INTRODUCING: Better Know a Bezirk

The bezirke of berlin

The bezirke of berlin

As I near the six-month mark of my tenure here in Berlin, I've been trying to brainstorm ways of keeping this blog active and engaging -- both for readers and for me. My lack of posts recently certainly doesn't mean that my life here is dull, more that I haven't quite been sure how to bring snippets of my life in Berlin into a coherent post. 

One of the recurring themes of my life in Berlin is a desire to see as much of this city as possible. Berlin is an incredible patchwork of neighborhoods, each with a distinct culture, vibe and appearance, and I've slowly been trying to venture into these different areas to expand my overall knowledge of Berlin (making a foray into the dating scene in Berlin has certainly helped with this goal). 

Based on this desire, I had the idea to establish a regular series on my blog focusing on exploring the different parts of Berlin. Now, before I go too deep into my plans, I think it's first important to understand how Berlin as a city is set up, because there are a few different ways you can break the city down.

The broadest level is by Bezirk, or the borough level. Berlin has 12 different Bezirke, each with their own administrations that answer to the overall city government. However, when people actually say where they live, they'll often go a level deeper, especially if they live closer to the city center. This next level would be the Ortsteil, or locality. Someone is far more likely to say they live in Prenzlauer Berg (an Ortsteil) than to say they are from Pankow (the Bezirk), for example, or that they live in Moabit (Ortsteil) rather than Mitte (Bezirk). This isn't always the case, but often it is.

The third and most specific level in Berlin is the Kiez. This is a term you don't hear used much outside of Berlin, and it doesn't refer to any sort of formal municipal district. Rather, a Kiez is just a general neighborhood within an Ortsteil. Not every part of Berlin is made up of Kieze; it would be most common for people to talk about their Kiez in parts of town where there is a specific sense of community or pride in your neighborhood. For example, I live in Lichtenberg in the East along a busy six-lane road lined with GDR-era apartment buildings. There's not a lot of culture or charm in my area -- no cute shops or family-owned bakeries or the like. Thus, nobody would speak of the area I live in as a Kiez. It just doesn't fit. But in areas like Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg, where the apartment buildings are smaller and more local businesses thrive, such a designation is used far more often.

Now that you have a better understanding of what forms Berlin's patchwork communities, this leads into my actual project: I want to take time to properly explore each of Berlin's 12 Bezirke and write about my impressions of each one, in terms of culture, appearance, neighborhoods, sights, parks, etc. Essentially, I hope to be able to learn a little about what makes each area unique, and how this uniqueness manifests itself (and to highlight some of each Bezirk's most notable sights or offerings).

Some might question if focusing on Bezirke is the best way to really break down and explore Berlin,, since they're so large and can vary a lot within themselves. This is a valid criticism, but a project that focuses instead on smaller units like Orteile would quickly become unfeasible -- there are 96 different Ortsteile in Berlin, and many of them are too small to warrant special attention. Thus, I want to make the different boroughs my focus, but with an effort to highlight the variation found within them as well.

This is the list of Berlin's 12 Bezirke:

  • Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf
  • Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg
  • Lichtenberg
  • Marzahn-Hellersdorf
  • Mitte
  • Neukölln
  • Pankow
  • Reinickendorf
  • Spandau
  • Steglitz-Zehlendorf
  • Tempelhof-Schöneberg
  • Treptow-Köpenick

Those familiar with Berlin will immediately wonder how some of these can be summed up in a single post. Most notably, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are within a single Bezirk, but each is considered to be a distinct area in its own right, and moreover both have quite a variety of Kieze to be found within them. In such cases, it may be necessary to spread a profile over more than one post; I'll just have to see how things flesh out.

Others may question if there's really any point in focusing on the further-out Bezirke, most notably Marzahn-Hellersdorf. This borough is located in far eastern Berlin and is usually only known as being a working-class and relatively rightist area of Berlin (in comparison with the political makeup of the rest of the city). Many people would argue there's nothing of note to see there, and perhaps they're right, but I'd much prefer to decide that on my own.

This will take some time to accomplish, since most of my exploring will be limited to weekends, and it's unlikely that I can gather enough material for a post in just one weekend (though of course I at least have my last sixth months of experience living here to start building posts from). But I am excited to start exploring this city more purposefully. If you have any suggestions for lesser-known or underappreciated areas of Berlin to check out, general thoughts on this project, or you want to join in the exploration, let me know! I know there are many people out there who know so, so much more about this city than I do, and I would love to hear what they have to say!