Dear fellow travellers
"Habt Spass, wenn ihr in den Wedding geht." Have fun, if you are going to the Wedding. The Berlin district of Wedding is blessed with the definite article and cursed with a bad reputation. Quite why locals allude to the suburb as 'der Wedding' (The Wedding) is a matter of debate - and that outsiders rarely use the definite article is an interesting social marker.
The Wedding has urban colour, a multicultural mix and crowded streets that are in sharp contrast to the sedate Berlin norm. A neighbouring district, Prenzlauer Berg (which despite the name has no mountains) has been gentrified by young professionals. Prenzlauer Berg, which is part of former East Berlin, is chic and trendy. The Wedding, a little shady and run-down, is gritty territory, rather like Pantin in Paris or Brixton in London. And it lies in former West Berlin.
A difficult divorce
True, the district has recently been through a troubling divorce, when the easternmost portion of Wedding, very slightly posher than the rest, seceded from the whole and carved out a new future for itself, creating a new union with a part of Berlin that had been in the East. Such transgressive behaviour fooled no-one. Social differentiation is very finely calibrated in Berlin. Aspiring residents of Gesundbrunnen are quick to point out that they have nothing to do with 'red Wedding'. Theirs is a different world, they argue. But canny Berliners all know that part of Gesundbrunnen is really eastern Wedding in disguise.
The Wedding is interesting because it is one of the Berlin districts least changed over the last century. Wedding was incorporated into the city in 1860, at a time when the area was rapidly urbanising, and quickly becoming overcrowded. The Wedding became a byword for poverty and exclusion, and one commentator in 1889 remarked on the misery and sorrow of those who lived in the Wedding's wretched slums. Infant mortality, tuberculosis and unemployment were just three of the many woes that characterised the Wedding. The district's citizens were among the first on the barricades when the German Revolution erupted in November 1918, and almost a hundred years later the Wedding's left-leaning political affections still contribute to the strong red thread in Berlin life. Modern medicine may have helped address issues of disease, but unemployment is still more than thrice the national norm.
None of this intelligence may inspire you to go and take a look at the Wedding today. But delve into the back streets and you'll find some remarkable little corners of Berlin life, among them an unsung World Heritage Site. The Schillerpark area, laid out by Bruno Taut in the late 1920s, is a striking piece of Modernist urban design - so striking, in fact, that in 2008 it was added, along with five other Berlin residential districts, to the UNESCO World Heritage List. And the Wedding has a pulse quite unlike any other area of Berlin. There is a vibrant African community, a strong dash of East Asian culture, settlers from Anatolia and Armenia, even a few Russians. If by chance you are in town today, make time for the Wedding. It's worth a look.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)