Local heroes

Project idea

Local Heroes investigates potentials of ethnic economies in Berlin- Neukölln. With regard to the reorganization and revitalization of the former shopping district, the project aims to preserve the existing multi-ethnicity within the development and highlights the cultural diversity of the site.


Neukölln is a traditional working class district and former location of much of Berlins’ industrial employment. Many companies in former West Berlin times ran highly subsidized production sites here and created a high demand for workers. After the fall of the wall, subsidies, and therefore production, were eliminated. For many this meant the loss of their existence, and was especially true for migrant workers. Today 160 different nations live in Neukölln. More and more enterprises are owned and run by migrants. Turkish and Arabic enterprise, but increasingly also African, Asian, and Eastern- European, take on an important role. The establishment of enterprise happens mostly out of necessity.

[slideshow id=5]

The job market is particularly difficult for migrant workers. „Unsatisfactory“ language skills are a big obstacle, as well as the unwillingness of professional degrees from their home countries to be acknowledged. Most of the businesses are established with private capital funds. Through these enterprises the creation of value is increasing in Neukölln. The high potential of the ethnic economies – those which can bring further changes for the Neukölln economy – are often not obvious. The project Local Heroes therefore aims to investigate special characteristics of ethnic economies along Karl- Marx- Straße, and to showcase theis potentials. With regard to the concept of the re-development of the Karl- Marx- Straße in Neukölln and a revitalization of the former shopping district, Local Heroes wants to preserve the existing multi- ethnicity within the development of the local site, and highlight its cultural diversity.


In order to get an overview of the area, we investigated all shops with regard to its ethnic economies along Karl- Marx- Straße, between Hermannplatz and Grenzallee. Most of the app. 350 enterprises have ethnic background. In order to achieve detailed results we then emphasized only two areas: (1) The section between Hermannplatz and Metro Station Rathaus Neukölln and (2) the section between Metro Station Karl- Marx- Straße and Metro Station Hermannstraße. It is here that many retailers and family businesses are settled. We did not designate the investigation of international companies. For the analysis two planning tools have been used. In the first step we did stocktaking through „direct observation“. Herewith special features that move between the Local and the Global were defined. In the second step we did interviews based on a conversation thread of 5- 10 questions. As well as in the direct observation, it was not our goal in the interviews to map obvious facts, but to show characterizations and special features of ethnic economies that are not immediately visible.


With a research period of only three months, it has to be pointed out that the present investigation and conclusions can only give a first impression into a complex topic and a to broader field of investigation. Yet some results allow some initial feedback. That the Karl- Marx- Straße can be presented as a model for multi- ethnicity is an important fact, and this potential should be used as a premise for the local urban development. While e.g. the Kreuzberger area surrounding the Kottbusser Tor is almost exclusively in the hand of the Turkish community, the Neuköllner Sonnenallee, however, is Arabic. One can find people from all nations on Karl- Marx- Straße. Living and working together seems to function well; the business owners know each other and understand the cultural diversity as positive. They adjust to one another, adapt their goods according to the needs, and learn new languages. This openness is a special characteristic of the Karl- Marx- Straße that should absolutely be preserved.

Definition of special characteristics of ethnic economies

1. Characteristics defined through direct observation

  • Global Appearance: Signatures & national flags on shop windows and facade speak about countries of origin and at the same time respond to a particular audience.
  • global Products/ Services from home countries; groceries from the Asian Supermarket, Bollywood Films from the Indian shop owner or special hair products and styles that can be found in the Afro-shop.
  • Smells of Products from far of countries.
  • Places for women: Enterprises run, and mostly used by women. Some shops have separate rooms only for women.
  • Places for men: Apart from the typical „Cultural foundations“, businessmen meet at various places: at betting offices, at the bank, in front of the supermarket. Often public space turns into space of negotiation.
  • Extended Sales room: many enterprises extend their sales room onto the pavement in front of their shops. This bazaar- like atmosphere reminds people of the countries of origin.

2. Characteristics defined through Interviews

  • Multi- lingual: Multi- National occupation in management, as well as employment section and customers. Often more than one, and sometimes up to five languages are spoken.
  • Family business: many enterprises are organized within the family and over generations. Often there is more than one business at different sites. Some have further employees apart from family.
  • Network: economic, friendly, and neighborly relationships amongst enterprises across the boarders of the Karl- Marx- Straße.
  • Flexible: rarely homogeneous business strategies; most shops offer more than one product &/ services for sale. Concepts are flexibly adapted; if one not successful, it is quickly adapted or completely changed.
  • Meeting points for different ethnic groups. Language, products and service connect people with their home countries and create space for cultural peculiarities and rituals.

Funded by
Local Social Capital (LSK) Berlin