Global Cities: Berlin

Global Cities: Berlin

While historically overlooked in favour of more glamorous and traditionally beautiful European cities, Berlin has undergone a renaissance of sorts in recent years, cementing itself as the continent’s premier culture capital and trendsetting hotspot. The city has attracted a wealth of tourists and permanent settlers, attracted by its liberal attitudes, multiculturalism and accepting atmosphere. Berlin is one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities, embracing other cultures with an openness rarely seen throughout the world.


Turks comprise the largest ethnic minority in Berlin, with a population estimated as low as 200,000 and as high as 500,000. The city is one of the largest Turkish population enclaves outside of Turkey. The community is an essential aspect of the city’s multicultural identity and have established a wealth of successful businesses. The Turkish population is ubiquitous throughout the city but has major centres in the neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukolln.


The Turkish population of Germany has a long and rich history that can be traced back to as early as the 16th Century. The first Turkish settlers arrived as emissaries of the Ottoman Empire, who attempted to extend their territorial control into Western Europe. Following the Second Siege of Vienna in 1683, a number of Ottoman soldiers were left behind, many of whom captured as prisoners and forced to settle in the country.

Over the course of the next few centuries, a number of additional military conflicts occurred between the Ottoman Empire and various Germanic polities such as the Kingdom of Prussia. This inevitably caused significant population displacement on both sides, and caused the Turkish presence in Germany to slowly increase. While there were no major waves of immigration by modern standards, by the time of the early 20th Century, Germany was home to a sizeable Turkish population.

The mid-20th Century was the real turning point in Turkish immigration to Germany. In the 1960’s, Germany found itself divided physically by the Berlin Wall, which was constructed in 1961. Both a literal and figurative division between the Capitalist West and the Communist East, the division created a significant labour shortage in West Germany, which was now cut off from the flow of immigration from Eastern Europe. In order to compensate this shortage and stimulate the economy, West Germany struck an agreement with the Republic of Turkey, recruiting significant numbers of labourers. Initially settling in the country temporarily, many Turks stayed. A bill in 1974 allowed families to be reunified in West Germany, which removed incentive to return.

Since the mid-20th Century, the Turkish population of Germany has grown considerably, particularly centred in major urban centres such as Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne. The population is concentrated mainly in West Germany. Despite the prevalence of Turks in Germany, tensions between the two ethnicities have been omnipresent since their arrival in the country. The population is very poorly integrated and has been subject to prejudice throughout their history in the country. Questions of nationality have plagued Germany’s Turkish population for several years.

Despite these issues, the Turkish population remains a focal aspect of Germany’s modern cultural identity, representative of the multicultural values the country champions. In Berlin especially, the Turkish population has thrived in a number of ways. One only needs to glance at the wealth of Turkish restaurants throughout the city to glimpse the Turkish community’s vast cultural impact upon the city.

Top Five Restaurants

Turkish cuisine is a successor to Ottoman cuisine and given the immense size of the former empire, is highly eclectic. It combines elements of Middle Eastern, Balkan, Eastern European and Central Asian styles whilst being its own distinct entity. Notable dishes include various forms of Kofte, a meatball-esque dish, Lahmacun, or as its colloquially known, a ‘Turkish Pizza’ and Pilaf, a seasoned rice. Berlin is arguably the best place in the world outside of Turkey to sample the country’s cuisine in all its forms due to the substantial diaspora.

  1. Fes Turkish BBQ

Address: Hasenheide 58, 10967 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 5pm-11pm (Tuesday-Sunday)

An iconic Kreuzberg institution known for its innovative approach to Turkish staples such as kebab.

  1. Defne Restaurant

Address: Planufer 92C, 10967 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 5pm-12am

One of Berlin’s finest Turkish restaurants. IN the heart of Kreuzberg, Defne offers a number of lesser-known dishes in addition to more iconic ones.

  1. Hasir

Address: Adalbertstrasse 12, 10999 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 12pm-12am

Founded by Mehmed Augun, believed by some circles to be the founder of the Doner kebab, this is one of the city’s finest and most iconic Turkish restaurants.

  1. Imren Grill

Address: Boppstrasse 10, 10967 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 8am-2am

Berlin is replete with numerous late-night kebab restaurants. This is one of the best, open deep into the night and serving some of the best and best-value kebab in the city.

  1. Cig Kofte Evi

Address: 37A Badstrasse, 13357 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 12pm-10pm

Another iconic Kebab restaurant known for its no-frills decor and reasonably-priced yet delicious food.

Things to Do
  1. The Turkish Market

Address: Maybachufer, 12047 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 11am-6.30pm (Tuesday, Friday)

A highly important Turkish cultural icon in the city, this is a must-visit sight in the Turkish neighbourhood of Kreuzberg which features an enormous wealth of vendors selling a variety of produce, food and household items.

  1. Sehitlik Mosque

Address: Columbiadamm 128, 10965 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: N/A

The city’s most significant and spectacular mosques, it is also the most widely-attended. IT is known as a highly important cultural hub for the Turkish community, who comprise the vast majority of its congregation. It is known for its striking appearance, inspired by Ottoman architecture of the 16th Century.

  1. Islamic Cemetery

Address: Columbiadamm 128, 10965 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 8am-5pm (Monday-Wednesday, Friday), 8am-6pm (Thursday)

Adjacent to the magnificent Sehitlik Mosque is Berlin’s Islamic Cemetery. Built in 1866, the cemetery is amongst the oldest of its kind in Europe and a hugely important cultural site within the city’s Turkish and wider Muslim population.

  1. Museum of Islamic Art

Address: Am Kupfergraben 5, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Sunday), 10am-8pm (Thursday)

One of Berlin’s great museums, this cultural institution draws from a vast resource of art and artefacts from throughout Islam’s history. There are over 93,000 distinct works in this museum, spanning the immense geographical and historical breadth of Islamic culture.

  1. Museum of Byzantine Art

Address: Am Kupfergraben, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (Tuesday-Wednesday, Friday-Sunday), 10am-8pm (Thursday)

One of Berlin’s finest historical museums, the Museum of Byzantine Art has a vast collection of antiques and artworks from the Byzantine Empire, the successor state to the Roman Empire and the predecessor to the Ottoman Empire, with its centre in Istanbul.


Poles are amongst the largest diasporas in Germany, the population encompassing 2.9 million people. Germany is home to the largest Polish diaspora in Europe and the second-largest in the world after the United States. The population is widely dispersed throughout the country, with the state North Rhine-Westphalia being home to the largest centre with 786,000. Berlin is home to a sizeable Polish community, numbering at over 101,000.


Polish presence in Germany has existed for centuries, dating back to the late 18th Century. The Partitions of Poland caused Poland to become partially annexed by Prussia, which subsequently caused a portion of the population to fall under modern-day German control. This saw the beginnings of the Polish community in Germany, which slowly grew over the following centuries.

The next major turning point in the Polish community’s history in Germany came towards the end of the 19th Century with the advent of industrialisation. The Ruhr region in particular underwent considerable change and attracted over 300,000 Polish labourers, who were drawn to the region for the new wealth of employment opportunities. In addition to the Ruhr region, Poles settled in a number of other areas of the country, which were also undergoing rapid industrialisation. Despite this, this new wave of Poles experienced rising racial tensions upon their arrival. Following their arrival, they came under significant pressure to conform to ‘Germanisation’. A particular point of conflict between the Polish minority and Germans was the conflict between the former’s adherence to Catholicism and the latter’s adherence to Protestantism. A large number of high-ranking Polish Catholic officials were exiled and imprisoned, which heightened tensions between the two ethnic groups and stoked nationalistic sentiments.

The First World War saw another major turning point, as Polish-dominated territories were absorbed into the new Polish Republic. Despite this, a sizeable Polish minority remained in parts of Germany such as Upper Silesia and East Prussia. In the inter-war years, resentments from the brutal economic depression caused by wartime reparations, were stoked against the Poles by the ascendant Nazi Party. The Polish community in territories such as Upper Silesia were repressed and their community leaders arrested and executed, often at concentration camps. The outbreak of the Second World War saw Poland invaded and annexed by Nazi Germany and the Polish population undergo significant persecution and abuse.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, significant movement between the two countries occurred as Poland’s borders shifted westwards. Over 3.2 million Germans living in Poland were removed. The Polish community in Germany remained a sizeable one and steadily grew as the remainder of the 20th Century progressed. The late 20th Century saw large numbers of Poles migrate to East Berlin due to the economic opportunities there, whilst some fled for West Berlin to evade Communist rule.

Another major turning point occurred upon Poland’s admission into the European Union in 2004, which saw a renewed spike in emigration. Germany was, by some distance, the most popular destination, due to its close proximity and the wealth of economic opportunities. The Polish community remains a prevalent demographic throughout the country, with major hubs in urban centres, particularly Berlin. As the closest major city other than Warsaw, Berlin was a major draw for Poles leaving their homeland for economic or sometimes political reasons. The Polish community is not particularly centralised in a single neighbourhood but rather is widely dispersed throughout the city.

Top Five Restaurants
  1. Tak Tak

Address: Brunnenstrasse 5, 10119 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 12pm-10pm

A much-loved Polish delicatessen in the Mitte district specialising in. Classic dishes such as dumplings.

  1. Restaurant Breslau

Address: Sredzkistrasse 67, 10405 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 5pm-11pm (Monday-Friday), 3pm-11pm (Saturday), 12pm-11pm (Sunday)

One of the city’s finest and more up-market Polish restaurants, specialising in the traditional staples.

  1. Maly Ksiaze

Address: Lilienthalstrasse 6, 10965 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-9pm

A no-frills neighbourhood restaurant in Kreuzberg.

  1. Marjellchen

Address: Mommenstrasse 9, 10629 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 5pm-11.30pm

A popular Polish-German restaurants specialising in East Prussian cuisine.

  1. Gastatte Schaferstubchen

Address: Grindelwaldweg 2, 13407 Berlin, Germanu

Opening Hours: 12pm-11pm (Monday-Thursday), 4pm-12am (Friday-Saturday), 4pm-11pm (Sunday)

A top-quality Polish restaurant.

Things to Do
  1. Polish Institute Berlin

Address: Burgstrasse 27, 10178 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (Tuesday-Friday)

The city’s most essential Polish cultural institution, which promotes the country’s rich culture through a number of different activities and programs, most notably the annual Polish Film Festival.

  1. Club of Polish Losers

Address: Ackerstrasse 168, 10115 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: N/A

A vital Polish cultural institution established in the 1990’s as a means of fostering cultural exchange between the two countries. The institution organises a vast array of programming, including concerts, plays and art exhibitions.

  1. Buch Bund

Address: Sanderstrasse 8, 12047 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-7pm (Monday-Friday), 11am-6pm (Saturday)

A Polish bookstore and one of the most important cultural sites for Polish expatriates in the city.

  1. No Wodka

Address: Pappelalle 10, 10437 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 11am-7pm

A Polish design concept store, which hosts a number of exhibitions and pop-ups aiming to promote Polish artistry.

  1. Polish Thursday Dinners

Address: N/A

Opening Hours: N/A

A popular Polish supper club modelled by the famous parties of Polish King Stanislaw II Augustus, known for their delicious food and celebratory atmosphere.


A very recent demographic in Berlin, and Germany, is the Syrian diaspora. The country’s population experienced considerable displacement in the wake of the Syrian Civil War, which caused a major refugee crisis. Over 6 million people have been forced to flee their homes amid the carnage of war raging throughout the country. Germany is, by some distance, the largest base of the new Syrian diaspora, with nearly 700,000 relocating to the country following the outbreak of the civil war. Heavily based in urban centres such as Berlin, the Syrian population has faced a number of issues including problems concerning prejudice and assimilation. As the newest major diaspora in the country, its vast size and the traumatic origins of its displacement have made its adjustment to life in Germany a challenge.


As mentioned above, the Syrian diaspora is a very new immigrant population in Germany. Prior to the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, the Syrian population was fairly small and could be easily lumped together with other Arab diaspora populations in the country. The history of the Syrian population in Germany is very much divided into pre-Civil War and post-Civil War periods, and is very much a developing story, that continues to dominate cultural and political discourse in the country today.

As the Syrian Civil War intensified and continued to wreak irreparable damage upon the country, a refugee crisis developed as a result. The European Migrant Crisis of 2014-15 was a major humanitarian crisis, which generated considerable political discord throughout the continent. Germany emerged as a major destination for Syrian refugees after a lengthy, protracted process. In part due to its economic status and subsequent comparative ability to support such a massive influx of immigration, Germany took on far more refugees than any other European country.

The Syrian population, despite its many struggles involving racism and integration, has found success in some cases. In major urban centres such as Berlin, which has a reputation for being open-minded and accepting of immigrant populations, a number of community organisations and cultural institutions have been established to help ease the often difficult process of adapting to a new society.

Top Five Restaurants
  1. Yarok

Address: Torstrasse 195, 10115 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 12pm-10pm

One of the city’s finest Middle Eastern restaurants, known for its reasonable prices, authentic Syrian dishes and high popularity.

  1. Habibi

Address: Goltzstrasse 24, 10781 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 11am-3am (Monday-Thursday, Sunday), 11am-5am (Friday-Saturday)

One of the best Syrian restaurants in Berlin, well-known for its high-quality falafel and pastries. Reasonably priced and open deep into the night, it is immensely popular and has a few additional locations.

  1. Fatoush

Address: Simon-Dach-Strasse 41A, 10245 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 11am-11pm

Another Middle Eastern gem, known for its top-notch takes on signature dishes such as falafel, hummus and tabbouleh.

  1. Aldimashqi

Address: 28 Reuterstrasse, 12047 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-12am

A Neukolln institution known for its fantastic shawarma. Reasonably priced and authentic, it is one of the best Syrian restaurants in the city.

  1. Lawrence Berlin Mitte

Address: Oranienburger Str. 69, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 11am-12am (Monday-Friday), 10am-12am (Saturday-Sunday)

A more upmarket experience. The prices are higher than most Syrian restaurants, but it makes up for it with some of the finest Middle Eastern cooking in all of Berlin.

Things to Do
  1. Syrian Storytelling Arena

Address: N/A

Opening Hours: N/A

One of the most essential cultural institutions for the nascent Syrian community, the Syrian Storytelling Arena was set up in 2015 as a means of Syrian immigrants from all walks of life sharing their experiences in the wake of a traumatic national tragedy. The series features discourse from intellectuals and public figures as well as musical performances.

  1. Museum of Islamic Art

Address: Am Kupfergraben 5, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Sunday), 10am-8pm (Thursday)

One of Berlin’s great museums, this cultural institution draws from a vast resource of art and artefacts from throughout Islam’s history. There are over 93,000 distinct works in this museum, spanning the immense geographical and historical breadth of Islamic culture.

  1. Museum of Byzantine Art

Address: Am Kupfergraben, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (Tuesday-Wednesday, Friday-Sunday), 10am-8pm (Thursday)

One of Berlin’s finest historical museums, the Museum of Byzantine Art has a vast collection of antiques and artworks from the Byzantine Empire, the successor state to the Roman Empire and the predecessor to the Ottoman Empire, with its centre in Istanbul.

  1. Vorderasiatisches Museum

Address: Bodestrasse 1-3, 10178 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Sunday), 10am-8pm (Thursday)

Another essential Berlin museum concerning the history of the Middle East, this features extensive artistic and archaeological items from throughout Syria’s history (in addition to many other countries).

  1. Syrian Heritage Archive Project

Address: Am Kupfergraben 5, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Sunday), 10am-8pm (Thursday)

A major initiative undertaken by the Museum of Islamic Art in response to the ongoing brutalities of the Syrian Civil War dedicated to carrying out important research on the damage to the country’s many surviving cultural relics.


Berlin’s Vietnamese community is amongst the largest in the world, numbering around 40,000. The Vietnamese community is not only the city’s largest East Asian population, but also one of the city’s major immigrant populations. Berlin’s Vietnamese are widely dispersed throughout the city but with major hubs in Lichtenberg, Mitte and Neukolln.


Berlin’s Vietnamese population has a fairly recent history in the city, having arrived in large numbers following the Vietnam War. The history of the Vietnamese population in Berlin prior to this is almost non-existent. The population can be divided into two major groups. The first of which are refugees from the Vietnam War. This is, by some distance, the smaller of the Vietnamese populations, mainly hailing from capitalist South Vietnam. Following the end of the conflict and the Communist victory, many fled the ascendant regime. While mainly settling in the United States, Australia and France, a number of Vietnamese migrants settled in West Berlin, forming a small yet close-knit community.

The larger Vietnamese population arrived about a decade later, settling in East Berlin. This was a part of the country’s ‘economic miracle’, which lead to a major demand for labour. This in turn caused a massive influx of immigrants from countries such as Turkey, Italy and Greece to arrive in West Germany. The Communist Vietnam struck a labour agreement with the East German government, which saw large numbers of Vietnamese workers arrive in the country, mainly in East Berlin, a major industrial centre.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of East Germany and West Germany was a major turning point in the history of the Vietnamese population in the city. The industrial identity of East Berlin faded as jobs were outsourced to other countries, causing many Vietnamese immigrants to lose their jobs and return home. Despite this, the majority of the population remained in the city, and the divided population was slowly reunified. The divisions between the North and South Vietnamese was initially very clear, and the populations struggled to reconcile given the historical and geographical divisions between them.

A large number of Vietnamese settlers in other former industrial centres such as Leipzig soon arrived in Berlin due to the larger community having formed there and slowly the Vietnamese community of the city became a more unified entity.

Today, the population is fairly unified, as supported by institutions such as the Dong Xuan Centre, set up in the 1990’s. Predominantly based in East Berlin, remnants of the South Vietnamese population in West Berlin remain, with restaurants often named for its locales such as the former capital city of Saigon.

Top Five Restaurants

Vietnamese cuisine is amongst the most unique culinary styles in the world, easily distinguishable from other forms of Southeast Asian cooking. Known for its healthiness and wide variety of ingredients, it has become increasingly popular throughout the world as the diaspora has spread throughout the world. Major ingredients include lemongrass, ginger and birds eye chillies. Major dishes include pho, a noodle soup. Berlin is a premier destination for Vietnamese cuisine given the large diaspora population in the city.

  1. Si An

Address: Rykestrasse 36, 10405 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 12pm-11pm

One of Berlin’s most popular and authentic Vietnamese restaurants, known its novel approach to Vietnamese culinary classics at a reasonable price.

  1. Monsieur Vuong

Address: Alte Schonhauser Str. 46, 10119 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 12pm-11pm (Monday-Thursday), 12pm-12am (Friday-Sunday)

A classic, relaxed, banquet-style Vietnamese restaurant with a rotating selection of daily specials.

  1. Saigon and More

Address: Geisbergstrasse 12, 10777 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 6pm-11pm (Tuesday-Sunday)

One of Berlin’s finest and most authentic Vietnamese restaurants.

  1. District Mot

Address: Rosenthaler Str. 62, 10119 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 12pm-12am

A slick, modern Vietnamese restaurant in Berlin’s Mitte neighbourhood.

  1. Chen Che Tea House

Address: Rosenthaler Str. 13, 10119 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 12pm-12am

A unique treat amongst Berlin’s wealth of Vietnamese restaurants. A tea house and restaurant known for its authentic clay-pot dishes and desserts.

Things To Do
  1. Dong Xuan Centre

Address: Herzbergstrasse 128-139, 10465 Berlin, Germany

Opening Hours: 10am-8pm (Monday, Wednesday-Sunday)

The cultural epicentre of Berlin’s Vietnamese community is by a large margin the Dong Xuan Centre. In the East Berlin neighbourhood of Lichtenberg, of which 10% of the population is Vietnamese, this market is a major cultural development consisting of a number of warehouse hangars. Inside are restaurants, hair salons and numerous vendors peddling a vast range of goods. A thoroughly unique cultural experience in Berlin where one can spend endless hours.


Main Image: Daniel Grothe, #Berlin, Flickr Creative Commons

Global Cities: Berlin

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The Bangladeshi diaspora is one of the largest in the world, with a population of over 7.5 million people. It is fairly evenly distributed around the world, with no country…

The Pakistani Diaspora

The Pakistani diaspora is one of the largest immigrant populations in the world, numbering around 9 million. The large majority are based in the Middle East, particularly in the Arab…

The Sri Lankan Diaspora

The Sri Lankan diaspora is relatively large in comparison to the country’s overall population. 3 million Sri Lankans live overseas, with Western Europe, the Arab Gulf States and North America…

The Arab Diaspora

The Arab diaspora is one of the most widespread immigrant populations around the world, as well as one of the trickiest to define. Unlike most diaspora populations, Arabs are not…

The Irish Diaspora

The Irish diaspora is one of the largest in the world. Ireland itself has a very small population of 4.8 million. More than double this number has emigrated from Ireland…

The Polish Diaspora

The Polish diaspora is widespread and has been notably oppressed for centuries by a number of different external forces. This has caused it to become dispersed throughout the world, with…

The Nigerian Diaspora

The Nigerian diaspora is one of the largest African immigrant populations in the world, but its actual size is very difficult to estimate. The advent of colonialism and the Trans-Atlantic…

The Jamaican Diaspora

The Jamaican diaspora is a very large one in proportion to its overall population. The Caribbean island nation has a population of 4.4 million. Its diaspora population is over 2…

A Short History of The Inca Empire

The most widespread empire in the Americas prior to European conquest; although the Inca civilization was long-lived, the Empire itself thrived for a relatively short period of time of just…

The Turkish Diaspora

The Turkish diaspora is difficult to categorise due to there being so many disparate population groups as a result of the sheer territorial reach of the former Ottoman Empire. Thus,…

The Greek Diaspora

The Greek diaspora, due to its sheer longevity, is one of the more difficult to categorise. It has existed since the days of antiquity and remains widespread in the present…

Global Cities: Berlin

While historically overlooked in favour of more glamorous and traditionally beautiful European cities, Berlin has undergone a renaissance of sorts in recent years, cementing itself as the continent’s premier culture…

Global Cities: London

London is one of the most global cities on the planet, a real melting pot of different cultures, nationalities and religions. With many traces of the country’s former colonial reach…

Global Cities: New York

New York City is one of the most global metropolises on the planet, practically synonymous with the virtues of immigration. For centuries, the city has been an entry point for…

The Malaysian Diaspora

The Malaysian diaspora is a relatively small one, numbering around 1 million people, a small number considering its population of over 32 million. It is also generally confined to nearby…

The Portuguese Diaspora

The Portuguese diaspora is very difficult to estimate in terms of size due to its extensive history. As one of the largest empires of the colonial period, Portugal’s territorial reach…

Global Cities: Los Angeles

Few cities epitomise multiculturalism better than Los Angeles. The city is home to one of the most diverse array of immigrant populations in the world. From its Spanish roots, the…

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