Community Engagement for Social Inclusion


Berlin, Südliche Friedrichstadt

Tesserae will develop its project in the Südliche Friedrichstadt area, in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg.


The Südliche Friedrichstadt is an atypical "deprived Neighbourhood", though quite emblematic of Berlin's peculiar urban character and history. Formerly a baroque monumental round plaza at the end of the main North-South axis Friedrichstrasse, next to the “Hallesche tor” (city door towards Halle), it was completely destroyed during WWII. Successively it found itself as a peripheral territory at the edge of Berlin Wall. Rebuilt in the seventies on a concept by Hans Scharoun readapted in residential key by its follower Werner Düttman, it has become a huge social-housing settlement inhabited mostly by immigrant households.

At the end of the Eighties the area was of interest to some intervention of the IBA plan. After the fall of the wall the neighbourhood was subject to an important re-centralization process starting from the reunification of Germany and the progressive reconnection and healing of the divided city. This dynamic has progressively affected the neighbourhood with a new pressure from cultural industries, which have historically been present in the surrounding media district, and new urban development projects, starting from the realisation of the extension of the Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Liebeskind.

In 2005, the area around Mehringplatz was targeted by the national Soziale Stadt programme (Socially Integrative City), identifying this territory as a deprived neighbourhood in need for specific social support measures according to standards defined at Federal level. Soziale Stadt is a complex and comprehensive community-led local development scheme that combines a tight spatial focus, local participation, and the integration of policies and human and financial resources. This federal programme, jointly financed by European Regional Development Funds and national funds, decentralises decision-making by delegating responsibility for small-scale projects to residents living in deprived areas selected by the Berlin Senate. The Quartiers management teams provide a platform for networking and interaction, enabling groups and actors to debate and identify local needs, values and responses. In 2009, the study Kreativ Raumpionere am Mehringplatz developed a strategy to support the settlement of cultural actors and creative industries in the area.

The vision was successively developed with a set of projects mobilising a mix of commercial and cooperative investors that are currently on course to realise this within the framework of a Regeneration Area Plan approved in 2011 (Sanierungsgebiet). This plan complements the new constructions financed by private stakeholders with a set of publicly funded infrastructure and public space renewal projects. In 2015, a temporary structure, the Bauhutte, was created with a combination of private and public funds to act as an interface between established citizens and the incoming inhabitants/stakeholders, hosting among other meetings, the Sanierungsbeirat (regeneration advisory board).

In sight of the accomplishment of the regeneration process, the area has been finally recognised as Mileuschutzgebiet, designated with a public interest status as an area to be protected from gentrification and preserved in its original character and social mix.

Such a set of policies and investments over the last twenty years brought both attention and tension to the neighbourhood, culminating in speculation and caution around its evolving identity. Today the new developments are starting to be delivered to new residents and productive activities, and the integration of new and old lifestyles, economies and social issues are more pertinent than ever in the Südliche Friedrichstadt.

Local issues

Although subject to numerous social and regeneration interventions the Südliche Friedrischtadt - and Mehringplatz in particular - still maintains some characters of a disadvantaged neighbourhood, at least in the national German statistical terms of reference. Higher than the average level of unemployment, concentration of marginal population, drug dealing and presence of youth gangs are still perceived issues. Meanwhile while the presence of immigrant population – mainly with Turkish and Arabic origin – is still very relevant, there is a new social polarisation on the horizon as with new middle class residents and creative players moving into the area. This brings with it with the connected risks of gentrification, rising prices, displacement and social conflicts. The situation is complicated by the presence of a great number of building sites connected with the regeneration program.

Current position

Tesserae has been working in the Südliche Friedrichstadt since 2016 through the Erasmus+ KA2 Adult EULER, the Erasmus+ KA2 Youth URBEX and the H2020 Rise CoCreation. This gave us the opportunity to develop knowledge about the local social and policy context and set up partnerships and collaborations with several local organisations. One of the reasons for choosing this place as focus area in our recent projects is the great variety of social programs, local initiatives and organisations present within the territory resulting from a complex composition of public policies, economic opportunities and social demands influencing local development. A key aspect in our intervention is the large number of initiatives that already provide numerous sorts of neighbourhood hubs. This reflects the oversupply of social projects that are committed to engaging local residents and sometimes produces, by contrast, passivity and saturation of the attention capacity of the locals.

On the other hand, there is also a lot to learn from good practices and different approaches adopted by public and non-governmental initiatives in this area. We draw on a stakeholder mapping process we started for the EULER project in 2017, which includes a set of video interviews published online and destined to feed the neighbourhood platform planned to be developed within COMENSI. We identified a set of venues that had already established a role in engaging local communities and we decided that rather than set up a new neighbourhood hub we would collaborate with some of the existing initiatives.

We aim to support their work with innovative methodologies, and create a transversal program of activities aimed at networking and optimising the existing structures. These existing neighbourhood hubs include: the Quartiermanagement established by the Soziale Stadt national programme; the Kiezstube (hood cantine) provided by the local public housing company GEWOBAG; the ZLB public library, very active with community programs; the Café MaDaMe, run by a social enterprise; Supermarkt, an organisation that develops digital commons and coop platforms; Feldfünf, a new art gallery for community art projects.