Discovering European Culture in Berlin
Once a symbol of division, Berlin has transformed in recent years into the cultural and economic center of Europe, which hosts millions of people from all over the world. The colourful past and countless relations with other cities has left imprints throughout the German capital - Europe is represented in each corner and can be discovered over and over again with every walk through the city. Let us guide you through some interesting sights of European culture in Berlin.
A piece of Scandinavia awaits on every corner of Berlin. The Nordic quarter in Prenzlauer Berg and Pankow, for example, represents different areas of Scandinavia. The quarter was renamed in the early 20th century and initially had Prussian city names. Now it includes names like Isländische Straße (Iceland), Dänenstraße (Denmark) and Malmöer Straße (Malmö in Sweden). Even famous Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen is honoured with the Ibsenstraße.
The new names on the street signs however are not the only trace of Scandinavian culture that can be found in Berlin. The felleshus of the Nordic embassies in Tiergarten functions as a shared space of the Scandinavian delegations; it holds concerts, exhibitions, readings and talks with a focus on Nordic artists and politicians. Even outside of the formal institutions, there are many events that focus on culture, traditions and hot topics of the Scandinavian countries: Lucia markets in winter, midsommar celebrations in the summertime, the Nordic film program curated by the kulturhus e.V. and even Scandinavian sweet shops give you to opportunity to feel close to the North all year round.
Cultural remains of the occupation time
It is noticeable that the previous occupation forces left a bit of their cultural heritage in Berlin, especially France and Great Britain. The French occupation zone was located in the north, covering the districts Wedding and Reinickendorf. Back then, streets, squares, estates and swimming baths had French names. French goods were offered in the shops and in schools French was taught. In 1994, the French occupiers – who were also friends by then – left Berlin, but cultural evidence of that era - like the Kulturhaus Centre Bagatelle and the Centre Français de Berlin , both in Reinickendorf - remain.
Just like France, Great Britain also had its impact on the Berlin cityscape. The British War Cemetery in Grunewald and the British School in Charlottenburg still attest to the time when Great Britain ruled over the districts of Charlottenburg, Spandau, Tiergarten and Wilmersdorf.
The diversity of European cultures can also be experienced in their cultivation of nature. In Berlin Marzahn, the Gardens of the World (Gärten der Welt) offer special insights into these differences. For example, the Italian Renaissance Garden has a clear structure and a moderate size just like Tuscany’s famous villa gardens. The English Garden, set around a thatched cottage, represents a break in the strict geometrical forms of earlier Baroque design. Or take a look at the Oriental Garden which represents Islamic gardening traditions with themes like the hidden spring, paradise, and the oasis.
Even though not technically European, Turkish Immigrants have had a huge impact on Germany and especially Berlin. After the war, guest workers from Turkey contributed to the reconstruction of the country that was severely damaged. This work opportunity attracted a lot of Turkish families and resulted in a wave of Turkish immigrants in the 60s and 70s, who mostly settled in the previously cheap working district of Kreuzberg. The new influence changed the face of the district in essential ways: mosques , hamams , Turkish markets and bicultural institutions were built and made Kreuzberg and later also Neukölln the districts that they are today. Fun fact: According to legend, Turkish immigrants in Berlin-Kreuzberg also invented the classic döner kebap that we know and love today.
Southern European culture
From food and drinks to art, culture and more: What Berlin is missing from of the mediterranean climate it makes up for in Southern European culture options. There are countless places for authentic Italian pizza, aperitivos and antipasti that give you a feel of Tuscany. The Italian Film Festiva l brings classic drama back to the screen and shows cinematic treasures that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to find. If you’re on a budget, you can also get any needed item for that holiday feeling from mediterranean or Spanish stores and supermarkets like Super Iberico in Berlin-Mitte. For cultural input from Spain, the Instituto Cervantes offers a variety of Spanish culture events, from language lessons to movie screenings and art exhibitions.
The many Greek cafés, restaurants and boutiques in the city round out the broad Southern European culture experience in Berlin. Here you can get fresh olive oil, pita bread and fine delicacies from Greece and its many islands. The Hellas Filmbox is a filmfestival that focuses on Greek film and gives insight into the country, culture and modern trends and issues.
Eastern European Culture
27 years after the Polish-German Treaty of Good Neighbourship was signed, it is especially obvious in Berlin that the two countries share more than just a border. With over 50,000 Poles living in Berlin, the traces of Polish culture can be found all across the capital. From Kaszanka to Pierogi, restaurants and deli shops like tak tak polish deli or Ania’s Polish Specialities offer a broad range of delicious polish dishes. But its culinary charm isn’t the only part of Polish culture you can explore in Berlin! The Club of Polish Losers (Klub der Polnischen Versager), founded by a group of Polish intellectuals back in the 1990s when Polish migrants had difficulties integrating into German society and were often excluded, the German-Polish bookstore Buchbund and the Polish Cultural Institute, supported by the Polish Foreign Office, are all popular places to go to enjoy everything from Polish art, concerts and film premieres to book presentations and political discussions. For even more polish art head to Pigasus, a polish poster gallery, showing a wide range of poster in changing exhibitions. And if you’re looking to get involved in Berlin’s diverse start-up scene, the Polish Tech Night is a great way to explore the advantages of German-Polish cooperation.
Moving a bit further East, Russian culture in Berlin is no less fascinating and easily accessible! From Russian theatre and film in the Russkaja Szena or the Kino Krokodil to the over 20.000 books, DVDs and CDs that can be found in the library of the Russian House of Science and Culture (Russisches Haus der Wissenschaft und Kultur), you won’t be left wanting when it comes to art and culture. The legendary Café Datscha or the authentic Tadshiki Teestube, are just two of the many Russian restaurants and shops across Berlin where you can enjoy anything from fine Vodka to Blini and Solyanka.
Despite the dreadful events in German history, Jewish culture in Berlin can still be found and is reclaiming its space. The former Scheunenviertel , located in Berlin-Mitte, is keeping Jewish heritage alive: around the new synagogue close to Oranienburger Tor, restaurants, cafés and galleries represent Jewish culture in Berlin. Located on Tucholskystraße - named after famous Jewish-German writer Kurt Tucholsky - the Beth Café is offering classic Jewish and Israeli kosher specialities. Other delis around also offer delicious jewish foods, such as Mogg and the culinary peace project Hummus and Friends . The Hackesche Höfe , just a short walk away, used to be the center of Jewish life in the early 1900s. Now it’s filled with small shops and cafés and are always worth a stroll. Signs along the way explain the historical background of the former Jewish living space and give insight into the struggle of Jewish Berliners in darker days.
Apart from said spaces, you can basically find cultural input from every European country in Berlin, from Estonian film festivals and Swedish Christmas markets to French cultural institutes and Polish cuisine. With so much influence from all its neighbors, you can truly call Berlin the heart of Europe.
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Text: Blogfabrik - Marlén Jacobshagen | Header Image: Italian Renaissance Garden @ GÄRTEN DER WELT in Berlin-Marzahn (c) GrünBerlin