When you did your stop in Berlin on your European interrailing trip when you were 20, you didn’t stay in Wedding. If you listen to local radio, the news bulletin will frequently talk of bank jobs or violent muggings in the Wedding neighbourhood. One to avoid for outsiders. Much of the former West is known for sophistication and high-end boutiques, over-indulgence and a socialite lifestyle. The former East is known for drug tourism, house music clubbing at 8am, thriving small businesses and now a wave of 20 something Brits quickly snapping up cheap property to escape the looming post-Brexit-meltdown.
Wedding is known for cheap Schawarma, hooka bars and “Kanackisch”. This is Berlin’s home of Turkish, African and Middle-Eastern migrants struggling to make ends meet in an unglamorous existence. It was in the political West but it wasn’t one of the fortunate neighbourhoods the US chose as propaganda to demonstrate Capitalism’s benefits. Charlottenberg and Schöneberg were supplied with fast cars, smart suits and the best liquor. Meanwhile, unable to move to the East at the time, economic migrants chose Wedding due to its cheaper rents. Reunification didn’t change the process dramatically; West Berlin neighbourhoods Wedding, Neukölln and Kreuzberg are far more synonymous with particularly Turkish-Germans than any of the East Berlin areas.
Applying the term “ghetto” is a bit too much but violent crime and theft statistics are higher in this part of town (we use this qualifier as different crime forms flourish elsewhere – the boroughs of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are known go-to places to pick up drugs, thus related crime thrives far more there). Poor housing. Over-subscribed schools and nurseries. Few public amenities and competition for basic work. The young growing up in Wedding are shaped by a tough environment.
But there is definitely one thing Wedding offers for the day-trippers; the Boateng Brothers Mural, “Gewachsen auf Beton”. George Boateng, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jerome Boateng, the Ghanaian-German Brothers, all spent part of their youth scrapping it out on these streets, playing Football together on a basic concrete 5-5 pitch close to Pankstraße station, where the Mural is located. Kevin-Prince and Jerome you will surely know; one a talented midfielder having played at the top in 4 different countries, one the backbone of Bayern München and an absolute model for defenders. But George Boateng, a rapper under the alias BTNG, is the one we must concentrate on first (not to be confused with Dutch player George Boateng).
The 2nd generation Turkish, Kurdish and African youth of Berlin are responsible for a lot of contemporary German rap. As with London’s Grime, the lyrical content of this music reflects a necessary aggression to survive and to live with your peers’ respect. And similarly with Grime, a modern German language developed by the Kanacker (a derogatory word for Turks in German) is used to rap with, equivalent to the “mandem”, “bare” and “blud” vernacular used in modern London. People associate the characteristics of toughness and bravery with the language, as both come from a background of underpriviledge. As a consequence, they become used creatively in songwriting when artists want to convey these characteristics and setting. A language once seen to represent poverty and a lack of education becomes a songwriting mainstay. It is the ultimate victory and revenge of the ‘hood.
BTNG embodies this entirely. His song “Gewachsen auf Beton” is an expression of pride in his tough upbringing and how it has given him and his Footballing brothers the skills and smarts needed. “Diamanten entstehen unter Druck” is the quote; Diamonds are made from pressure. It is a statement. Wedding made me the man I am and the men we are and for that reason alone, it is perfect. The Mural was painted to coincide with the song release and features prominently in the music video, along with other parts of the borough.
But the Mural has stayed. And it is loved. It is Wedding’s tribute to its legitimate sons; men who have made it without turning their back on their home. Men who grew up smart among the broken glass and petty theft. A leading German rapper, a midfielder known for flare and finesse, and a World Champion and Champions’ League victor. The Boateng Brothers have proven that great talent can come from underprivileged areas, and as such, the Mural is both a symbolic reminder and inspiration to other Wedding youths dreaming big and a celebration of what Wedding is and what Wedding can achieve.
Diamanten entstehen unter Druck.