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Sonnenallee: Little Orient

published on 2014-12-23 by Sara
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Ach, Sonnenallee. It is one of my favorite streets of Berlin. I call it my “Little Orient”. The sidewalks are plastered with display windows full of Arabic, African and Turkish junk, specialities and culinary delights.

Berlin is known for its multicultural residential areas, of course. Kreuzberg has quite a reputation with its citizens of Turkish origin. And in the East, there are many Vietnamese communities. Not to mention all the Western expats who have settled down in the capital, and many other cultures that I can’t do justice here.

But Sonnenallee has more. The whole street – from Hermannplatz to the S-Bahn – is continuously dedicated to Arabs. It’s noisy and messy, foreign and strange sometimes, but not dangerous (although a midnight ride on the M41 “Orient Express” bus has taught me humility when a fight broke out between the bus driver and a batshit insane passenger). It’s different, because it’s so densely packed with another majority.

To me, the definition of a metropole always entailed that chunks of the city must be reserved and given to people from other cultures. When I was little, my parents took me and my brothers to New York City, and I remember having an infantile heart attack in Chinatown. I didn’t get it, but I loved it. It was crowded, and everything smelled exotic. I remember what astonished me the most, though, and it wasn’t the strangeness per se. It was that white people were gliding through the neon-colored, ornamented, spicy masses without even glancing at all the exciting things. It wasn’t new to them. And whether they liked it or not, they had to be confronted with it every day.

Well, I suppose it doesn’t work like that in Berlin. But Sonnenallee gives me a little of this feeling, at least for a couple of meters, when all I can hear is Arabic. Between City Chicken and Akkroum, and on the other side, Azzam and the Falafel restaurants there are a gazillion different dialects, windows with weird items on display, grown and full-bearded man who smoke Shisha on the sidewalks, and shouting teenagers ganging up to press the last sigh of air out of a Capri-Sonne.

Further down, Sonnenallee becomes a bleak. Somewhat hidden “massage studios”, rundown storefronts, grim looking people (although I attest that last characteristics to the extraordinarily uncomfortable weather). I never made it across the former Grenzübergang to Treptow.

That certain “big city feeling”, induced by foreign cultures, that’s something that I like about any big city. When things mix up and become new things, that’s the underlying spirit of urban life. I guess Sonnenallee reminds me of that, just like Hermannstraße and Karl-Marx-Straße and Oranienstraße sometimes do. Noisy and messy and definitely adding to urban misanthropy and bleakness, sure, but also all kinds of exciting, wonderful and necessary.

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