Saunders contributes an essay to Making Heimat. In it, he cautions that arrival cities are “where the new creative and commercial class will be born, or where the next wave of tension and violence will erupt.” The difference, he adds “depends on how we approach these districts both organizationally and politically, and, crucially, in terms of physical structures and built form.”
The cities of Hamburg and Berlin have come up with two different approaches to designing arrival cities.
Arriving in Berlin
Chances are you’ve been to an arrival city before. The Lower East Side was once one. So was London’s Bethnal Green. In these self-determined cities-within-cities, housing solutions are often organic and improvised—think tenement housing and cold-water flats, with smaller rooms and larger communal spaces. The cost of living is low, and it’s located close to public transportation and economic opportunity. From market stalls to halal butchers to corner kiosks, ethnic entrepreneurship thrives in the arrival city, which becomes the primary point of entry for newly arrived immigrants.
Most of all, the arrival city is by immigrants, and for immigrants.
Berlin’s Kreuzberg district was first established as an arrival city in the 1970s by Turkish men who had traveled to West Germany as part of its gastarbeiter (guest worker) program. Initially, these men lived in dormitories, until their employers realized that workers were more productive when they were happy. Guest workers’ families then joined them, and the men moved out of the dorms and into Kreuzberg. Along the Berlin Wall in Kreuzberg, the rents were cheap. More importantly, landlords were willing to rent to Turks.
Today, Kreuzberg is a mix of first-and second-generation holdovers from the 1970s migration, arty Berliners, hipster tourists, and English-speaking expats from the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere. Shabby-chic bars and white cube art galleries push up against kebab houses and hookah lounges. Saunders describes it as having “gone from disreputable to fashionable in a generation.”
But for all the cocktails and kebabs, Kreuzberg still plays host to new arrivals in Germany. Its become a ground zero for Berlin’s refugee advocacy movement since asylum seekers occupied a disused school building in 2013. This past weekend, the refugee rights group Women in Exile held a rally there, seeking, among other things, more viable housing solutions for refugees and asylum seekers.
From Kreuzberg to Neukölln
In Berlin, the housing process for migrants goes something like this: First, newcomers register and declare their intent to seek asylum at the State Office for Health and Social Affairs, commonly called the LaGeSo. From there, they are assigned to large reception centers, or lagers, which house hundreds to thousands of asylum seekers at a time. The primary lager is located in a hangar at the former Tempelhof airport. (In response to record delays at the central LaGeSo location, the office has recently announced a second location will open on-site at Tempelhof itself.)