Community Asset Map: Interviews and Research
My first interview was with a cashier of a convenience store near Gӧrtitzer Bahnhof who spoke some English. He was standing outside the door, and when I asked him if he would be willing to talk to me for a few minutes about the neighborhood, he reiterated that he was not from this area. I said it was fine if he was just working here, and he said he would be okay with talking. Being asked what he thought was the best about the neighborhood, he said that there are a lot of shops and you can eat any kind of food here. He only eats near here when he is working. He lives in another district, but he has friends that live in Kreuzberg. They usually do not go to their homes, but to the park with drinks. If it is cold, they go to the bar instead. A smile came across his face when I replied that there are a lot of bars to choose from around here. The U-Bahn takes him straight to work. Sometimes he gets a ride from his friends that have cars. He didn’t know anything about the school system or education in Kreuzberg, and didn’t have any other connections to the area.
My second interview was with a cashier at the Alexanderplatz McDonald’s who was sitting outside of a quiet bar. He did not speak very much English, so we mostly talked over Google Translate. Many people I had talked to did not speak English, so I thought I would try to have a full interview with this man. He was there because of family, but he does not live in the neighborhood anymore. He was born and grew up there though. He said this area is good for students and school, but bad for families. Looking back, he might be talking about university students instead of primary and secondary school, so the statement might mean something different than I originally thought. He mentioned that there could be a small living space and five people living there, so there would be no room for children. He stated that as a student I would not have to pay many taxes, but the families have to pay taxes and is an extra burden on them. There are also the bars that are still loud at three or four in the morning. He said that work here pays little and people rely on government support through both direct food money and medical and educational services. He also mentioned that many refugees will take a three-month journey and use up all their money. He said “Kreuzberg is the most beautiful in Berlin.” He did not like going to school here. When I asked him if he was glad for any part of the education he got growing up, he just reiterated that he didn’t like it.
Before I move on to my observations, and subsequent research I wanted to note that both the people I talked to happened to be cashiers. Even though they both had the same occupation, they had very different relationships to the neighborhood and were from different age ranges (the first was in his 20's, and the second in his 50's). I felt that these elements brought enough breadth to the interviews to make it worthwhile to discuss both in this writing. I think the fact they are both cashiers speaks to the type of work many people in Kreuzberg are doing: low-paying jobs that require little training. As my second interview brought attention to, these sort of jobs are difficult to raise a family with, and if rents increase the situation only gets harder for those families that are creating social or cultural capital as we discussed at Kotti & Co.
I saw that a large, brick school in the neighborhood got a few low reviews on Google, so I wanted to learn more about it. The name of the school is Oberstufenzentrum Handel 1. It stands out from the other buildings so much, because it was built as Prussian barracks (Oberstufenzentrum Handel I, http://www.oszhandel.de/ueber-uns/historie/kasernenbau.html). They fully fulfill 7 out of 12 points on an evaluation of the school, so they are doing some elements well but leaving out the elements that may be more demanding at the end of the list (which they received “partially”) (OSZ Handel, http://www.oszhandel.de/uploads/media/Evaluationsbericht_2014.pdf) I found that the school won a “Respect for Competition” award in 2016 (Berliner Ratschlag fuer Democratie, http://www.berlinerratschlagfuerdemokratie.de/projekte/projekttag-flucht-und-asyl-am-osz-handel-1/). There were 35 project submissions for a competition involving refugees that occurred after school-wide discussions on the topic. It is one of the largest schools in Berlin, with about 5400 students. So, many factors such as using a historical building, having many students, and having complex requirements from the government may be playing a part in the mixed, mostly low reviews on Google. Yet, projects such as the one about the refugees seem to part of a relevant education for the students.
I wanted to know more about the street art and graffiti scene and laws in Kreuzberg. What I found was not a law, but news about artists painting over their own work to stop gentrification. The article from Guardian called “Why we painted over Berlin’s most famous graffiti” is by one of the co-creators of the destroyed murals Lutz Henke (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/19/why-we-painted-over-berlin-graffiti-kreuzberg-murals). The artists believed that their own art was eventually turning around to increase tourism, increase rents, gentrify the area, and displace artists. The author highlights the importance of not relying on “zombie” art that just sits there for people to look at, but creating areas where new art can be created. By destroying the current murals, even if it is one of the most popular in Berlin, they create a new canvas for the next artists’ creation. I was wondering why there was less large, showy graffiti in Berlin than in Hamburg, especially when many of the artists working in Hamburg are from Berlin. This article shows that the artists’ activism in Berlin is stopping some graffiti work and getting rid of existing pieces (at least the pieces that are becoming tourist attractions). It is now their act of rebellion to remove the works of art as the state and other businesses want to keep it there. This resistance to gentrification is one contributing factor to the limited amount of large-scale graffiti art in Berlin.
I saw quite a lot of children, teens, and families using the parks as I was walking around. I wondered what went into the creation and maintenance of the parks. I looked at one example at the border of my area, Bӧcklerpark. Not only is it a space for kids to play and people to have quiet, but there is a Statthaus connected to the park that is a children’s and youth center (Kreuzberger Musikalische Aiction, http://kma-ev.de/index.php?id=13). They have events such as “Family Sunday” and “Boxing for Boys” that bring families and youth into the parks, preserving their use as a place to play and relax. This all works towards the park’s goal to become a “meeting point” for the community, and that role stood out to me as I was passing through.