Kreuzberg pro Guggenheim!


Note: Yesterday, I vented on my blog. It’s important to know that it was a rash blog post, which usually isn’t a good idea. I used very strong words, maybe too strong. (See the comments on the other blog posts for more.) I’m writing this after sleeping on the whole issue to elaborate my position.

When I read that the Guggenheim Lab‘s stay in Berlin was about to be cancelled, I was incredibly frustrated. Not so much by the announcement, but by the reasons: A local initiative has opposed the art space on the grounds of fighting gentrification (the latter of which I don’t disagree with) and with a very violent rhetoric, speaking “for the local community”. This I disagree with. Let me explain.

I, too, am part of a local community. I don’t believe that there is one community, but many, and they all have different interests and agendas, which sometimes are mutually exclusive.

I, as a local, welcome the Guggenheim Lab to Kreuzberg. I would love to see them here.

I’m a local, as big city locals go. I’ve lived in Berlin fore more or less ten years, six of them in walking vicinity of the very spot that the Guggenheim Lab was planned to be installed on. I feel like a local, I identify with the neighborhood and the city, with the subcultures here. In other words, I love the city, and the Kiez. I help organize non-profit community events like atoms&bits Festival, Ignite Berlin, TedxKreuzberg and others. I also helped put together a conference on urban spaces, Cognitive Cities. I live in a house owned not by a faceless investment bank but a nice neighbor. I run a local business (even if it might be a very non-traditional one). So I don’t feel like I need to do much to prove that I’m part of some local communities.

Many of these communities include expats, too. People who moved to Berlin in pursuit of one dream or another, or maybe just chasing after a good time, or striving to travel the world and learn a thing or two on the way. I, too, moved here from a small south German town. Many of my friends are transplants like myself, having grown fond of the city and having gotten involved, some from other German towns, others from across Europe, the US or Asia. Does that make them less of a Berliner? I don’t think so. My girlfriend was born in the US (but grew up around here), the two friends I founded our company with moved here just to do this, our office neighbors are Dutch, Austrian, American, German and Canadian. In other words, it’s a diverse neighborhood, a diverse city, and that’s well as it should be.

The cynic in me wants to know who the people behind the initiative are, the ones who claim to speak for the local community, and who want to decide who’s ok to do stuff here, and who isn’t, and what kind of stuff. The cynic in me says, it’s probably people who moved here just as well, and by doing to helped foster the very gentrification they claim to fight, only now they’re a few years in and growing structurally conservative. But that’s the cynic in me, and I’m trying not to let him take over my thinking.

So instead, I’d like to add my voice to the public debate. That seems to be the most productive, fair and democratic way to go about it: If one minority yells loudly and drowns out the other voices, speaking up seems like a good idea. It’s the plurality of ideas that makes a democracy, so I’m adding another one. Apologies for the dramatic words, but there you go.

I’m betting there are others like me in this part of town who very much welcome the Guggenheim Lab to the neighborhood. Another local community, or an overlap of many other local communities. So I’m thinking about putting together a little microsite to voice that opinion, and contribute to the discussion. More on that later.

Kreuzberg pro Guggenheim!

A few notes as background: As for the over-arching issue of gentrification, I do see this as a huge problem. And we’ll need a political solution to foster local development without uncontrolled gentrification. Some possible tools to help keep things under control have been discussed for years, and still sound sensible to me: Limits on the amount of residential spaces that can be used for commercial purposes, regulation of rent increases and similar instruments. Also, I think that public access to the water front is an important issue, so that should be part of the discussion, too. And lastly, the Guggenheim Lab of course shouldn’t just dump a container into the hood and preach to the locals; I haven’t talked to them, but I assume that’s not the plan. I also can’t judge if the threats were really so severe that cancelling the whole thing would be appropriate, but that’s not for me to decide. I believe in chilling effects.

Disclosures: As co-organized of Cognitive Cities Conference, I’m very interested in urban development projects of this kind. All said here is purely my personal opinion, I do not speak for my company or any clients there, of course.

Update 23 March 2012: Several people pointed out – rightfully, it seems after reading up some more – that no threats of physical violence were issued and that the local police just estimated an elevated risk. My apologies for following the initial reports.

Berlin-Kreuzberg 1979


Fantastic: A brief snippet from an old documentary series about Kreuzberg. This is my neighborhood, 32 years ago. Wow.

The credits as stated on Vimeo: “Schlesisches Tor und Umgebung. Das Bildmaterial ist der Dokumentation “Spreeufer Süd-Ost” aus der Reihe “Berlinische Berichte” von Ingeborg Euler entnommen. Musik: Brian Eno – “Dunwich Beach, Autumn 1960” aus “Ambient 4 – On Land” Montage: Falko Brocksieper”

Visiting Berlin? Check out these restaurants.


For those visiting Berlin, here’s a few all time favorite restaurants of mine. Absolutely personal list, I don’t claim that this is complete by any means. Unless noted otherwise, they’re all pretty much down-to-earth, low-to-mid price restaurants with meal prices ranging from 8-20 Euros. Also, please note that it’s not uncommon for restaurants in Berlin not to accept credit cards, so make sure to bring cash.

View Restaurants in Berlin in a larger map

Cocolo Top-notch ramen in Mitte. Never having been to Japan, Cocolo serves hands-down the best ramen I’ve ever had. I’m told it’s also an insider tipp for Japanese expats and travelers. It’s tiny, so expect to be standing in line for a while. Also, after you finished your meal, be fair to the others in the line and give up your table quickly. There’s very decent bars in the neighborhood. [Foursquare link]

Schwarzwaldstuben Quite popular with the tourist crowd but still great, Schwarzwaldstuben serve south German specialties. (Schwarzwald = Black Forest). I grew up in that region and vouch for authenticity. Strangely enough, recently they also started serving Bavarian beer in 1 liter beersteins. That shouldn’t stop you from going. For larger groups make sure to reserve a table. [Foursquare link]

3Schwestern Located in a former hospital-turned-squat-house-turned-art-space-turned-whatever it is it has turned into, and right on the spot where the annual Kreuzberg riots used to start, you’ll find a large restaurant that serves excellent meals – Pan-European maybe? French- or German-inspired? It really depends, but it’s always great. If you plan on spending lunch in a nice garden, or have dinner before going to see a movie in the open air theater next door, this is the place. They also cater to large groups easily. [Foursquare link]

Nansen Located right on the canal in Kreuzkölln (the hip northern tip of Neukölln that probes into Kreuzberg), Nansen serves German food on a high level and a strong focus on organic and vegetarian food. [Nansen]

Santa Maria/Santa Peligro Until just a few years ago, decent Mexican food was hard to find in this town. The Santa* Maria mini chain changed that and kicked off a whole wave of Mexican and Californian food. My two faves out of them: Santa Maria for lunch, Santa Peligro for dinner. Don’t miss the Margaritas. [Foursquare links: Santa Maria, Santa Peligro]
* Thanks for the hint, Parker!

Hot Spot Don’t be deceived by the generic name and awkward location. This place serves fantastic Szechuan food (numbing spice! yum!) and the staff can recommend the perfect German white wine to go with it. I once stumbled upon this place through a New York Times article and I promise: it’s worth the detour. [Foursquare link]

Cookies Cream A tad bit more prices and a lot more stylish, Cookies Cream is a vegetarian-only, absolutely delicious restaurant on top of Cookies, the famous Berlin club. Enter through a hotel backyard among trash cans, this is not a place you’d randomly stumble into. Ring the bell, find your way through the corridors. And you’ll be awarded with fantastic food and great service. [Foursquare link]

Kreuzburger There are many great burger places in Berlin. One of my favorites is Kreuzburger in the heart of Kreuzberg. Serving everything in regular or fair trade, burgers (make sure to add extra bacon, although veggie options are also available) is pretty much a greasy hole in the wall, but in the best sense of the word. It’s tiny, it’s always packed, and it’s yummy. The perfect way to kick of a long night of bar hopping in the hood. [Foursquare link]

Babanbe & Co Co Banh Mi, the Vietnamese flavor of sandwiches, have been going strong in Berlin for the better part of a year. The trend was probably kicked off by Co Co in Mitte, but Babanbe in Kreuzberg is also exquisite. Expect baguette bread with a yummy filling of beef, mushrooms or tofu, served with a variety of sauces. Sandwiches have never been better. [Foursquare links: Babanbe, Co Co]

Kimchi Princess We’ve had many good group dinners at this Korean BBQ place. Expect to leave hours later smelling like someone BBQ’d something in front of you (duh!), stuffed and with a happy, happy glow on your face. If you dare, venture through the fried chicken place next door after dinner (where during the day Angry Angry Chicken Wings are served) and go through the back door to find a well-hidden, slick Korean cocktail bar that transports you straight to the neon-lit back alleys of Seoul where you can indulge in Soju-based cocktails. [Foursquare link]

I missed your fave? Send me more in the comments! Also, any Indian or Sushi places not to be missed?

I’ll be updating and extending this list as I go along.

Update: Check out this fantastic list of the best coffee shops in Berlin by Parker.

Save the date: TEDxKreuzberg, 9 Dec 2010



It’s official! There is going to be a second installment of TEDxKreuzberg. On 9 Dec (Thursday), 7-10pm, we will have a spectacular line-up of inspiring speakers at Betahaus Berlin.

Last year we had a fantastic time. I was really happy to hear that Christoph Fahle wanted to go into round two as well. So this time it’ll be a co-production of Betahaus and Third Wave Berlin.

For all the details please read the official announcement and follow the blog for updates as they come in.

TEDxKreuzberg wrap-up



Last Thursday we held TEDxKreuzberg over at Betahaus. Now after a couple of days of recovery and some more travel (I’m writing this while in Karlsruhe, where I’ll be based for the next few weeks), it’s time to share some impressions.

Short-short version: I loved it! The crowd was great as were the vibes, and I had a number of really interesting discussions. Plus, I met a bunch of very cool & interesting folks. So thanks a lot to everybody for showing up and making the night what it was. Also, thanks a lot to my co-host Christoph Fahle and the Betahaus crew – you guys rock!

For the more in-depth version, I’d like to add to the above some notes as well as share some feedback I got during and after the event. The one point that came up a number of times was that we had almost too much content. With seven talks, it was a lot of ideas to digest. That’s a very good point and I agree – should we get to organize another TEDxKreuzberg, we’ll aim for five talks. That way, we’ll have more time in between sessions to meet people, to digest, discuss and exchange ideas.

I was glad to notice that – as far as I can tell – the language mix didn’t seem to be much of a problem: we had some presentations in German, but most in English. The audience, also quite international, didn’t seem to mind that a couple of talks were in German while the German share of the audience seemed happy with following the event in English. Running events bilingually is something that I’ve always been somewhat nervous about, but it worked out fine – good to know for the future.

Betahaus turned out to be a great location for this kind of event. The atmosphere was informal & intimate, which I think helps people feeling at easy and making a connection to one another. Even though we set up the space only the same afternoon, it all went pretty much as smooth as I could have hoped for. We’ll have to see how the videos turned out, but we’ll know within a couple of days.

To cut a long story short, allow me to go back to the beginning of this post: I loved it. And I hope you enjoyed it, too. We’ll be trying to improve further, of course, so keep the feedback coming, here in the comments or via the more official TEDxKreuzberg communication channels. Thanks!

ps. for some more impressions, check out Christoph’s post on the Betahaus blog, this post where we collect photos and videos, or ask Teh Google.

Photo: Rik Mayda (Thanks!)

Some personal updates: Arte, TEDxKreuzberg, Ignite Berlin


Just a few updates of what’s going on in my life these days, and a few brief shout-outs.

1) For the major parts of December 2009 and January 2010 I’ll be working at the HQ of Arte.tv in Strasbourg, France, where I’ll be helping out with a bit of behind the scenes concept work. This is a project I’m very interested in personally – I love working with media organizations and working out the best way for them to engage in the web. Arte is already doing a great job there, so this should be really good.

2) TEDxKreuzberg (10 Dec 2009) is coming along pretty well. All speakers are confirmed, and while we haven’t put up all the speaker profiles, a few are up already. It’s going to be an interesting and inspiring night, and thanks to my co-organizer Christoph Fahle of Betahaus, it’s also great fun to put it all together. Demand has outstripped the available space by far, but between the confirmed guest list, some invited guests and the waiting list we hope to share this night with as many as possible. For updates please keep an eye on the website and our twitter (@tedxkreuzberg).

3) It looks very much as if Matt Biddulph and I will be hosting an Ignite Berlin. We’re still working out the details, but both Matt and I as well as O’Reilly’s Brady Forrest are very motivated to do that, so I’m optimistic it’ll all work out well. Ignite is a great format in which speakers present their projects or startups in 5 minutes – with 20 slides, automatically changing after 15 seconds. It’s very dynamic, and thus never boring. More details on that as soon as we have them. Until then, I’m curious to hear what your favorite Berlin locations are. We’re looking in the 100-200 person range. Please share them in the comments or email me at peter (at) thewavingcat.com … Thanks!