An artful 48 hours in Berlin’s most-hyped borough
Explore vibrant Neukölln through its two-day art splash, starting 14 June. (Dario Lehner)
Nowhere can Berlin’s notorious change of pace be witnessed better than in Neukölln.
As artists and students have been gradually priced out of traditional inner-city areas such as Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, this southwesterly district has become a haven for the annual hordes of newcomers seeking refuge in its relatively cheap rents, transformed ateliers and bars and burgeoning creative community.
Although those rents are now rising to almost match the rest of the city, the sometimes fractious mix of arty expats, low-income residents and Middle East and Eastern European immigrants remains – and the two-day art splash 48-Stunden Neukölln (48 Hours Neukölln) is a perfect way to sample the unique vibe and kunst (art) of Berlin’s most-hyped borough.
The aim – to provide a platform for artists to display their work in a mix of venues – has stayed the same since the event began in 1999, as a reaction to what were viewed as radical cuts to the local art-and-culture budget. But the notoriously casual criteria for selection (there’s no jury or chief curator – any artist or Neukölln resident can get involved if they meet the deadlines and some basic criteria) lends the festival an edgy, anything-goes atmosphere that is distinct from other institutionalised festivals.
This year’s theme is “Last Stop: Neukölln”, a reflection on how the neighbourhood has long been portrayed in the media as a trouble zone and served as a kind of final stop for many of Berlin’s immigrants, a trend that started with the migration of Bohemians to the area (then known as Rixdorf) in the 18th Century.
With 600 exhibitions and events involving painting, performance, dance, sculpture, poetry and digital art scheduled to take place in more than 300 venues – which can mean anything from cellars and gardens to private apartments and courtyards – it’s difficult to hand-pick highlights from such an intense whirlwind of activity.
A quick sampling of the menu reveals British musician Michael Wookey and his “grand orchestra of little instruments”, which includes everything from bicycle bells to manipulated electronic games (Friday at 8:30 pm; Die Frühperle, Boddinstr 57a); and "Reuterkiez", a series of oil paintings by German artist William Wires at the Bohei Gallery (Fri 7 pm to 10 pm, Sat 12 pm to 8 pm, Sunday 12 pm to 7 pm; Weserstr 43) which depicts unlikely but compelling subjects such as corner pubs and construction sites.
But the best way to approach the event is with some beers in your backpack, a sturdy set of sneakers and an open mind.
48 Stunden Neukoelln runs from 7 pm on 14 June to 7 pm on 16 June. Admission is free. You can find info, tips and maps at the Info Point Donau-Nord, Weichselstr 65.
Paul Sullivan is the Berlin Localite for BBC Travel. He also runs/writes slowtravelberlin.com