Dong Xuan Center

Dong Xuan Center - aka Don Juan - is a treasure chest of Vietnamese culture and exoticness in Berlin. This is our favorite mall for interesting gift ideas, too.

by Matthias · 15.11.2012 · Places · 15 comments

Dong Xuan Center

The most aston­ish­ing places are often the most hid­den ones. Isol­ated from their sur­round­ing, one has to know about these spots, oth­er­wise it’s highly unlikely to sud­denly stumble over them. That’s cer­tainly true for treas­ure chests, but also for Dong Xuan Cen­ter – a place, that I, who grew up only a short tram­ride away, always con­sidered as as exotic as Ber­lin can be.

Dong Xuan Cen­ter is undoubtedly an unusual treas­ure chest: It’s the one-of-a-kind Asian cent­ral mar­ket, that extends over seem­ingly end­less aisles and aisles, lined up with all sorts of stores crammed in cubicles, which in turn, are also crammed with all sorts of goods far bey­ond ima­gin­a­tion. It’s the cen­ter of the East-Berlin Asian com­munity, where mostly Viet­namese and a small frac­tion of Sri Lankans and Thais gather to both buy products for their stores and their private shop­ping pleas­ure, to meet col­leagues and friends, and whilst there, why not get a new hair­cut, shiny new nails and the honey-caramelised roast duck that tastes like grandma’s?

How­ever, get­ting there is some­how an adven­ture. At least from the per­spect­ive of someone out­side the Asian com­munity, who has always approached Dong Xuan Cen­ter with an almost quirky amount of respect and aston­ish­ment. I remem­ber a typ­ical situ­ation, which, after all these years, still proves to take place on a reg­u­lar basis: The only way to reach Dong Xuan Cen­ter by pub­lic trans­port is the tram line M8: After leav­ing Marzahn’s densely pop­u­lated areas, it passes a heat and power sta­tion, ill-conditioned office com­plexes, and later on enters an indus­trial area that is over the hill for a long time now. Being in a des­per­ate con­di­tion, where many busi­nesses lie idle, this neigh­bour­hood is to be crossed without ever someone get­ting off or on – except for one stop: “Herzbergstraße/Industriegebiet”. As untempt­ing as it sounds, as aston­ish­ing it is to see the tram basic­ally exchan­ging their Asian pas­sen­gers there. In the middle of the near-to-abandoned indus­trial area twenty, thirty people cause a stir unheard of.

How­ever, on this day, Maria, Thomas and I decided to join them in order to explore the realm of Dong Xuan Cen­ter. We were excited. Awe­struck. I remembered the last time I went there, eas­ily ten or more years ago, when I got lost in the huge halls. I heard that the cen­ter grew massively over the time. Admit­ted, I was a bit frightened, too. We decided to skip the first hall we saw – “hall 8″ – , instead to start from the begin­ning and simply fol­low the masses.

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We were flushed away by the man­i­fold impres­sions. Struck by a thun­der of Viet­namese chat­ter, a light­ning of flash­ing LEDs. The odours were over­whelm­ing as well: spices, fruits and most of all: plastic. Poly­am­ide fab­rics and polyvinyl chlor­ide pleather, poly­ureth­ane jew­ellery, poly­es­ter house­hold items and polypro­pyl­ene bric-a-brac, all stacked and packed in poly­ethyl­ene foils, wraps and bags. Everything is poly in plastic king­dom. In qual­ity and, most of all, also in quantity.

Every demand, every need and every desire was sup­plied. The exotic fruits you enjoyed in that Thai beach bar, the cheap rum­mage that they had at this bad taste party and that vin­tage Bol­ly­wood DVD you were so des­per­ately look­ing for: name it, they got it. You can even catch your very own live carp, give it a lovely pet name and then have it fil­leted for you. They sell them in sizes from “a nice fam­ily din­ner” to “even auntie Mil­dred whom I never met is fly­ing in to cel­eb­rate”. Don’t get me wrong: those fish might not be your aver­age lunch break meal, yet it’s com­pel­ling to watch a father pick the biggest fish as his daugh­ters joy­fully watch tonight’s din­ner being cut in neat slices.

How­ever, our appet­ite for sea­food was low. We came to be over­whelmed and we were surely not dis­ap­poin­ted. Both the extent and the cheapness were aston­ish­ing. I wondered if some of the shops were con­nec­ted to any kind of crime, maybe tax eva­sion or other black mar­ket busi­nesses. Nobody bothered us, though, when I took my cam­era, often the shop own­ers became uneasy and asked me to not take any pic­tures. Someone invol­un­tar­ily gave me a hint, assur­ing they would only sell to busi­ness people, not private cus­tom­ers. If that was all they had to hide, I would be relaxed. I still felt as an intruder into their realm. Not only the shop own­ers, but also the cus­tom­ers seemed to have formed their very own uni­verse there. Once, when I was going for a pic­ture of a hair salon, a small, obese boy approached and me curi­ously asked a lot of things, all in Pol­ish, as if he wasn’t used to Ger­mans being there. I decided it was best to move on and finally find some of this ridicu­lous kitsch I came hunt­ing for. After all, there were still halls two to eight ahead of us.

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  1. Wow! its so NYC whats hap­pen­ing there! Awe­some pic­tures Matze!

  2. Super awe­some pho­tos! It looks so edgy and urban, this why I moved to Ber­lin. Me and my friends from the states will define­tely explore the dong xun cen­ter, thanks to your blog!

  3. Great pho­tos, I really want to go to this place, but did you say you can’t buy any­thing there?

  4. Hej Dylan, none of the stores are labelled in some way that they only serve whole­sale cus­tom­ers, though most of them oper­ate on such a basis. The dimen­sions are cer­tainly those of a cent­ral mar­ket, how­ever, nobody asks for some sort of cer­ti­fic­ate so you shouldn’t exper­i­ence any trouble. We, at least, had no issues with that. How­ever, you should really try one of the restaurants/cafeterias there, since they serve the tra­di­tional Viet­namese food which we espe­cially tried since it’s quite dif­fer­ent from the aver­age Asian res­taur­ants or fast food places around.

  5. @ Mat­thias: This place looks simply amaz­ing + very cool pho­tos! We are at the begin­ning with organ­iz­ing a huge con­fer­ence for Amer­ican Express and we were des­per­ately look­ing for a hid­den off space loc­a­tion with mul­ti­cul­tural vibes in Ber­lin. The topic of the con­fer­ence will be “pay­ment of the future”. Do you think we can book a big hall and some of the Chinese people for the “urban flavor”?

  6. Dear Jonathan,
    as the mail I sent to the address given couldn’t be delivered, I’ll answer you here anyway:

    I am not sure if it’s pos­sible to book the place for events, not to speak of such a big one.
    The halls are filled with stores that reside in cubicle-like struc­tures along a cent­ral hall­way. I doubt they’d clear it for an event. How­ever, there might be free space some­where in the com­plex that we didn’t have access to. In any case you should go there, see for your­self if it’s suit­able for your ideas and meet offi­cials of Dong Xuan Cen­ter to dis­cuss pos­sible agreements.

  7. Hi Find­ing Ber­lin Team,

    this serial work is freak­ing hil­ari­ous i love it!
    I want to go there on my own, is it placed in the east or in the west of Berlin?

    Best regards from Kreuzkölln and all the best for your blog!

  8. It’ in the East part, Lichten­berg, close to the bor­der to Mar­zahn. See their web­site (as linked in the text) for addi­tional inform­a­tion on how to get there (basic­ally only per tram M8 if you’re not by car or bike).

  9. schön.
    vor allem das nail-art zubehör.

  10. Hey hey,

    Great post, I’m a long term reader but first time com­menter. I love the posts you and the oth­ers at find­ing­ber­lin write. I’m doing an exchange semester in Ber­lin from Aus­tralia and it’s really help­ful see­ing Ber­lin through a local’s per­spect­ive that isn’t filtered with the usual touristy kitschy stuff.

    I actu­ally go to Dong Xuan to do my gro­cery shop­ping some­times (I live in Bies­dorf) and although I’m not Viet­namese I find it fas­cin­at­ing how the shop­keep­ers, cus­tom­ers and work­ers have formed this tight-knit com­munity in the heart of East Berlin.

    Mach weiter so :)


  11. Hej Bosco,
    thank you! Chances are you’ve already been there more often than I can recount for myself – the place still feels rather alien for me. We had a splen­did time there, mostly, because we freaked out like chil­dren in Dis­ney Land. Dong Xuan Cen­ter is a close runner-up…
    Best, Matthias

  12. superwahnsinnstipp!Da müssen wir mal hin!habe hier so viele tolle Orte (wieder)entdeckt durch eure Seite, herz­lichen Dank!!

  13. White people.

    Someone from NYC

What others had to say about it

  1. […] reason for why we now have 700 spe­cies of Köfte and Falafel. For Viet­namese, let’s go to Don Xuan Cen­ter — does it get more authen­tic? And for Thai, Preußen­park! And for Ramen soup, Cocolo […]

  2. […] I’ve ever had. Our list of good Asian food joints is grow­ing now — we’ve got Thai, Viet­namese, Japan­ese, we’ve had Korean before but now we can add a place that is not just a pop-up but […]