Kreuzberg — Berlin’s Cultural Hub and Tech Centre
We investigate the transformative history of Kreuzberg, one of Berlin’s most popular and culturally diverse districts, to learn about its growth as the heart of Berlin’s tech scene.Market + Insights
History of Kreuzberg
Kreuzberg is one of Berlin’s most popular districts among young creatives and more recently, tech entrepreneurs. Traditionally a popular location for weekends away, Kreuzberg has maintained its reputation as a great place to visit, with 88% of TripAdvisor ratings being ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. Residents, however, reveal a long-running battle to maintain the districts ‘poor but sexy’ charm, fighting off the world’s biggest tech company and protesting gentrification. So how did the borough develop such a diverse culture? What are residents doing to preserve it? And why is the area attracting so many young tech companies?
The industrialisation of Berlin during the early 20th century led to rapid population growth, requiring the creation of new residential districts outside of Berlin to accommodate the growing workforce. One of these districts would later become Kreuzberg. In October 1920 Berlin’s borders were expanded to officially include Kreuzberg.
With industrial ambitions Kreuzberg developed press and export quarters, becoming economic drivers in the area which would soon be the most densely populated borough in Berlin. While the area’s growth was exceptional, this would soon be disrupted. The second world war devastated the newly founded Kreuzberg, destroying the press and export quarters.
After the war, the local government, under the Social Democratic Party of Germany, regulated rent in the area to keep prices low, which made property investment unattractive for landlords, but made rent more affordable for immigrants, students and artists, who began moving into the district in the late 1960s, mostly from Turkey. In 1961 the Berlin wall would be erected, creating a physical and ideological divide in the city. Kreuzberg found itself on the edge of West Berlin, surrounded by the wall on three sides. This kept rental prices low, maintaining the areas popularity among immigrants who would be at the core of developing the areas rich and diverse culture.
Fall of the Wall
In November 1989, the fall of the Berlin wall proved transformative for Kreuzberg which suddenly found itself in a central Berlin location, rather than in a quiet corner of West Berlin. As this would quickly lead to rental prices rising, and the displacement of residents, municipalities in Berlin began purchasing properties themselves rather than allowing them to be sold to the public. In doing so, the borough was able to keep rent costs low. This helped to preserve the area’s unique personality in Berlin, developing sub-cultures which would make the area a popular spot for international music, art and food.
The influx of immigrants throughout the late 20th century helped to establish a unique culture which Kreuzberg celebrates today. Around two-thirds of the population in Kreuzberg are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, many of whom were Turkish. This is why you’ll find some of the best Turkish food (outside of Turkey) in the food markets of Kreuzberg. The cultural diversity made the district popular spot for arts, becoming a hub for music in the ’80s and ’90s. With world-famous clubs like SO36, Kreuzberg would attract such musical talent as Iggy Pop and David Bowie.
When occupied by the US military during the reunification of East and West Berlin, young residents were introduced to the African-American culture, popularising hip-hop in the area and becoming a popular spot for rap and break-dance. The diversity of Kreuzberg’s culture is celebrated annually at the Carnival of Cultures, a 4-day festival with music, dance, art and other cultural performances.
Scale-up Tech Hub
Kreuzberg is home to a growing number of tech startups, which are now scaling and achieving international success as Berlin has grown to become one of Europe’s leading tech hubs.
Tech hubs are great for attracting investment, and in 2017 investment in German-based startups climbed 88% to $4.3 billion. Being based in a tech hub, especially with such a strong and alternative culture, also attracts talent, an essential but increasingly rare resource for scale-up teams. Claire Novorol, Co-Founder of Berlin-based scale-up Ada, concurs, “It’s a great place to be based for attracting talent, which is most startups biggest challenge.”
The culture of scaling companies complements the laidback, unique and varied Kreuzberg district, as well as providing employment opportunities and generally supporting the local economy. Companies like Zageno and Lendico are among the fast-growing scale-ups in the area. Elena Poughia, managing director of Dataconomy, accredits Berlin’s appeal among young tech companies to “Cheap rent, good work-life balance, and an international crowd.”
Furthermore, the state government in Berlin has introduced a number of funding programs to support business owners. Berlin Investment Bank and Berlin Partner make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to navigate the bureaucracy, find offices and even source a job for their partner. By making it easier for tech entrepreneurs to set up shop in Berlin, the government is making a clear effort to maximise their potential as a global tech hub. As more tech entrepreneurs arrive, the tech scene becomes more active, gaining the attention of investors and ultimately supporting the local economy. This appears to be taking effect as Berlin is poised to overtake London as Europe’s leading tech hub.
‘F*ck off, Google’
While Kreuzberg embraces scale-ups, many members of the local community have a very different response to market leaders who look to invest in local property. Google learned this the hard way in September of 2017 when they announced plans to open a ‘Google Campus’ in Gorlitzer Park. The announcement was met with protests from the locals, sparking the ‘Fuck off, Google’ movement. A major concern with the locals was that the arrival of conglomerates would speed up the inevitable gentrification which saw rent prices increase almost 70% between 2004 and 2016. Given that 85% of Kreuzberg residents are renting their properties, the reason for the backlash becomes clear.
Activists pointed to the displacement of small businesses, residents and artists which has occurred in other cities due to gentrification being spurred by the arrival of large tech companies, such as San Francisco. Kreuzberg is unique in their response to Google’s plans as other boroughs of Berlin and Europe would, and have happily welcomed large firms. The neighbouring borough of Mitte, for example, hosts a similar Google campus which was set up without protests from residents. Residents were happy to see the “Fuck off Google” protest was successful in preventing the new campus.
It’s pronounced ‘kʁɔʏtsbɛɐ̯k’
The alternative subcultures come with quirky cafes, beautiful street art and with thanks to the local Turkish community, incredible food. Full of life, colour and flavour, Kreuzberg offers a unique and exciting atmosphere, contrasting the often predictable infrastructure people expect from developed cities. This plays a big part in the areas ability to attract young digital talent, coupled with low rent, it’s easy to see why the area has been so successful in becoming the heart of Berlin’s tech scene. Furthermore, in Berlin it is considered the norm to live close to your work, contrasting other cities like London and New York where a small commute is considered a luxury.
With an incredibly diverse culture, beautiful scenery and a friendly community, it’s no wonder Kreuzberg is a hotspot for tourists and loved by its residents. However, it’s the affordable rent, access to talent, government support and entrepreneurial energy make it such a powerful driving force for Berlin as a globally influential tech hub, with Kreuzberg at its heart.