Although hardly anyone would admit it in public, Berlin´s twelve boroughs are often compared with each other and subsequently arranged into an (of course unofficial) ranking.
Think of it as a set of stereotypes, mental shortcuts, enabling people quickly to define the neighbourhood and to pass even quicker judgements: Zehlendorf is often described as elderly, bourgeois, conservative and stiff. Mitte must be its antithesis, then: it is considered to be trendy, fast-paced, ambitious and ruthlessly self-focused. Hellersdorf and Marzahn are about high-rises, plenty of unemployment, affordable housing and, what is often mentioned in casual conversations, Nazi sympathies. Prenzlauer Berg is a former proud working-class district turn up-market parenting paradise for West-German arrivals.
Stereotypes such as these are rarely positive, mostly completely wrong and when used by locals frequently serve the purpose of improving the ratings of one´s own “hood” by disparaging one´s “competition”. Surprisingly often the history of those judgements is older than the boroughs themselves and harks back to the days when Berlin was still a cluster of towns and villages.
What helps in such cases is a change of perspective, a look from inside or even from above. The simplest way to overcome one´s prejudices or even fears is to go and see things for oneself. Of course, there is always a risk that they will be actually confirmed but experience should tell us that this mostly happens when your general attitude bears a negative tinge from the start. Or, in other words, when you see what you want to see.
So how about a look from above then? With a sprinkling of interesting facts about the place? A popular Berlin radio station, Rundfunk Berlin 91.4, prepared a series of short films made using a drone flying over different Berlin´s boroughs. Next to pretty incredible images of things you would otherwise never be able to see – like crowns on top of the churches, rooftops of buildings you pass daily on your way to work or sections of parks or city blocks whose shape suddenly makes sense when seen in a bird´s-eye view – their short films are peppered with little facts related to the borough´s past and present.
As the first one, we would like to present Charlottenburg, which until 1920 was only an independent town but also the richest town in Germany to boot. It might seem very bourgeois and almost intimidatingly German but, in fact, it has a huge international community: Russians, Poles, the French, Italians, Americans and the Chinese, to mention a few, all have their small neighbourhoods there. No wonder then, as the film will tell you, that Charlottenburg was home to the first Chinese restaurant ever opened in Germany: it happened in Kantstraße in 1923.
Speaking of food, Herta Heuwer who is credited with inventing Berlin´s most popular dish, Currywurst (at least until Döner or bead kebab arrived), had her little snack bar in Kaiser-Friedrich-Straße in Charlottenburg, too. Interestingly, her Currywurst celebrated its 67 birthday yesterday: the first sausages with Frau Heuwer´s secret curry-ketchup sauce weer sold on September 4, 1949:-)
In 1987 Tour de France, a world-famous bike race, started on Charlottenburg´s ´main boulevard, on Ku´damm. First regular TV broadcast in the world (and not only in Germany as the film reminds us) was transmitted through one of Berlin´s most famous sights, the Funkturm. And in case you were ever wondering (and let´s be honest, who wouldn´t?) how fast the Mercedes-star on top of the Europacenter at Breitscheidplatz revolves, here is your answer: 1.9 times per minute.
That ICC, a huge conference centre close to the Funkturm, often referred to as “Battlestar Galactica” or “Kongress Dampfer” (Congress Steamer), was the most expensive construction project in West Berlin is nobody´s secret. What is often forgotten is the fact that it was even more expensive and just as ridden with asbestos as East Berlin´s most famous edifice, Palast der Republik. Alas, the latter was demolished and the former is still standing with no clear plans for its future (at the moment it serves as an emergency residents for some of Berlin´s refugees).
The last fact quoted in the film is a rather touchy topic for both Berlin and Germany: German national football team has never managed to win any game against the British national team there. Perhaps a curse? An albatross put on its neck when the place was built by the Nazis to organise the 1936 Berlin Olympics and cheat the world into thinking that Hitler´s intentions were peaceful and good? Whatever the reason, the Olympiastadion remains one of the wonderful, often incredible and fascinating features of Charlottenburg – features which can be found in every other district of Berlin. If you are only keen to look.
You can read more about Charlottenburg, especially – but not only – about the story behind its name and the way it became what it is today, in our book “Notmsparker´s Berlin Companion” available at berlinarium.bigcartel.com (shipping worldwide), on Amazon.de or in one of the following Berlin bookshops: