Within a stone’s throw of our apartment are three bakeries, four cafés, a newsagent, a plumber, a couple of doctor’s offices and half a dozen physiotherapists. Around the corner there is a fantastic bicycle shop for me and an exquisite little deli for Mrs. Cat. Our local toy shop is oft frequented by seven-year-old Maus. Across the square from it are two travel agencies and a couple of stationary shops.
We don’t live on bustling Ku’damm or next door to Alexanderplatz. This is a quiet residential neighbourhood. Yet within it is contained everything necessary for daily living – which makes it a kiez.
A kiez is defined as a small community within a larger town. The word originated in the Middle Ages when German settlers moved into Slavonic territories. In the places where old and new communities existed side by side, kiez referred to the older Slavonic settlement (chyza means hut or house). Six hundred years on, the word has been resurrected – in Berlin especially.
A kiez isn’t as big as a neighbourhood. London’s Notting Hill isn’t a kiez (although Portobello might be). Toronto’s Forest Hill isn’t one either (but Kensington Market comes close). A kiez is never defined by the municipality or government, but rather by its inhabitants, so often doesn’t coincide with administrative divisions. The essential ingredient is that the kiez is self-contained. As they say in Berlin, ‘Der kommt aus seinem Kiez nicht raus’. You never need to leave the area because everything is here.
That’s true for our little neighbourhood, and dozens of others like it across town. Beyond the city limits, Hamburg’s Kiez refers specifically to the area around the Reeperbahn, meaning the city’s red-light district. Vienna has the Wiener Grätzl and Cologne the Kölner Veedel. Elsewhere in Germany the usual term for neighborhood is Viertel as the French quartier or quarter.
So the kiez is primarily a Berlin phenomena, and the local media has been making bacon with it. Last year the Berliner Zeitung focused on a different neighbourhood each week. Earlier this year the Berlin film festival – the Berlinale -- ‘went kiez’, when it screened many festival films in local picture-houses, as a kind of cinematic ‘outreach’ programme.
A kiez can be quiet or bustling, trendy or suburban, grungy or leafy. But what unites every one of them, especially now on the warm spring evenings, is fierce pride. Young families step outdoors and descend on the local playground. Lovers sip wine at the local café. Elderly couples sit in the square enjoying the spectacle, chatting to neighbours. It’s a scene that seems to be Mediterranean – yet is wholly Berlin. My kinda kiez.
Donnerstag, 8. April 2010
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