Soapbox Derby on the Badstraße, Berlin

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Wedding, oh Wedding. Sometimes when I think my neighbourhood has no more surprises for me, another one pops up in a place where you least expect it. The Badstraße, the street that is the extension of Brunnenstraße and runs down from Humboldthain and the Gesundbrunnen station towards Pankstraße and the river where the original spa once stood, was once the main drag in an entertainment and shopping district whose cinemas, theatres, beergardens and restaurants attracted custom from across the north of Berlin. Then the Berlin Wall was built, cutting off this corner of the Wedding district on three sides.

The economic effect was catastrophic. Much of the custom of the Badstraße shops and cinemas had been from East Berliners crossing the sector boundary from Pankow, Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. Overnight this clientele was locked away behind barbed wire, and within a couple of years the character of the neighbourhood had begun to shift to reflect its position as an isolated corner on the edge of the encircled city of West Berlin. By the mid-1960s all the cinemas had closed, the fancy boutiques too, and even now, nearly 25 years after the fall of the Wall, Badstraße remains a pretty nondescript collection of betting shops and supermarkets, Turkish grocers and bakers, long distance call shops and the odd discount eurostore.

Last Sunday however the Badstraße offered up a new surprise, as it played host to the fourteenth edition of the Wedding Soap Box Derby, as kids in their incredibly professional-looking machines rolled down the ramp and onto the street, hoping to claim the first prize and a place at the World Championships in Ohio. The Weddingers, for the most part, looked on with bemused amusement, when they were not browsing the end-of-the-pier style arcade stalls, fairground rides, and low-rent market stands that had sprung up alongside the race track. It was most definitely an American invention flavoured with the specific style of our neighbourhood. But the racers and the residents all appeared to be having a good time, as racer after racer rolled down the hill, the arcade games flashed, the candy floss was twirled, and pedestrians could take over, for a few hours on a Sunday, what is normally a pretty busy and bustling street.

If you would like to explore Wedding a little more, the next of my tours with Slow Travel Berlin is taking place on the 14th July and you can find out more info here.

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Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig

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