Kottbusser Tor, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Kottbusser Tor – known affectionately as “Kotti” – is an eclectic, diverse neighborhood in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Seen as a space of possibility with almost mythic associations, it is at the same time a residential area, place of work, traffic hub, and visitor magnet – a microcosm unto itself. Thousands of people live here and hundreds come here daily for all kinds of reasons.

Throughout Berlin’s history, immigrants from various countries have settled at Kottbusser Tor: Poles, Serbs, Croats, Italians, and, in the 1980s, especially Turkish guest-workers. Rents were low and housing was plentiful. During the eighties, the city of Berlin cleared large swaths of land here to put up massive prefabricated building complexes. But the modern apartments of this “urban renewal” failed to attract the desired broad cross-section of the population. Instead, Kotti came to be defined by drugs, junkies, crime, litter, and noise.

Indeed, as recently as ten years ago, heroin was a huge problem. Syringes, blood, and even the bodies of overdose victims were regularly found in the stairways of the concrete-slab apartment buildings. From the eighties onward, however, Kottbusser Tor also became a magnet for different urban groups such as musicians, artists, punkers, and squatters. Its multicultural demographics made Kotti legendary as a free space in which highly divergent lifestyles, ways of thinking, and ideas could be pursued and people of all types could coexist. Ever since, the area has been regarded as a gritty slice of genuine Berlin.

The legend that has grown up around it draws ever more people to Kottbusser Tor and its busy urban life. Clubs and bars, artists’ lofts and project spaces have been established here. Visitors from around the world eat and drink in its restaurants and cafés. And its giant apartment blocks, once reviled, are increasingly popular – not just among young people, but also doctors, architects, and lawyers. Kotti is hip.

Today, residents prize the freedom they feel here, the rooted sense of neighborhood that has developed, the immersion in Berlin’s multiculturalism, and the central location. But climbing rents and housing upgrades are now threatening to tear apart the organic social fabric.

At Kottbusser Tor, gentrification has many faces. On the one hand, it affects the neighborhood’s apartments and tenants, putting affordable housing at risk. On the other, the cultural and social capital that has formed here over several decades has become an object of touristic marketing. International guidebooks have long since established Kotti as an “insiders’ tip,” touting its diversity and unpolished authenticity. This has had consequences for the area. Noisy crowds of partyers roam the streets at night, leaving trash in their wake. The tide of visitors is driving up Kotti’s economic value. As more new shops, cafés, bars, and clubs locate here, Kottbusser Tor’s physical and social composition is changing. Many residents feel like animals in a zoo.

These developments have led to the launch of numerous initiatives and projects in recent years. Kotti&Co, for example, advocates for the interests of local residents and supports tenants’ struggles, while Café Kotti, Südblock, and Computeria are places of social gathering and exchange.

Another venue in Kottbusser Tor’s multifaceted social structure is the Kotti-Shop. Since 2009, this art and project space has actively served as a point of connection between local residents and members of the area’s artistic and cultural scene. The Kotti-Shop initiates dialog and seeks to strengthen the local social fabric by creating a forum in which neighborhood residents can participate with an equal voice.

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