A couple of years ago I used to live in the Pankstraße area in Berlin Wedding. We had moved there after living in Prenzlauer Berg for a while and decided to go back to a more heterogenous neighborhood, one that was simple and rough and original. We spent a year in Wedding before we realized that this wasn’t the Berlin we came to live in. So we moved yet again and settled down in Friedrichshain, which at this time was flooded with cheap touristy bars and restaurants and had zero to do with the old Kiez. To tell you the truth, I recognized that I was the “light gentrification” kind of guy that loves original structures and a nice mixture of younger people bringing life to the Kiez in most different ways.
When I told my Italian flatmate that I wanted to travel to Napoli he got pretty excited. The first thing he told me was that this would be very different from what I had experienced in Italy so far. Until I arrived at the airport I couldn’t imagine what he meant by saying so but it didn’t take for me to understand. The South of Italy is utterly different.
If you are crazy (yes we are) you get a rental car at the airport and plunge into the Napoli traffic right away. Here you get a first full contact autoscooter feeling of what the city is about. If there are any rules at all — nobody seems to care. We had to play the game but we were good students and after a day and a night you couldn’t tell anymore that we were tourists.
Driving through Napoli we got a first glimpse of this place which combines an amazing location at the mediterranean sea with the roughness of abandoned industrial harbor areas in the heart of the city. This was when we finally recognized that Napoli isn’t about beauty and dressing up. It just is what it is and it seems to say “Fuck You” and your romantic Italian expectations. It reminded me of my time in Wedding– discovering a very original place but feeling unsure of whether to like it or not.
In Napoli, of course, I had a more objective view and I ended up between fun, heavy head shaking, speechlessness and screaming sessions. There was always this question in my head of why they let this beautiful place run down this much, but after all I had to discover that Napoli is not run down, it’s just Napoli– my “light gentrification” state of mind was the issue here. Looking from this point of view the city changed for me and I began to see the beauty and the authenticity I miss so much in many other places of the western world.
The details are what make the city: from the tight inner city street life to the religiousness, the Mafia and the waste problems. What’s left for me and makes it worth going there anytime is the originality and the strangeness outside my comfort zone. But that is exactly the reason why I travel — and I can always return to my light gentrification life in Kreuzkölln.
Thanks to my travel partner Stefan Kaz for many of the following pictures.