Migration politics

The Intercultural City of Neukölln

The Rütli School in Neukölln  Photo: © CR2The Rütli School in Neukölln  Photo: © Campus Rütli - CR²For a long time, Neukölln was regarded as a prime example of an urban district with problems. Yet this Berlin district is becoming increasingly trendy among students and artists. Targeted political measures are one reason for the change of image.

The northern part of the district of Neukölln is an urban district of superlatives. More than 60 per cent of its inhabitants have a “migration background” and 73.5 per cent of the children live in poverty. Nowhere else in Germany do so many inhabitants draw unemployment benefit, government transfer payments or Hartz IV welfare benefits. The number of aggressive and hardcore criminals has trebled since 2006. More than ten years ago, an article in Spiegel magazine branded Neukölln the “Bronx” of Berlin. And at least since 2006, when teachers at the Rütli School in Neukölln wrote a letter to the Senate Administration expressing their powerlessness in the face of the daily violence, the district became a symbol of disastrous conditions within the German education system and the social consequences of failed attempts at integration. Yet in recent years, media reports have also got the ball rolling.

Since 1999, parts of Neukölln have received special funding.  Photo: © Campus Rütli - CR²Since 1999, parts of Neukölln have received special funding, for instance, through such things as environmental and cultural projects, security measures, the construction of playgrounds and sports areas and the redesign of house entrance areas. As well as leisure facilities, supervised school common rooms, the 48 Stunden Neukölln festival, but also disputed initiatives such as school security guards and the neighbourhood-based task force to supervise and sanction young criminals, the “city district mothers” project is receiving attention. It involves unemployed mothers of non-German origin being trained in matters relating to training, education and health and then going on to promote specific projects in their own ethnic community.

The Intercultural Cities Programme

Two years ago, a group of European Commission and Council of Europe delegates were impressed by the diversity and quality of educational projects in Neukölln. Council of Europe expert Phil Wood was very enthusiastic in his praise for the district, saying “Neukölln is a view of the future of many cities in Europe and around the world that will be shaped by migration. The interculturalism that is already normal here will be the reality of many cities in the years to come.” In 2008, Neukölln was selected to be a German partner in the European Intercultural Cities Programme, a network of eleven cities with a high proportion of immigrants that was to develop joint strategies for dealing positively with interculturalism.

In 2008, Neukölln was selected to be a German partner in the European Intercultural Cities Programme. Photo: © Campus Rütli - CR²Has Neukölln been able to benefit from the city network? “Although the problems seem similar, the contexts in the network’s different cities are very different,” reports Melanie Kraft, the local official at the district council responsible for the project as Deputy Commissioner for European affairs. While the programme broadens one’s horizons, it is difficult to adapt projects from other cities. While the initiative’s target of developing an intercultural strategy has been reached, there is a shortage of funding to implement projects. This sombre conclusion explains why there was little public interest at the end of the project.

Everyday life on Hermannplatz

Hermannplatz, 600 meters from the former Rütli School. Young people are sitting outside a bistro eating Vietnamese lemon grass curry with peanut sauce. The first large Turkish families have unpacked their picnic baskets in nearby Hasenheide Park and the children have gone over to the nearby animal compound where they can go on free pony rides. On Sonnenallee, older men are sitting outside rather run-down old buildings housing Arab cafés, exuding a sweet smell from their water pipes. Young people with dreadlocks, a few well-dressed people in their mid-thirties and mothers in headscarves walk through the busy shopping streets. The colourful, idiosyncratic charm the “Neukölln ghetto” seems to have on an ordinary weekday proves the European delegates right. The statistics and negative headlines alone do not do justice to this area.

The new attractions

The statistics and negative headlines alone do not do justice to this area.  Photo: © Campus Rütli - CR²It is therefore no wonder that more and more students and artists are coming to live here in “Kreuzkölln”, as the district is called on account of its proximity to the long-established district of Kreuzberg. Bars and cafés are springing up everywhere, as are cultural associations and ateliers. Neukölln is trendy. According to the social scientist and urban development expert Andrej Holm, this change of image is also evident in the wording of housing advertisements: “Just a few years ago, advertisers avoided mentioning the exact location of an apartment in Neukölln. They said ‘near Kreuzberg‘, for example. Today, the same estate agents assertively advertise that a flat is located in the northern part of Neukölln ”.

Left-wing groups already see the former inhabitants facing displacement by wealthier residents. Holm sees various reasons for the students’ and artists’ sudden interest in the region. On the one hand, rents are rising in the hip Berlin districts of Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Mitte while on the other there has been a targeted political image campaign. No one can tell what role the “Intercultural Cities” campaign played here. But the special charm of Neukölln’s intercultural diversity has definitely contributed to a change in the image of this problem district.

Janna Degener
works as a freelance journalist in Cologne.

Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
April 2010

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