It is a November Sunday in Görlitzer Park, Kreuzberg. One of those days when it never gets properly light, not really, and without much wind it feels as if weather itself has taken a day off. We drop off Lotte at a friend’s birthday party, and then walk back towards the U-Bahn through the park. It is not summer, so there are less people around, but nevertheless there is still some action. This is Kreuzberg, so there is the usual mix of punks, students, hipsters and Turkish kids. The drug dealers as well, still open for business whatever the weather.
Not that long ago the Exberliner magazine here in Berlin published an article about these guys, who have “set up shop” in the Görlitzer Park. I was uneasy when I first read it, not for what the article contains, but whether those being profiled actually knew that this article was going to be written when they befriended the writer. Thankfully, according to the comments beneath the piece, it appears that they did… and whatever my reservations, it is a interesting glimpse into the reality of everyday life for those African guys who keep Kreuzberg supplied:
“Kinmu clocks in at Görlitzer Park by 2pm or so, with his schoolbag slung over his shoulder. His colleagues are all boys. And they snicker each time I show up to sit next to him. The guys work on a sort of assembly line. About 10 of them form a line, the guy in the back shouts directions for about 45 minutes and the guy up front does what he says in order to earn his wage. When he’s done, he goes to the back of the line and becomes the shouter, and so on. Kinmu usually works as the safety inspector of the operation – sitting about 20 metres back to keep an eye on things. That is, looking out for cops.”
Until 1951 this patch of land was the station and tracks of the Görlitzer Bahnhof. According to culinary legend, it was in the streets around the station where that Berlin culinary “highlight” the Eisbein was first served, for hungry passengers about to catch their trains out to Cottbus, Breslau (nowadays Wrocław), Vienna, and of course, Görlitz. After the Second World War most of the destinations served by the station were in East German territory or now part of Poland, whilst the station itself was in a neighbourhood part of West Berlin. Most trains were re-directed to Ostbahnhof, on the other side of the river and safely within East Berlin, until it became untenable, and was closed in 1951.
For ten years the tracks remained in place, but the story of the Görlitzer Bahnhof ended with the building of the Berlin Wall. Nowadays it’s role is a public space where much of the life of the neighbourhood takes place, especially when the weather is fine, and on a nice evening you can get a real sense of the mixed-up nature of this corner of Kreuzberg and the beauty of the fact that for the most part, all the different types of people that call it home can rub along together nicely. And so it is on this Sunday in November, even if most of the park regulars are holed up somewhere warmer, there are still enough folks around to enjoy the place that it reminds us, as in most of the parks in Berlin and beyond, the importance of real, open public space for the quality of life in a city.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton