Berlin Wall, this main street was nicknamed "little Beirut" and is changing as fast as the rest of the neighborhood. But there are still an array of Lebanese/Palestinian/Iraqui-owned shops and restaurants that cafe to the Arabic clientele. Order some falafel or take a break with some shisha. Forget that you are in the German capitol and enjoy the best of multiculturalism in Berlin. For a look at the street in the 70s and 80s, check out the famed 1999 film of the same name. Also watch for the telescope monument by artist Heike Ponwitz that is a nod to the street's DDR past.
- Weserstrasse: Ramp up your life on this well-worn party street. Running parallel to Sonnenallee, Weserstrasse has relaxed living room style bars that never really close as party-goers wander from bar to bar. Visit an old-school Berlin kneipe (pub) than a craft beer bar then back to kneipe in a never-ending bar crawl. If you need to pull on a new outfit before hitting the next bar, there are loads of vintage shops with one-of-a-kind finds. This street rolls from Hermannplatz past Reuterstrasse, Hobrechtstrasse, and nearby Pannierstrasse all the way south to Boddinstrasse.
- Britzer Garden: This massive 100 acre park has something for everyone. There are several adventurous playgrounds and fields for kite flying and endless gardens of flowers. Along with natural wildlife ranging from swans to foxes, there is a small animal farm with goats, donkeys and sheep.
- KINDL: Typical for Berlin, this Centre for Contemporary Art is in a historically listed former brewery. Featuring work by artists of all mediums from installations to live performances to special exhibits, the exciting work is set against the industrial brick and six giant copper vats of a transformed space.
- Passage Kino: The independent film group, Yorck Kino, has an unusual outpost in the passageway here. Find original language movies in a thoughtful atmosphere.
- Stadtbad Neukölln: This is the gem among Berlin's excellent public pools. Opened in 1914, over 10,000 people a day visit this massive complex with regal architecture. There is the modern sauna, Russian/Roman plunge pool, and various pools fit for children and adults.
How to Get to Berlin's Neukölln Neighborhood
Like most areas of Berlin, Neukölln is well-connected to the other regions of the city. Its location on the ring means it is easy to travel into the center, Mitte, or around the entire city on the ringbahn.
From Tegel Airport: 45 minutes by public transit; multiple links on U or S-Bahn then by bus
From Schönefeld Airport: 25 minutes; multiple links on U or S-Bahn as well as regional train
Hauptbahnhof (main train station) Station: 38 minutes by public transit; multiple links on U or S-Bahn as well as regional train.