There’s No Bar That Needs More Scandinavian Students
Cocktails in Weserstrasse
Our wine glasses were empty and the outdoor tables were freeing up. We were tempted to order another round and linger while darkness fell over Neukölln, but we had a long list of places to visit. We might have looked like just another couple on a spontaneous night out, but we were on a mission; finding the best new bars for the guidebook I was updating. We were getting ready to leave when my boyfriend stopped the waiter.
“How long have you been in business? And what used to be here?” he asked.
“A physiotherapist, but everything is new. We stripped down the rooms and modeled the place after Pastis in New York when we opened a year ago,” the waiter replied, gesturing at the tiled walls and beautiful old wooden bar.
“And what happened to the physiotherapist?” my boyfriend said.
“He went out of business. Only young people live here now, so there’s no need for a physiotherapist,” the waiter replied with a smile.
He might have been joking, but he wasn’t wrong. No one at the restaurant or the street it was located on seemed to be over 40. We left the bistro and walked down Weserstrasse. It was crowded with people, with bars, and with traffic. All of the bars looked tasteful, quirky, and cool, and none of them had been here ten years ago. Before Neukölln became the latest victim or beneficiary–depending on who you ask–of gentrification, the area surrounding Weserstrasse had been a working class, partially immigrant, neighborhood with high unemployment, and it was even home to drug gangs and a brothel. Low rents, the central location, and a growing number of artsy bars started attracting a different group of residents in the last years of the 00’s, and then the rents skyrocketed: on several streets in Neukölln, they went up by 90 percent from 2009 to 2015.
We stopped to take in the scene and decide on the next bar. The number of choices was overwhelming, even to Google; a handful of the bars we walked past weren’t present on the tech giant’s map service. We passed a few hole-in-the wall places, a fancy wine bar and a tapas restaurant before walking into a dimly lit cocktail den.
On the opposite corner, people gathered in front of the dive bar Ä, one of the first hip bars to open in the neighborhood in 2007. Freie Neukölln, another frontrunner on the Neukölln bar scene, used to sit a few blocks down: the bar was evicted in 2014, and the owner decided not to open another bar in area. “It is no longer my Berlin,” he said in an interview with a local newspaper, in which he questioned if he’d created a monster and lit the fire of gentrification by opening the bar opening in 2006.
We ordered drinks from a carefully curated cocktail menu, a Tommy’s Margarita for me and an El Presidente for my boyfriend. A group of Danish youngsters paused in front of the bar, deciding on whether or not to come in.
“Are you sure this place needs more Scandinavian students?” my boyfriend asked with a wry grin, a reference to the Danish guidebook I was writing.
Like most longtime residents in Berlin, he loved hating on the influx of relatively affluent students and young professionals descending on Berlin from their more expensive home countries, only half-jokingly referring to Scandinavians as the new colonists. I couldn’t really blame him; the Danish newspapers I worked for paid me more for stories than my freelancing friends in Germany would ever get from German equivalents, and while locals complained about the rising living costs in Berlin, the price of everything from rent to drinks struck me as surprisingly cheap.
I kicked his leg and smiled back at him.
“You can’t tease me as long as the research budget is paying for your drinks,” I said. I asked for the bill, made sure to get the receipt for the publishing house’s accountant, and checked my list of bars to visit. “Two down, five to go,” I said. The Danish students entered as we left to continue our bar crawl.