A short history of Kreuzberg

Kreuzberg's dubious reputation stems not only from the quarter's past as the center of squatter uprisings in the late 1970s, but also from recent events. Last May 1 a police search of a Kreuzberg community center and seizure of anticensus propaganda triggered a reaction that culminated in a night of riots and plundering.

Subsequent commentary has referred frequently to Kreuzberg's ``ghettoization.'' The quarter does, in fact, meet a number of prerequisites for ghetto status. Average per capita income (about $350 a month) is less than half that in the rest of West Berlin. Unemployment is more than 22 percent, almost three times the rate for West Germany as a whole.

In comparison with the relative homogeneity of most West German cities, Kreuzberg presents a face of diversity. A visitor who pauses at the Kottb"usser Gate, one of Kreuzberg's pulse points, will see a parade of young punks, elderly widows, artists, alcoholics, hippies, and large Turkish families. Turks account for almost half of the population in some Kreuzberg neighborhoods.

The current demographics are partly the result of the Berlin Wall. It sliced directly through Kreuzberg and its commercial ties to the eastern sector, consigning the quarter to an economic as well as a geographic fringe. ``With one stroke,'' says Christian Schmidt-Heamsdorf, a planner with STERN, ``the inner city became the outer city.''

Over the next 17 years, West Berlin planning authorities adopted various plans to revitalize Kreuzberg. Although carried out only in part, these plans bred enough insecurity to spark what STERN architects term a ``massive turnover'' in the Kreuzberg population.

``All who could do so, fled,'' says Mr. Schmidt-Heamsdorf. ``Those who stayed were mostly old or poor.''

Numerous houses were slated for demolition and bought up by speculators, who allowed them to deteriorate and brought in Turkish renters to inhabit what one observer calls ``unlivable'' apartments.

The planned demolition would have displaced over 15,000 people at a time when housing was already critically short. Popular resistance came to a head at the end of the 1970s, as squatters took over condemned houses and refused to budge.

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