My university moved some departments (mine included) to a former industrial area in Berlin, Schöneweide (English: beautiful field), five years ago. This part of town is often called "Schweineöde" (English: pig's wasteland) by the locals. Located on the Spree, it was an area with heavy industrialization that broke down during the German Democratic Republic times and for decades was known for unemployment, abandoned buildings, and Neonazis. The latter had their headquarters here, a clothing store and some pubs, but that is now changing. One of the pubs has finally lost the last court suit brought by the owner and is being forced to move.

In 2004 Carsten Otte published a book called "Schweineöde" with Eichborn (reviews in German at Cicero and Perlentaucher). The book is about Raimund Kuballa, bored millionaire from the West who rents a room in Schöneweide and experiences, as Otte writes, "Einsamkeit, Haß, Zuneigung, Liebe, Ablehnung, Gewalt, Erniedrigung, Ohnmacht und Macht" (loneliness, hate, affection, love, rejection, violence, humilation, impotence and power) during his years of living in a small apartment in the Rathenaustraße. Most particularly, he becomes so fascinated with the history of the former Eastern German secret police Stasi, that he himself turns to information gathering, denunciation, even framing his neighbor and rival for the love of Jana in order to get him jailed.

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I was at the beginning fascinated to read about this part of town, and it was interesting to see how Kuballa was drawn into his obsession with the Stasi. But the book soon got bogged down and Otte didn't really have any idea how to end the book. But for a first novel I suppose that is often the case. I often wondered while reading the book if Otte himself had lived in this apartment and was describing his neighbors.

In any case, this part of town is slowly pulling itself out of the muck. Since 7000 students and teachers trek out to the university every weekday, espresso bars and cafes have sprung up, and the art scene is rapidly developing. The rents are still cheap here and a walk along the Spree is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.