What’s going on in Neukölln? Interviewing Markus Schmeiduch about the “darker” side of the gentrification.

You wouldn’t be misguided in thinking that Germany’s societal armour is one of the strongest in the world. Protective laws surrounding data, conservation, children – and many more – leave no civic stone unturned. Now, regulations surrounding rising rent prices have been introduced for the benefit of native Berliners, with the Milieuschutz; indicative, perhaps, of the darker side of Berlin’s gentrification.

Photographer, documentary filmmaker and young merchandiser Markus Schmeiduch has studied the many facets and faces of Neukölln’s gentrification and documented the Kiez in a way he sees fit. His KiezExplorer is a Berlin-based start-up company which gives iPhone users a means of ‘urban exploration’ into Berlin’s neighbourhoods – namely landmark cafés, restaurants, shops, galleries, and bars. His ‘Neukölln video documentary’ appears to concentrate on the romantic side of gentrification; interviewing residents who talk about growth, multiculturalism, and free movement.

For some, this positive spin on gentrification not only represents a dangerously weighted judgment, it also provides a precarious invitation for frenzied change which too often comes at a price for community preservation. Perhaps rightfully, people indeed worry for the future of Berlin. Nevertheless, Schmeiduch assures us that his vivid images, enlightening documentation, and inventive iPhone application should be seen as ways of reaching out not to those ‘party tourists’, but to those who do feel some affiliation to Berlin’s history and impending future.

# What’s your favourite thing about Neukölln?

The decelerated life you can feel while sitting outside on a bench and watch the people walking by.

# Was it intentional to romanticise the area within your photographs?

Neukölln has for sure a lot of faces. The media coverage ranges from ‘Ghetto’ in Bildzeitung to ‘the new hipster down town’ in the NY-Times. I wanted to document the views of Neukölln that impressed me the most. It wasn’t planned but it definitly is a very subjectiv view. Maybe I am too romantic sometimes…

# Do you think that the sort of gentrification we’re seeing take place at the moment is inevitable?

Berlin IS a very popular city at the moment.

When you look back at the gentrification at Prenzlauer Berg, its main reason was that so many apartements were empty after the Wall came down. So it happend pretty quick that the whole area was packed by students and artists.

However, in Neukölln a big part of the apartements are owned by strong Turkish and Arabic communities and they will not move away any time soon. So the free space for ‘Hipsters’ to move in is limited in Neukölln and therefore also the potential for a drastic transformation.

Nevertheless, I personally hope that “Change” is generally not inevitable. What would be the opposite? A neighboorhod that stays the same until it’s dying out and has to be demolished?

But of course with gentrification a lot of social problems as rising rents are connected. It would be a task for the politicians to counteract but the dificult financial situation of the city doesn’t help the situation.

# Does gentrification – the emergence of new business developments and rising living costs – go hand in hand with a globalised world?

A globalised world surely fastens up that process. A lot of internationals are moving to Berlin and work in jobs where English is the primary language.

At the same time Berlin becomes more and more the new cultural capital of Europe. I remember the attraction that Paris and London had to my generation when we where kids. This cultural attraction apparantly all shifted to Berlin.

# I suppose the worry for some Berliners is that if you share something beautiful, then it won’t stay beautiful forever. Whose is it to share, though?

Good point. We received some cristism from Berliners for the iPhone App when the saw our flyers or heard about it, because they indeed worry for their city. However, the people who actually bought the app gratualeted us later that we have produced a rich documented view of Neukölln.

Our main goal for the KiezExplorer Neukölln App was to provide a new kind of tourist guide that provides detailed insights into a local neighborhood.

(Party) Tourists arriving en masse who are neither interested in the neighborhood nor in the local population don’t help. Be a KiezExplorer…not a KiezKiller.

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