Scholars of gentrification often study the visual results of socioeconomic structural change in urban environments, including graffiti removal and historical reconstructions of façades, turning “ugly” factory ruins into charming residential loft spaces, etc. This article examines the gentrification of Berlin’s former working-class neighborhood Prenzlauer Berg in terms of sound. We present the Knaack Klub as a sonic case study symbolizing the erasure of the voices and culture of Berlin’s long-term residents and argue that contestations over sound, brought on by West German migrants in what can be considered a “hostile takeover” of parts of East Berlin, are a key driver of gentrification. Mining visual material including photographs, police reports, court verdicts, real estate advertisements, and street maps for acoustic clues, we are able to synthesize sight and sound, ultimately allowing us to move beyond the surface—in this case, building façades—to study the visual and sonic penetration of a gentrifying neighborhood’s intersecting public and private spaces. The study of the sonic heritage of neighborhoods or even single buildings helps us to move beyond Wilhelmine façades and the surface of courtyard living to reevaluate the relationship between urban space and community, between architectural history and policy.

There is an extensive body of literature on the architectural and sociocultural ramifications of Berlin’s ongoing gentrification, including the conversion of factory ruins into residential loft spaces, graffiti removal, the reconstruction of historical façades, and, most troublingly, the displacement of native Berliners to the periphery of the city. The narrative of Berlin’s gentrification concentrates on the efforts of powerful players and entities: building, development, and rent policies set forth by the City of Berlin, large-scale development projects undertaken by international real estate companies, and schemes supported by anonymous real estate funds. While many reports on the socioeconomic dimensions of gentrification paint a devastating picture, the visual effects of gentrification are usually described in positive terms: Before and after pictures tell the story of beautification, restoration, the removal of grime, etc. Yet it is also clear that gentrification itself is not a silent process—consider construction sounds, rerouted traffic, and residents moving in and out. Our work thus seeks to lend an ear to architectural and social history by asking: What did and do the sonic effects of gentrification sound like? To what degree does the sonic narrative of Berlin’s gentrification differ from the visual one?

We investigate the acoustic politics of Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg and the changing soundscapes of the past by focusing on one building in particular—the famous nightclub and concert venue Knaack Klub (1952–2010), accessed from the second courtyard of Greifswalder Street 224 deep within the building lot, and a mere 15 minutes by foot from iconic Alexanderplatz. For nearly 60 years, people flocked to what was first a center for East German youth and then a disco, to dance to recorded music, and later—after German reunification, when Knaack had expanded to several floors—to see and listen to live music by bands such as Rammstein, Snow Patrol, Tote Hosen, and others. But as nearby tenement apartment buildings were given facelifts and converted into residences for affluent and often nonnative Berliners, noise complaints grew in frequency. Following a court order mandating lower noise levels after 11 p.m., Knaack lost its reputation as a bustling concert club and found itself forced to close its doors in 2010. A large real estate company recently renovated the building into a multi-use structure combining retail, residential, and office space.

While comparing photographs of run-down building exteriors with shiny new façades is relatively easy, studying the acoustic “before” and “after” presents greater challenges. Unrecorded soundwaves are ephemeral physical entities; when the original architecture and urban spaces that facilitated their creation are no longer extant, recreating the sounds of the past in situ becomes impossible. How then can we best approximate the sounds of former East Berlin locality Prenzlauer Berg and the gentrification of its Kiez (the Berlin term for a small neighborhood within a district that has its own identity and sense of belonging), the Winsviertel? Ultimately, our case study investigates the relationship between sound production and sound control and reads sonic markers of social change against the backdrop of Berlin’s architectural and cultural history. By illustrating Berlin’s building history, including its tenement structures, and listening to its topography today, we seek to add a layer to our understanding of the newly gentrified spaces deep within Berlin’s once infamous and now desirable Gründerzeit and Wilhelmine Era Mietskasernen—formerly “rental barracks” that housed the working classes. We present the Knaack Klub as a sonic case study symbolizing the erasure of the voices and culture of Berlin’s long-term residents and argue that contestations over sound, brought on by West German migrants in what can be considered a “hostile takeover” of parts of East Berlin, are a key driver of gentrification.

To illustrate this thesis, we employ a twofold approach. Visual documents in 2D and 3D suggest a comprehensive “view,” but due to their abbreviated nature, instead they often provide narrow and superficial viewpoints. This obscuring of all information outside of the frame renders the viewer an outsider, unable to take in the full picture. While we remain outsiders visually, combining visual and sonic dimensions affords us a fuller sensory experience. As Bruce Smith suggests, “knowing the world through sound is fundamentally different from knowing the world through vision.”1 To gain full access, we employ the concept of acoustic ecology, defined by Canadian composer and founder of the World Soundscape Project R. Murray Schafer as “the study of sounds in relationship to life and society.”2 Mining visual material including photographs, police reports, court verdicts, real estate advertisements, and street maps for acoustic clues, we are able to synthesize sight and sound, ultimately allowing us to move beyond the surface—in this case, building façades—to study the visual and sonic penetration of a gentrifying neighborhood’s intersecting public and private spaces. While visual gentrification remains on the surface, we argue that sonic gentrification literally invades all spaces and begs to be studied.

Our ultimate goal is to lend an ear to gentrification symptoms as experienced at the level of the district’s residents: long-established Berliners versus new residents seeking glamour without clamor in Berlin. We expose how conflicts over sound are class-marked and that such struggles reverberate particularly deeply in the capital of a reunified Germany, where gentrifying neighborhoods and their soundscapes dissolve communities and forever change neighborhoods. In 1990, the German Democratic Republic ceased to exist as a state; bit by bit, the character of East Berlin is irreversibly being taken over by the West. Our sonic analysis is grounded in Berlin’s recent gentrification processes and experiences; thus we begin with a general discussion of the different dimensions of gentrification and then provide context for Berlin’s specific gentrification history.

The neighborhoods of Wicker Park in Chicago, Harlem and Chelsea in Manhattan, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn have all become watchwords for a global phenomenon first identified by Ruth Glass in her 1964 work on inner-city London.3 In Glass’s formulation, such locations are synonymous with the process of gentrification, “a multi-dimensional, multi-step process of socio-spatial changes through which the value of urban neighborhoods is increased.”4

Christian Döring and Klaus Ulbricht define gentrification as occurring in four dimensions: functional, symbolic, architectural, and social.5 To a certain degree, functional, symbolic, and architectural gentrification all fall under the rubric of what we have termed visual gentrification, the symptoms of which include, but are not limited to, the renovation, repurposing, and beautification of the built environment. In Döring and Ulbricht’s formulation, functional gentrification refers to an influx of cultural institutions, services, restaurants, and entertainment or retail businesses, often with name recognition and of higher quality than what came before. Markers of ethnic and lower-class status such as the corner pub, the bodega, and ethnic grocery stores disappear in favor of branded businesses. Symbolic gentrification is the image of the gentrifying neighborhood generated and conveyed to the wider public by new community members and stakeholders themselves, tourism boards, and the media.6

Architectural gentrification generally includes aesthetic and structural upgrades to existing buildings and infrastructure as well as the conversion of rental units into individually owned properties, all of which increase the real estate value of the improved properties and those in the vicinity.7 New or newly revamped sidewalks, parks, and bus stops make their appearance. Factories are repurposed into apartment buildings or condominium complexes, subdivided apartments are expanded or combined into more expansive residences, and working spaces and courtyards are transformed into visually appealing places of leisure, from gardens to playscapes. Ethnic and lower-class decorative markers such as plastic flowers in window boxes, laundry lines, and bedsheets used as curtains disappear—as do the residents who favored them.

This leads us to the most problematic aspect of gentrification, social gentrification, which encompasses the displacement of long-established population groups and their replacement with those of greater socioeconomic capital. Established residents find themselves economically and socially marginalized; due to an increasing cost of living, including spiraling rents outpacing the rate of inflation, they are priced and forced out of their homes and larger communities. Ultimately, the existing urban fabric is fully transformed in favor of individuals and surroundings more valuable in the eyes of capitalism. In practice, this usually means the exchange of lower socioeconomic status residents with “pioneers,” often students and artists with high cultural capital but not necessarily great means, and then the replacement of the latter with those of greater economic means.8 In the American context, gentrification is often linked in the public mind with failed policies like urban renewal—the replacement of “blighted” slum neighborhoods with income-generating projects that included no provision for housing and the subsequent displacement and containment of ethnic and racial minorities—but the German situation, and that of Berlin in particular, is not precisely comparable, even as Berlin has long been held as the most “American” of German cities.

Colloquially termed “Chicago on the Spree” at the end of the 19th century, or as Mark Twain referred to it, “the Chicago of Europe,” the “American” scale and speed of Berlin’s growth astounded contemporary commentators. Bolstered by burgeoning steel, chemical, and electrical industries and its position at the hub of numerous rail lines, the city grew from a population of 768,00 in 1865 to nearly 4 million by 1920, with most of these residents nonnative-born Berliners. Thus, like its American counterparts, Berlin has long been a city of newcomers, including but certainly not limited to East Prussian and Silesian agricultural workers, maids from the Mark Brandenburg, artisans from Province Posen, and refugees from the Pale of Russia. What has changed in recent decades is not only the face of these newcomers—natives of Stuttgart and Hamburg, as well as American and British expats with relatively deep pockets, rather than lower-income Eastern Europeans and Gastarbeiter (guest workers) from the Mediterranean basin—but also their relationship to the rental market. A city that has long favored state intervention targeting the housing of both middle- and lower-income people has seen a decided shift toward privatization and home ownership. An impossibility in the decades before reunification due to Berlin’s special status, the phenomenon of gentrification in the eastern neighborhoods of the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany is not quite 30 years old. What structures and policies enabled this shift? What districts are particularly impacted, and why?

Following the mid-19th-century plans of civil servant James Hobrecht, central Berlin neighborhoods such as Prenzlauer Berg are marked by relatively wide streets and four to five story multi-use buildings extending deep into 400-square-meter city blocks, often perimeter block construction. Historically, residences were located on the upper floors with street-level spaces devoted to commercial uses that ranged from retailers to industrial workshops. While Hobrecht had assumed that developers would subdivide the city blocks (adding parks, lawns, and lanes), in practice this rarely occurred, with the result being that these complexes, particularly when located in working-class districts, were very densely populated. One somewhat extreme example was Meyershof, essentially a city within a city in Berlin-Wedding, built in 1874 to house more than 2,000 people in 257 apartments, along with small businesses and workshops.9 However overcrowded and unsanitary Mietskasernen might have been, though, they were relatively well integrated socially, with class status indicated by the location of one’s apartment within a building. While the most desirable addresses in Prenzlauer Berg today are accessed via quiet and leafy rear courtyards, the opposite was true historically: the more affluent had no desire to inhabit courtyard apartments. They resided in apartments on the Beletage/Piano Nobile, the first upper floor fronting the street, while the poor often had to make due with attic or basement apartments in the rear of the building. On the whole, Prenzlauer Berg was decidedly working class.

This working-class orientation hardly shifted during the interwar and Nazi periods, though from 1949 those who might later be termed “pioneers of gentrification” began to flock to Prenzlauer Berg, which quickly gained the reputation as a field of experimentation within the new East Germany.10 Rather than having roots in Berlin’s working class, new residents were members of the “spiritual proletariat”: artists, intellectuals, students, and East Germany’s gay community. In this context, one can think of Prenzlauer Berg as a “sort of East German version of [New York’s] Greenwich Village or [San Francisco’s] Haight-Ashbury, a place of…counter-cultural lifestyles.”11 Yet despite the uptick in relative affluence and cultural capital, Prenzlauer Berg’s gentrification was an impossibility under GDR governance, since opportunities to buy and sell real estate with an eye to profitable redevelopment were virtually nonexistent. Instead, East Berlin saw massive state-driven depreciation of central city real estate, as the government not only favored new construction in outer districts like Marzahn but also kept rents too low to finance much-needed renovations in more central districts. In fact, as late as 1990 20% of apartments in central East Berlin districts were deemed unsafe and uninhabitable, with nearly all dwellings in Prenzlauer Berg lacking central heating and private bathroom facilities.12

It was the Wende, or reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, that changed the fate and face of Prenzlauer Berg. That which was once a peripheral address—Prenzlauer Berg or the wasteland of Potsdamer Platz—became desirable not only because of a newly central location but also because the prices of such properties were incredibly depressed and thus highly appealing to sharp-eyed private investors. Nearly as soon as centrally located East Berlin real estate was returned to its “original” prewar owners or their descendants, much of it was snapped up by international real estate companies and funds. The latter were lured by extremely lucrative tax breaks and subsidies and often privatized not just individual flats, but entire buildings. In fact, building owners could write off 50% of investment costs on any commercial or residential development in the former East Germany until 1996, which then decreased to 40% until 1999.13 In Prenzlauer Berg, five areas were deemed derelict and subsequently declared Sanierungsgebiete (formal redevelopment zones), meaning that nearly one-sixth of the district was rehabilitated directly through public grants, which then shifted into incentives embedded in federal tax legislation favoring privately funded refurbishment.14 Basically, these investment groups did not make their money from the rents they levied, but from claiming tax benefits.15 Rents remained relatively low, as there was little demand for “upgraded” housing—at least at first.16

However, in just over a decade after the Wende, Prenzlauer Berg had become not only a “battleground for gentrification”17 but, along with Mitte and Friedrichshain-Ost, also a district marked by the phenomenon of supergentrification. In Prenzlauer Berg this meant a decline in industry and a rise in service-sector jobs, massive rent increases, and the conversion of rental units to individually owned ones, all of which had the effect of displacing not only long-term working-class residents but also early “pioneers” and even middle-class residents.18 As Keseling notes, the number of Prenzlauer Berg residents with a university degree has doubled since the Wende and the average salary, which used to be 20% below the Berlin average, is now considerably above.19

While the first generation of new residents after reunification were largely in line with those who lived there under the GDR regime—students, intellectuals, and artists, all of whom might undertake renovations but who would finance and do it themselves—the second generation of residents, largely middle-class families and creative types, moved into freshly renovated, albeit still relatively inexpensive, apartments with “character.” By the end of the 1990s, the typical new tenant in a refurbished apartment in Prenzlauer Berg was paying twice what the previous tenant had paid, was between the ages of 18 and 45, and was 20% more likely to represent a single-person household.20

Who then is the typical Prenzlauer Berg resident today, and what are they looking for? While historically working class with a bohemian vibe, over the last two decades Prenzlauer Berg has seen an influx of not only American yuppies and other expats but also relatively well-educated and affluent Southwestern Germans, often from Swabia in Baden-Württemberg, who seek “family friendly living in the middle of the city, complete with a private garden.”21 The rear courtyards of Prenzlauer Berg—once markers of modernity; lively, busy, and noisy places of commerce, industry, and lower-class residence—have been transformed into near–gated communities fulfilling the needs of families seeking urban surroundings without sacrificing greenery, privacy, and quiet. Worryingly, gentrification is driving out the many artists, both established residents and relative newcomers alike, who have long given the district its bohemian character. According to Catherine Hickley of The Art Newspaper, in 2018 the typical Prenzlauer Berg artist paid between 50% and 100% more rent than in 2010,22 while Berlin-wide rents increased by 40% during roughly the same time period. And property values continue to rise: At Greifswalder Street 224—the former address of Knaack—the purchase price for a remodeled apartment had risen by 57% between 2014, the year renovations were completed, and 2018.

In 2003, Berlin’s then-mayor Klaus Wowereit characterized Germany’s capital as “poor but sexy.” Now it is more common to see upper-middle-class families pushing expensive baby strollers through the streets of Berlin, and in Prenzlauer Berg specifically. These affluent new Berliners—who can afford organic baby wash and cortado with almond milk—quickly became comic fodder, as videos by “Prenzlschwäbin” Bärbel Stolz went viral. Prenzlschwäbin is a portmanteau of Prenzlauer Berg and a woman from Swabia; Stolz’s videos are parodies of affluent Prenzlauer Berg parents who speak with thick Swabian accents and give their children pretentious hyphenated names. The media even took to terming Prenzlauer Berg “Schwabylon.”

However, the fun quickly turned more politically pointed in 2012 when then-Bundestagsvizepräsident (vice president of federal parliament) and longtime Prenzlauer Berg resident Wolfgang Thierse complained that Berlin’s Swabians had failed to assimilate. In an interview with the Morgenpost, he claimed that Berlin initially appeals to Swabians because it is colorful and lively, but after a certain period of time, these new residents decide to turn Berlin back into the hometown they left, from introducing the notion of the Kehrwoche—a rotation of shared duties, such as cleaning the communal staircase and entrance area of an apartment building—to changing what a bread roll is called. In what can only be interpreted as ironic, he called for a protection of his species: both the native Berliner and his Schrippe, the Berlin term for bread roll, rather than the Southwest German term Weckle.23

Ultimately, the “Schwabenstreit” dissipated as Thierse apologized and politicians acknowledged that Swabian money had brought prosperity to a city often known for its indebtedness. But despite all the media coverage of Berlin’s Swabian population, official numbers do not support the supposed phenomenon of “Schwabification”: According to data collected in 2015, only 8,117 of Berlin’s residents had been born in Stuttgart—and Prenzlauer Berg alone boasts over 160,000 residents. According to the “Zugezogenen Atlas,” native Hamburgers, then those born in Dresden and Leipzig, dominate among newcomers to Berlin.24 What is true, though, is that every second Berlin resident was not born in Berlin—they come from all over Germany; indeed, from all over the world.

In comparison to other localities, Prenzlauer Berg experienced more in-migration than other areas of the city, making a large cultural shift inevitable. As mentioned previously, after reunification, and especially between 1995 and 2000, nearly half of Prenzlauer Berg’s residents were newcomers, and the number of individuals with university degrees had doubled.25 In the Winsviertel, Kollwitz, and Helmholtzplatz Kiezes, three-quarters of the adults have higher degrees. The rising educational (and financial) status of its new residents was also—perhaps even more worryingly so—correlated to ethnicity. Though its proportion of foreigners at around 12% is just slightly under-average in comparison to other districts, the proportion is different: the percentage of Prenzlauer Bergers with Turkish passports only stands at 0.3%.26 Non-German passport-holding Prenzlauer Berg residents hail from France, Italy, the United States, Great Britain, Spain, and Denmark—and there are 10 times more Japanese than Egyptians; “a G8 population, highly educated and employed,” as a journalist quipped in 2007.27

So, why were Swabians singled out as the minority group to blame for the structural problem that is gentrification? According to Moritz Honert in “Schwabenhass im Szenekiez,” which loosely translates to “Hatred of Swabians in Trendy Quarters,” the new residents from Swabian towns in Baden-Württemberg are more affluent and better educated than other migrants, which often results in visibility out of proportion to their numbers—the purchasing of apartments, the patronage of new stores and restaurants, including bakeries selling Swabian Weckle.28 Economically speaking, Swabians are the perfect target group for architectural, functional, and symbolic gentrification efforts. These new residents were partially an affront because they could afford what long-term residents typically could not, but also because they stood as mirror opposites of what fun-loving, gritty, and alternative Prenzlauer Berg and Berlin was known for. As scapegoats, they stood in for everyone and anyone who moved to Berlin and then tried to change its character. More troublingly, they are trenchant reminders of an old trope in German-speaking Central Europe—albeit one temporarily reversed during the Cold War: the colonization of the East by the West29—as well as persistent inequalities in wealth and access based on West or East German origins.30

In fact, many of the physical and sonic changes to Prenzlauer Berg do relate to building traditions and planning policies well established in Southwest Germany, where Swabia is located. This federal state has a long history of streets that have been designed with pedestrians, cyclists, and even playing children in mind. These include “traffic calming” streets, where cars are allowed to drive through but must not drive faster than the average speed of a pedestrian (estimated at 7 km/hr), and pedestrian zones, where streets are closed to automobile traffic entirely. In West Germany—including Stuttgart, which was one of the first West German cities to declare an existing street a pedestrian zone in 1953—such zones have long served as indicators of economic prosperity and symbols of mass consumption.

In 1952, when what would become the Knaack Klub opened in the Winsviertel Kiez of Prenzlauer Berg, no one could have imagined a future in which Swabians lived in a space vacated by the East German Communist state. Accessed through a doorway on Greifswalder Street 224, which led to the actual entrance on a side building of the building’s second courtyard, the Ernst-Knaack-Jugendheim (youth center) took the place of a second-floor tailor shop.

Named after Berliner Ernst Knaack (b. 1914), who had opposed the Nazis and died in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen in 1944, it was intended to both keep tabs on and entertain young East Berliners otherwise tempted by life in the West. In the 1950s and ’60s, interested youth could simply hang out or play ping pong under the watchful gaze of the Freie Deutsche Jugend, the official youth movement of the German Democratic Republic. In the 1970s, a dance floor was added so that East Berliners could listen and dance to state-approved music records by East German bands like The Puhdys. After the Wende, Knaack became known as a club with several dance floors: The basement housed Darmwäsche, a disco; in 1992 the first floor became a concert venue where bands such as Berlin’s Knorkator debuted and well-known acts like the Swedish heavy metal band Clawfinger played.

Figure 1.

Entrance to the Ernst-Knaack-Jugendklub circa 1976. Photo credit: Archiv des Museums Pankow.

Figure 1.

Entrance to the Ernst-Knaack-Jugendklub circa 1976. Photo credit: Archiv des Museums Pankow.

While Knaack was an important stepping-stone for many bands, the most famous was Rammstein. In an interview with the Berliner Zeitung conducted just 30 days before Knaack’s closure, the club’s last manager, Matthias Harnoss, remembered that Neue Deutsche Härte band Rammstein played there before gaining national and even international popularity in the mid-1990s. In 1994, Rammstein used the Knaack as a rehearsal space, with their office located in the same building. Harnoss reminisced about the band’s experiments with pyrotechnic effects at Knaack: In those days, Rammstein would still “put everything together by themselves; once, the whole floor was on fire.31

In the 2000s, the Knaack had expanded so much that it occupied almost 4,000 square feet over four floors in the second courtyard’s side building: basement (95 sq m); first floor (98 sq m); second floor (96 sq m), and third floor (65 sq m). Offering something for a variety of tastes within its footprint, it was just a matter of time before the club made it into national and international party guides. Party Earth, for example, stated on its website:

Partiers shouldn’t be deterred by the run-down, abandoned look of the building—Knaack is the oldest club in Berlin and has delivered good times to partygoers of every ilk since 1952. Four floors of bars and clubs, each with its own unique atmosphere, surround an outdoor courtyard. To the left of the entrance is the most club-like room where a DJ plays 80s, soul, pop, and funk, while across the courtyard a set of stairs leads down to a graffiti-covered live music venue in the basement, which features some hardcore rock and punk. The spacious second floor recalls a typical college bar where a young crowd gets wild to the latest rock music on the elevated dance floor. The Dizzy Lounge on the top floor provides pool tables and video games and serves strong cocktails, which usually results in some hilarious karaoke performances as patrons unleash their best rock star impressions. Knaack’s something-for-everyone atmosphere and inexpensive prices make it an ideal place for large groups.32

The Knaack venue became famous not only for offering music and entertainment but also for its decrepit, bohemian atmosphere—one that was understood both as authentically urban and as an East Berlin icon. In fact, of the numerous reviews dating back to the 2000s, the only caveat was that no one should arrive before midnight. Yet, despite its having survived the GDR era and gaining renown as a music venue and launching pad for numerous bands, Knaack faced a new challenge as new residents with greater economic power and social capital began to drown out the voices of its patrons and owners.

In the mid-2000s, sporadic noise complaints filed by residents from surrounding buildings concerning Knaack began to be recorded, though it was not until 2008 that such complaints intensified in severity and frequency. In November of that year, an adjacent Wilhelmine Era building at Heinrich-Roller Street 14 was fully remodeled, with the builders adding a brand-new cross-building at the rear of the lot. This new building included five floors with ten apartments, all of which were swiftly sold to private owners who quickly moved in. While not visible from the façade of either Heinrich-Roller Street 14 or Greifswalder Street 224, these new apartments were positioned so deep within the block that three rooms in each of the five apartments directly shared a wall with the Knaack Klub.

Figure 2.

3-D rendering of the intersection of Heinrich-Roller Street 14 (A) and Greifswalder Street 224 (B). Rendering by Sanjana Roy.

Figure 2.

3-D rendering of the intersection of Heinrich-Roller Street 14 (A) and Greifswalder Street 224 (B). Rendering by Sanjana Roy.

Figure 3.

Façade of Heinrich-Roller-Street 14 in 2019. Photograph by Mendel Baljon.

Figure 3.

Façade of Heinrich-Roller-Street 14 in 2019. Photograph by Mendel Baljon.

The new owners had only looked at Heinrich-Roller Street 14’s beautifully restored Gründerzeit façade and elegantly renovated courtyard during the day. Seduced by the ornate aesthetics of an earlier and grander time out front and a spacious courtyard to the rear, they loved what they saw. They hadn’t listened to what would become their new home and thus failed to realize that their apartments shared wall space—and soundscapes—with not just another apartment building but instead, a concert venue. One could call them short-sighted. In the evening and at night, soundwaves from the Knaack, including thumping bass and guitar reverberations, could be heard and felt in their bedrooms and living spaces. Vision is directional, but hearing is spherical:33 Residents could not simply lock the door or close the shades to drown out the Knaack Klub and its sounds. By moving in, they had become both producing as well as receiving members of the same auditory and, to an extent, tactile community: a shared sound space separated by walls. Our mining of visual documents for acoustic information—here illustrated visually again—reveals an invasion of their privacy invisible to the eye.

Figure 4.

Heinrich-Roller Street apartment floorplan showing the penetration of sound waves. Rendering by Sanjana Roy.

Figure 4.

Heinrich-Roller Street apartment floorplan showing the penetration of sound waves. Rendering by Sanjana Roy.

In the face of this assault on two of their senses, the new owners had no real recourse. Bothered by the nocturnal disturbance of loud recorded and live music, they immediately began to lodge legal complaints. While noise could allegedly be heard on all five floors of the new construction, only those on the third and fourth floors filed written complaints with the Ordungsamt and Umweltamt (environmental bureau); one plaintiff was a doctor, the other the head of a family. Both complaints stated that the bassline of hard rock music could be heard and felt in their respective apartments. On December 27, 2008, the police were called and proceeded to measure and confirm that nighttime noise levels were indeed unacceptable in the fourth-floor apartment—the measurements exceeded the prescribed immission value/benchmark of 25 dB(A) by 7 dB(A) in the bedroom and by 10 dB(A) in the living room.34 The police report also confirmed that there were other lower frequency noise components, including infrasound, which is inaudible to the human ear but that also has potentially dangerous consequences for health: vertigo, imbalances, and even resonances in the inner organs.

Following the police findings, the Bezirksamt (district office) reacted with strict noise restrictions: the club was ordered to reduce its volume levels to no higher than 85 dB after 11 p.m. In short, a concert venue and dance club was only allowed to emit sounds to the outside at the level of what Germans call Zimmerlautstärke, or the average human speaking voice within a room. Yet, as a club employee explained, the human body cannot even absorb bass at under 95 dB.35 In an effort to comply with these regulations, the Knaack Klub invested in a new sound system and added sound buffers to their side of the party wall. However, the authorities continued to insist that the club, which had made its fame and money by hosting rock, punk, and metal music concerts, keep the volume down.

Faced with an impossible and unsustainable situation, the owner of the building where the Knaack was located decided to try his luck with the Verwaltungsgericht (Berlin’s administrative court). In September 2009 he countersued, taking issue with the Bauamt Pankow’s approval of the building permit allowing for the construction of the condominiums at the rear of Heinrich-Roller Street 14 back in April 2005. Previous to recent renovations, the building had housed offices and administrative spaces, whose tenants were relatively unaffected by nighttime noise.

Unfortunately for the owners and patrons of the Knaack, the official decree by the Umweltamt that would eventually lead to Knaack’s closing was issued on February 4, 2010. The owner of the Knaack property then filed an emergency appeal through the administrative court and in decisions in February and March 2010, the Verwaltungsgericht allowed the appeal and stated that the Bauamt Pankow was indeed at fault for failing to insist on better sound isolation—even for something as simple as stipulating that the new building should not share a wall with the existing building housing Knaack. Though it would have added to construction costs, 10 centimeters distance between Knaack and the apartment building would have sufficed.36 Considering it was built on a somewhat “noise crippled site,” but without making use of obvious technically feasible and economically justifiable precautions to reduce noise, the new construction was assessed as “reckless” by the Verwaltungsgericht.37 The Verwaltungsgericht essentially blamed the Bauamt as well as the builder: “Those who cause the noise emissions themselves are not the only ones responsible. Those who undertake a project such as a residence building adjacent to an emission issuing entity must also protect the community from immissions. In this sense, this building project is considered irresponsible.”38 In other words, the new building should never have been built so close to a known nightclub.

But in April 2010, the Oberverwaltungsgericht (higher administrative court of Berlin-Brandenburg) dismissed this finding on formal grounds, as the right of appeal had passed. Apparently, the supporters of the Knaack Klub had waited too long. The court found that the owner of the Knaack property should have objected to the building of the new apartment building before it was built or during the building process, not years after the work was completed. According to the court’s final verdict, if an owner is not initially informed of building activities on a neighboring property that may have an effect on their own property, they are allowed one year within which they may oppose said activity. In the case of the Knaack Klub, this window of opportunity was open between October 2007 and September 2008, including five and a half months when a 43 meter tall crane with a 40 meter long cantilever arm was stationed at the construction site. The court concluded that there was no way that the owners and operators of Knaack could have been in the dark about new construction activity after October 2007.39 They had had a year to appeal but waited two.

The Knaack Klub closed on December 31, 2010. Technically, the courts never ruled that the club had to close, but if the sound volume necessary to operate a nightclub is taken away, so too is the basis for its existence. According to its operators, “nobody wants to dance at a club where the music is quieter than at home”; frustrated, they gave up.40

Knaack’s fate wasn’t singular to the club. Its closure has to be seen as part of the so-called Clubsterben, itself an allusion to the German Waldsterben (forest dieback) hysteria of the early 1980s that led to numerous protests, the establishment of the Green Party, and ecological awareness. Waldsterben has remained a very tangible fear, though the dying of all forests once predicted didn’t happen. Similarly, though without far-reaching consequences for the planet, the term Clubsterben is used to describe the hysteria accompanying the closing of many long-established clubs in Berlin. Klub der Republik on Pappelallee, Icon on Cantian Street, Magnet-Club, Zum schmutzigen Hobby, and others had to close or reopen elsewhere—due to noise complaints by new residents who mobilized their particular understanding of quiet.

Thus, Knaack’s problem is typical of many gentrifying and gentrified areas in Berlin and elsewhere. The vast majority of Prenzlauer Berg’s new residents, including a sizable number of Swabians, were initially attracted to the district for the same reasons East Berlin’s dissidents were: a lively creative scene and appealingly gritty metropolitan surroundings, albeit one complete with prewar stuccoed and high-ceilinged apartments. However, they soon found themselves yearning for their Kleinstadt (small provincial town) within the Großstadt they now inhabited: cleanliness, order, pedestrian zones, privacy, and most importantly, quiet. As Katrin Lange puts it: “The creative types that had been strongly represented in Prenzlauer Berg wanted to party—the new residents, mostly families with small children, wanted some peace and quiet at night.”41

Despite its continuous presence for almost six decades, the Knaack Klub and its patrons no longer belonged. Following on the heels of Heinrich-Roller Street 14’s investors and developers, the real estate company BEWOCON (Theobald Immobilien Consulting GmbH und Dreischarf & Zeller – International Properties) remodeled Greifswalder Street 224 into 33 residential units and two commercial spaces. To complete the gentrification cliche, a hip new ad agency is located on the premises, and the basement that used to house Knaack’s disco now offers lockable basement storage individually assigned to each apartment unit.

In March 2019, a new project received the green light to start the construction of a steel frame building—complete with a live music performance space, a disco, and an art cinema—by the Mauerpark on Eberswalder Street. The planned Knaack-Kulturhaus will feature public transport links, such as the “party tram” M10, which stops right in front of the building, and more importantly, there are no residential neighbors.

In the last century and a half, industrial noise; construction noise; lifestyle sounds emitting from stores, street cafes, bars, and other entertainment spaces—as well as a multitude of different voices and languages—have contributed to Berlin’s sonic fabric. “Noise,” as Marie Thompson explains, “is heard as the product of urbanization and capitalism—it is aligned with the city and industry.”42 Much of Berlin was noisy, even before it became the German Empire’s capital city, but there is no doubt that the later 19th- and early 20th centuries were especially noisy times as Berlin grew into a metropolis: Construction sounds filled the air as neighborhoods like Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, and Wedding were filled with tenement blocks; the subway was in the process of being built in or, more accurately, underneath the city; and industrial areas northeast of Berlin-Mitte and wealthy residential areas southwest of the central city were extensively developed. The sounds of industry provided the tune of economic progress—like the pied piper, industrialism and the possibilities of employment lured thousands from all over the newly formed German Empire to Berlin. By and large, noise was taken as a sign of modernity and tolerated by the working class. As transportation allowed, affluent Berliners increasingly moved to Grunewald and other verdant and quiet outlying districts from which they commuted to work. Noise became synonymous with city living and progress. According to Emily Thompson in The Soundscape of Modernity, in 1920 America, “noises were still being celebrated as the outward indications of the qualities of civilization.”43

Figure 5.

Façade of Greifswalder Street 224 in 2019. Photograph by Mendel Baljon.

Figure 5.

Façade of Greifswalder Street 224 in 2019. Photograph by Mendel Baljon.

Today, the most dominant representative of Berlin’s soundscape is traffic noise, though the components of the soundscape have changed over time: Knocking hoofbeats on cobblestone streets, agitated drivers cracking their horsewhips, braying animals, and the clattering of iron-girt wheelbarrows pushed on dirt roads have been replaced with a cacophony of rattling and roaring engines, the wet grip and rolling noise of tires, squeaky brakes, and nervous honking. In February 2018, the Berliner Morgenpost published an interactive noise map with data provided by Berlin’s Senatsverwaltung für Umwelt, Verkehr, und Klimaschutz (Senate Department for the Environment, Transport, and Climate Protection), where one can look up addresses within Berlin to see how loud it is.44 Now that the Knaack Klub is gone, the main source of noise on the front of Greifswalder Street 224 is traffic; with an average of 72 dB, it’s loud enough to be considered “lärmbelastet” (literally: burdened/strained by noise). Heinrich-Roller Street 14, in the same Kiez but located around the corner and across from a large park, is categorized as “quiet” (averaging 42 dB).45

Figure 6.

The entrance to Knaack on Greifswalder Street before renovations. Photograph by Eddy Olde Hanhoff.

Figure 6.

The entrance to Knaack on Greifswalder Street before renovations. Photograph by Eddy Olde Hanhoff.

In contrast to traffic sounds, most of Berlin’s lifestyle sounds are new entities that entered the newly trendy neighborhoods of the city alongside new residents and tourists. Due to numerous entertainment options at a relatively low price—at least in comparison to other major European cities—Berlin has become a hot address for young people who want to go out on the town. Long-established residents are being pushed out so their rental apartments can be sold to become vacation spots for party-hungry visitors. Not wanting to serve only as a party hub and drain the available housing supply in a city where apartments are increasingly hard to come by, in 2016 the municipality of Berlin instituted an Airbnb ban intended to reduce the number of professional Airbnb landlords. While the ban was lifted and stricter regulations were put in place in 2018, Berlin continues to be an attractive destination for partygoers, and less affluent residents seeking a long-term apartment are still being priced out of Berlin’s skyrocketing housing market.

Berlin’s party neighborhoods are loud, and not just on the weekends but all week, year round. Fireworks boom off into the night throughout the year. Here, loud sounds are not considered noise but instead equated with a good time: these visitors expect spectacles and “audacles” and enjoy partying and dancing until the early morning. Rare visitors craving tranquility are well advised to vacation in the countryside of the Mark Brandenburg and find refuge on the shores of a picturesque lake.

However, while most visitors from out of town seek auditory thrills, as highlighted earlier, many of Berlin’s new permanent residents—particularly the more affluent—desire relative quiet, a privilege they are not shy to press for. Prenzlauer Berg used to be a space for socio-political dissent, but it is increasingly known for the sustainable consumption habits of its well-heeled residents: fair trade coffee, organic whole grain bread, and elderberry lemonade have replaced political engagement, changes that prompted Henning Sußebach in the German weekly national newspaper Zeit to call the current Prenzlauer Berg lifestyle “Bionade-Biedermeier.”46 This is a 180-degree turn from the causes and concerns of earlier, often dissident generations who made Prenzlauer Berg their home. In today’s Prenzlauer Berg it seems as though security and private happiness have entirely taken the place of political engagement. The only means of quasi-political dissent remaining is the ownership—even protection—of Prenzlauer Berg’s soundscapes. Who’s allowed to produce them, and who holds the power to abate unwanted sounds?

In an interview with the Berliner Morgenpost, Jens-Holger Kirchner, city councilor for Öffentliche Ordnung (public order) in the district of Pankow assessed: “The residents’ sensitivity for noise has dramatically increased in the last years. From barking dogs in the neighbor’s yard to fireworks, you’ll find everything [in their complaints].”47 They complain about loud air vents, street musicians moving from one cafe to the next, and drums. Though the residents love their Öko-Markt, they complain about its noises—from customers to beeping delivery vehicles. Kirchner also mentioned that many residents don’t complain themselves, but have their lawyers handle the situation right away instead of talking to their neighbors. “We [the municipal department for public order] are misused and treated like a private army,” Kirchner ranted, “but it is our job to follow up.”48 In the face of such displays of legal and governmental force, long-term residents are left little room for resistance—sonic or otherwise.

In Beyond Unwanted Sound, Marie Thompson states, “neighbor noise is taken to be a problem insofar as it traverses the boundary that separates the private from the public—it comes from outside and serves to disturb and disrupt the intimate, carefully regulated and closed system of home.”49 Outside sounds represent an intrusion of the public world into the domestic realm, the latter of which has been positioned as a fortress of virtue against temptation and vice since the mid-19th century. While owners of spaces can deny physical entry—in visual terms, close the shades or shut the door—sonic intrusion is harder to fight off. Such noises threaten the authority of the urban homeowner, whose desire for sonic control and quiet clashes with the existing soundscapes of the neighborhood, which are then recast as disruptive and a peril to health.

Historically there was less separation between the private and the public in what was formerly a working-class neighborhood with a bohemian vibe. In Prenzlauer Berg, as in other Berlin neighborhoods, people sonically partook in others’ lives. From 1950 to 1989 this was taken to extreme ends with the eavesdropping of the East German Secret Police (or Stasi) on millions of citizens. In contrast, the migrants from Baden-Württemberg moving into Berlin, and Prenzlauer Berg specifically, were used to the high-fi soundscapes of their province, even the small-town noises and atmosphere of larger cities like Ulm and Stuttgart. The exterior sounds of Berlin’s streets and nightclubs thus struck them not only as disorderly, but even as a direct assault on their privacy and individual rights. While there are interesting parallels to be made for immigrants bringing their soundscapes or their perceptions of sound with them and being accused of failing to assimilate to local contexts, the difference is that the Swabians chose to move to Prenzlauer Berg for lifestyle reasons; because they hold much economic power, their voices drowned out everyone else’s.

It is a common lament that the soundscapes of everyday life have become more complex, often louder, with biologist and Nobel laureate Robert Koch bleakly predicting in 1910: “One day man will have to fight noise as fiercely as cholera and pest.” Regarding today’s soundscapes, Marie Thompson judges: “More and larger sounds have come to dominate in all corners of the soundscape, resulting in an imperialistic and incessant cacophony.”50 While this assessment is generally more accurate than not when industrial soundscapes are juxtaposed with preindustrial ones, there are plenty of examples in which today’s soundscapes are less loud, though not necessarily less complex, than previously: electric cars are quieter than horse-drawn carriages and certainly quieter than the muscle cars of the 1970s, digital technology has tamped down some mechanical noises, soundproof walls abutting highways minimize noise in residential areas, no-fly night zones have been instituted, and everything from ear plugs to noise-canceling headphones now protect factory workers’ ears.

Although available noise-reducing efforts are widely deployed, complaining about noise remains on the frontline of neighborhood conflict. In fact, the more affluent classes’ quest for quiet mirrors or repeats tropes of the noise abatement movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, in his 1851 essay “Lärm und Geräusche” (“On Noise”), called the loud hoofbeats on the cobblestone streets of his neighborhood and the cracking of horse drivers’ whips a “torture to intellectual people.” Schopenhauer explained:

The superabundant display of vitality, which takes the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about, has proved a daily torment to me all my life. There are people, it is true—nay, a great many people—who smile at such things, because they are not sensitive to noise; but they are just the very people who are also not sensitive to argument, or thought, or poetry, or art, in a word, to any kind of intellectual influence […] It does not disturb [the working class] in reading or thinking, simply because they do not think; they only smoke, which is their substitute for thought. The general toleration of unnecessary noise—the slamming of doors, for instance, a very unmannerly and ill-bred thing—is direct evidence that the prevailing habit of mind is dullness and lack of thought. In Germany it seems as though care were taken that no one should ever think for mere noise—to mention one form of it, the way in which drumming goes on for no purpose at all.51

In 1908, philosopher, writer, and cultural critic Theodor Lessing termed urban noise “Reiz- und Rauschmittel (a means of stimulation and toxination) […], [from which he] chose to abstain.” Equating urban noise due to the density of urban surroundings to diseases including the plague (“from Lärmverseuchung (noise contamination) to Klavierpest (plague of the piano) and Gesangsseuche (the pestilence of singing)”),52 Lessing read all noises as hygienic offenses and founded an anti-noise society with the goal of minimizing the din of his hometown. Members paid a membership fee and were invited to international anti-noise congresses, with the largest held at the London Ritz-Carlton in 1909. In his society’s manifesto, “Der Lärm” (“The Noise”), Lessing blamed rug beating and traffic honking both for his insomnia and for hindering his intellectual endeavors. Lessing advocated that noise should be included in Germany’s criminal code so that it would be a police matter. His plea wasn’t successful.

Sound was a class issue then and remains one today, for as Thompson and Wagner put it: “Silence or quietude […] is a luxury item […] for those who can afford it,”53 with the “protect[ion] of human hearing [taking] a backseat to securing quiet for those with means, and punishing those without.”54 As we learned through the closure of the Knaack Klub, for the vocal minority, the financial means to sue is the weapon of choice: “A single resident can force a club to close.”55 When they deemed the construction site by a Berlin subway station on the U2 line too loud, three Berlin residents sued. The result was that the window of daytime construction time was reduced and the whole project took six weeks longer—weeks in which thousands of passengers had to wait out in the cold for diesel-powered replacement buses instead of riding the U2 subway.

To further highlight the class-bound nature of noise complaints, in June 2017 an anonymous Prenzlauer Berg resident posted notes around the neighborhood of the Kulturbrauerei (literally, cultural brewery, a former Schultheiß brewery that now houses a number of shops, event venues, and restaurants) explaining exactly how to complain about loud party noise. The note—which provides the phone numbers, email addresses, and names of authorities charged with handling noise complaints, as well as detailed instructions on how to mount such complaints—has since been shared on social media. For example, it mentions that the police will go through a list of questions and that it’s not enough to say “the Kulturbrauerei is too loud,” but that one needs to be specific about what sounds are too loud and exactly where they are coming from. The writer also complains that the sidewalks are littered with broken glass and “roaring” tourists. The writer doesn’t take the club owners’ argument that this is a long-established party location for an answer, instead referring to the law: “We and our kids,” the anonymous writer states, “don’t sleep well anymore on the weekends. It is infuriating and has to change. Legally enforceable night-time quiet hours start at 22:00.”56

In the Berlin newspaper Morgenpost, Ute Keseling sums up: “What used to be Prenzlauer Berg has long been covered, painted over—it’s history.”57 As these visual metaphors show, gentrification is usually experienced and recorded through visual channels. Yet increasingly, architectural, urban, environmental, and social historians are advocating for the inclusion of sensory avenues that go beyond the visual, challenging their colleagues to consider moving past the restrictions and narrowness of mono-sensory approaches to the past.58 Environmental historian Peter Coates has called out traditional scholarship in history and related fields to be largely “soundproofed as well as deodorized,” with the effect of withholding crucial information.59 This article has shown that one sense alone cannot tell the whole story of Prenzlauer Berg’s ongoing transformation—and its repercussions not only for the district but for most of Germany’s no longer “poor but sexy” capital city as well. Just as visual landmarks of old East Berlin, from the “Palast der Republik” to Plattenbau apartment blocks vanish, so too do sonic landmarks fade: We take the closure of the long-established nightclub Knaack and many others following numerous noise complaints as proof of Prenzlauer Berg’s physical and sonic gentrification—Knaack’s sounds no longer fit in with the neighborhood’s newly gentrified soundscapes.

We argue that as the built environment shapes communities, so too does sound. Thus, the study of the sonic heritage of neighborhoods or even single buildings helps us to move beyond Wilhelmine façades and the surface of courtyard living to reevaluate the relationship between urban space and community, between architectural history and policy. Above all, examining the visual in concert with the sonic deepens our understanding of how class operates in relationship to gentrification and the lived experience of the past and present. Sonic gentrification is an analytic: a tool to explicate gentrification in all its guises and repercussions.

If the gentrification of urban space is tightly bound to capitalism, the contestation of sound, specifically noise, is inextricably connected to class. In fact, the term gentrification derives from gentry, or lower nobility, and carries class-based connotations in its very name. Though quieter suburbs have been associated with the middle classes and noisy city districts with the urban poor since the mid-19th century, these associations are complicated by the emergent preference for postindustrial urban living among the middle- and upper classes. Where the city was once “‘clamorous,’ ‘dangerous,’ and ‘disruptive,’ it is now reframed as ‘vibrant,’ ‘lively,’ ‘happening’ and ‘creative’.”60 Music from concert venues such as the Knaack were part of the social and creative vibe that made and continues to make Prenzlauer Berg so attractive to its new residents—so long as these urban sounds do not seep into the living quarters and threaten domestic privacy.

Prenzlauer Berg and its Wilhelmine aesthetics still read as Berlin visually, with the benefit that its restored prewar and new urban fabric skirts most of the difficult cultural and political baggage, or residue, of 20th-century Berlin: World War I, revolution, National Socialism, World War II, the Soviet occupation, and the German Democratic Republic. Few realize that the once-empty lots and enlarged courtyards of its apartment buildings are the result of Allied bombs and Russian artillery, or that the depths of these buildings were where the most economically marginalized once lived their communal lives. Sonically, as argued here, the neighborhood has become more akin to Ulm or Reutlingen. It seems as though the Schwaben want and now have it all: the peace and quiet of their provincial hometowns and the culture and amenities of Germany’s capital city—albeit sanitized.

While the soundscapes of modern life have become more complex seemingly everywhere else, the neighborhood where the Knaack Klub once offered spectacles and “audacles” has paradoxically become relatively quiet. So much so that Christian Goiny from Germany’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), complained that Prenzlauer Berg “is under threat of becoming a huge dormitory.”61 Today, 80% of its residents have turned over since the Wende, and both its industrial din and its bohemian vibe have vanished. Helmholtzplatz (“Helmi”), for example, in the Kollwitzkiez adjacent to the Winsviertel, now features a playground with a giant pirate ship and public ping pong tables; a family-friendly cafe called “Kiezkind” lets mommies and daddies enjoy their organic gluten-free vegan cakes while the little ones enjoy the indoor sandbox. The park closest to the former site of the Knaack Klub carries the programmatic name Leise-Park (literally, quiet park), one carefully selected by Kiez residents in a naming competition. Instead of building a structure on land that was used as a Lutheran graveyard, and more importantly, in order to keep the neighborhood quiet, a citizen group successfully petitioned the federal state of Berlin-Brandenburg to purchase the space, plant shrubbery and trees, and dedicate it to neighborhood use. The park has been open to the public since 2012, but its use is heavily restricted: dogs are not allowed, and neither are cookouts or other parties, and a city employee even locks the gates to the park at night. This is, of course, reminiscent of New York City or London—think of private squares in neighborhoods like Bloomsbury.

Around the corner, a 2019 ad for an apartment on Heinrich-Roller Street 14 reads:

Because of its quiet yet central location, its preserved Wilhelmine architecture and its proximity to the popular park Volkspark Friedrichshain with all its opportunities for relaxation and recreation, the Winskiez is one of Berlin’s most coveted neighborhoods. The arts, culture, and business meet here. There is no better location in Berlin where one can live with the times.

Many small, individual boutiques and a variety of restaurants add to the charm of the neighborhood; so do the playgrounds, schools, daycares, the Volkspark Friedrichshain and many beautiful historic buildings.

Everything within a convenient distance, bottomless opportunities—that is the capital city in all its variety. In the last few years, the Winskiez has become a magnet for restaurants of all types, bars, and small individual stores directly in front of the door.

Two tram lines stop almost right in front of the door and are nevertheless inaudible!62

Glamour with no clamor. Architectural, functional, symbolic, and social gentrification completed.


Bruce Smith, “Tuning Into London, c. 1600,” in The Auditory Culture Reader, eds. Michael Bull & Les Back,. (Oxford; New York: Berg, 2003), 127–35.


R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape. Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1994), 205. For more works on acoustic ecology, see Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter, Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007); Michael Bull and Less Back, eds., The Auditory Culture Reader (Oxford; New York: Berg, 2003); Karin Bijsterveld, Soundscapes of the Urban Past: Staged Sound as Mediated Cultural Heritage (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013); Mark M. Smith, ed., Hearing History: A Reader (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004); Nora Alter and Lutz Koepnick, Sound Matters: Essays on the Acoustics of Modern German Culture (New York: Berghahn Books, 2004).


Julia Siemer and Keir Matthews-Hunter, “The Spatial Pattern of Gentrification in Berlin,” Prairie Perspectives: Geographical Essays 19 (2017): 49.


Christian Döring and Klaus Ulbricht, “Gentrification Hotspots and Displacement in Berlin: A Quantitative Analysis,” in Gentrification and Resistance, ed. I. Helbrecht (Wiesbaden: Springer, 2018), 10–11.


Ibid., 11.






Ibid., 12.


Johann Friedrich Geist and Klaus Kürvers, Das Berliner Mietshaus, 18621945 (Munich: Prestel, 1984).


Henning Sußebach, “Bionade-Biedermeier,” Zeit Online, November 7, 2007,


Siemer and Matthews-Hunter, 50.




Ibid., 52.




Mattias Bernt and Andrej Holm, “Exploring the Substance and Style of Gentrification: Berlin’s ‘Prenzlberg’,” Gentrification in a Global Context: The New Urban Colonialism, eds. Rowland Atkinson and Gary Bridge (London: Routledge, 2005), 112.


Ibid., 109.


Siemer and Matthews-Hunter, 56.


Ibid., 53; Döring and Ulbricht, 24.


While the average salary of the Pankow district is 5% higher than in the rest of Berlin, the Winsviertel Kiez (as well as Helmholtzplatz and Kollwitz Kiezes) is considered more affluent than some of the northern neighborhoods within Prenzlauer Berg. We weren’t able to obtain exact numbers for each Kiez.


Döring and Ulbricht, 24.


“Familienfreundliches Wohnen inmitten der Großstadt mit privatem Garten.” Our translation. Ute Keseling, “Wie der Lärm im Szenekiez nervt,” Morgenpost, December 12, 2010,


Catherine Hickley, “‘Poor but Sexy’ No More: Property Boom Drives Out Berlin's Artists,” The Art Newspaper, October 9, 2018,


Florian Kain, “Schwaben sollen ‘Schrippe’ sagen, findet Thierse,” Berliner Morgenpost, December 31, 2012,


“Zugezogenen Atlas: Woher die Berliner wirklich kommen,” Berliner Morgenpost,


Hannelore Schlaffer, “Philister, Spießer, Schwaben,” Merkur. Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken 69:791 (April 2015): 94.






Moritz Honert, “Schwabenhass im Szenekiez,” Der Tagesspiegel, August 27, 2011,


For more on the metaphor of colonization see Paul Cooke, Representing East Germany Since Unification: From Colonization to Nostalgia (Oxford; New York: Berg, 2005).


As reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2014, a person’s West German origin remains an advantage for obtaining high-status business jobs: “Among more than 600 members of management and supervisory boards at Germany's 30 largest companies, fewer than a dozen lived in the German Democratic Republic when the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989.” In Daniel Michaels, Ulrike Dauer, and Natalia Drozdiak, “Business Leaders from the Former East Germany Are Few,” Wall Street Journal online, November 7, 2014,


“Sie hatten das alles noch selber zusammengebastelt, einmal brannte der ganze Fußboden.” Our translation. “Knaack-Club: Der Countdown läuft,” Berliner Zeitung, December 3, 2010,


Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 15.


Katrin Lehmann, Bezirksamt Pankow von Berlin (district office) on behalf of Bezirksstadtrat Krüger, email of June 13, 2019.


Sabine Flatau, “Der Knaack-Klub gibt auf und schließt,” Morgenpost, November 23, 2010, In comparison, a Boeing 737 heard at 1 nautical mile before landing measures at 97 dB; motorcycle at 25 ft, 90 dB; newspaper press, 97 dB. For more comparisons see “Noise Sources and Their Effects,” Purdue University,


“Dabei hatten sie gar keine Schuld. Vielmehr hatte das Pankower Bauamt schlichtweg vergessen, von den Investoren des Neubaus zu fordern, dass sie Lärmschutzwände einbauen müssen.” Our translation. “Knaack-Club stoppt benachbarte Wohnnutzung,” press release 9/ 2010, Verwaltungsgericht Berlin, February 19, 2010,


“Vielmehr sei ein Wohnbauvorhaben auf einem durch Lärm erheblich vorbelasteten Grundstück als rücksichtslos zu bewerten, wenn bei seiner Verwirklichung auf naheliegende, technisch mögliche und wirtschaftlich vertretbare Gestaltungsmittel oder bauliche Vorkehrungen zur Lärmminderung verzichtet worden sei.” Our translation. Ibid.


“Zur Rücksichtnahme sei nicht nur derjenige verpflichtet, der Emissionen verursache, sondern auch derjenige, der ein gegenüber Immissionen schutzbedürftiges Vorhaben wie ein Wohngebäude in der Nachbarschaft einer emittierenden Anlage errichte. Der Wohnungsbau sei in diesem Sinne als rücksichtslos anzusehen.” Our translation. “Vorerst keine Lärmschutzauflagen gegenüber dem Knaack-Club,” press release 12/ 2010, Verwaltungsgericht Berlin, March 2, 2010,


“Einem Grundstückseigentümer, dem—wie im Fall des “Knaack-Club”—eine Baugenehmigung für ein Bauvorhaben auf dem Nachbargrundstück nicht bekannt gegeben worden ist, steht eine höchstens einjährige Widerspruchsfrist zu. Die Frist beginnt in dem Zeitpunkt, in dem der Grundstückseigentümer von dem Baubeginn hätte Kenntnis erlangen müssen. Im Fall des “Knaack-Club” stand während der Bauzeit von Oktober 2007 bis September 2008 auf dem Hof des Baugrundstücks 5 ½ Monate lang ein über 43 m hoher Turmdrehkran mit einem 40 m langen Ausleger. Dieser zumindest in der Umgebung des “Knaack-Club” deutlich sichtbare Kran sei ein Hinweis auf die umfangreichen Bauarbeiten auf dem Nachbargrundstück gewesen.” Our translation. Oberverwaltungsgericht Berlin-Brandenburg, final verdict, April 29, 2010, OVG 10 S 5.10,


“Niemand will in einem Club tanzen, in dem die Musik leiser ist als zu Hause. Our translation. Stefan Strauß, “Legendärer Knaack-Club könnte 2018 wieder eröffnen,” Berliner Zeitung, January 13, 2017,


“Die im Prenzlauer Berg stark vertretene Kreativszene wollte feiern—die neuen Bewohner, zumeist Familien mit kleinen Kindern, wollten nachts ihre Ruhe haben.” Katrin Lange, “Der legendäre Knaack-Klub kommt zurück,” Morgenpost, February 15, 2013,


Marie Thompson, 92.


Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity. Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 19001933 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 120.


“Lärmkarte Berlin 2018,” Morgenpost,


The map only takes into consideration traffic sounds (cars, planes, buses, trams) up to 4 meters above ground. It does not consider industrial or entertainment sounds.




“Die Lärmempfindlichkeit der Anwohner hat in den letzten Jahren stark zugenommen. Vom Hundegebell im Nachbargarten bis zum privaten Freudenfeuerwerk ist alles dabei.” Our translation. Keseling.


“Man hat uns [the Ordnungsamt] missbraucht wie eine Privatarmee. Aber wir müssen [den Beschwerden] nachkommen.” Our translation. Ibid.


Marie Thompson, 105.


Ibid., 90.


T. Bailey Saunders, “On Noise,” in Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer, trans. (New York: A.L. Burt Company, 1902), 447–51.


John Goodyear, “Escaping the Urban Din: A Comparative Study of Theodor Lessing’s Antilärmverein (1908) and Maximilian Negwer’s Ohropax (1908),” Germany in the Loud Twentieth Century, eds. Florence Feiereisen and Alexandra Merley Hill (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 19.


Marie Thompson, 104.


Kate Wagner, “City Noise Might Be Making You Sick,” The Atlantic, February 20, 2018,


Christian Pfaffinger and Luise Poschmann, “Berlin's Reputation as a Party Town Under Threat,” Spiegel Online, March 28, 2012,


Sylvia Lundschien, “Die Spießer übernehmen Prenzlauer Berg,” Morgenpost, June 27, 2017,; our translation.


“Das, was Prenzlauer Berg einmal war, ist längst überklebt, übermalt, Geschichte.” Our translation. Keseling.


Mark M. Smith, Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching in History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Guy Thuillier, Pour une Histoire du Quotidien au XIX Siecle en Nivernais (Paris: Mouton, 1977); Karin Bijsterveld, Soundscapes of the Urban Past: Staged Sound as Mediated Cultural Heritage (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013), 213.


Peter Coates, “The Strange Stillness of the Past: Toward an Environmental History of Sound and Noise,” Environmental History 10 (2005): 636.


Beyond Unwanted Sound: Noise, Affect and Aesthetic Moralism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 108f.


Pfaffinger and Poschmann.


“Wegen seiner ruhigen, doch zentralen Lage, seiner vielfach erhalten gebliebenen Gründerzeitarchitektur und seiner Nähe zum beliebten Volkspark Friedrichshain mit all seinen Möglichkeiten zur Erholung sowie sportlichen Betätigung ist der Winskiez eine der bevorzugten Wohnlagen Berlins. Hier treffen sich Kunst, Kultur und Business. Es gibt in Berlin keine bessere Lage, um zeitgemäß am Puls zu wohnen. Den Charme der Gegend machen die kleinen individuellen Geschäfte und die gastronomische Vielfalt aus, aber auch die Spielplätze, Schulen, Kita‘s, der Volkspark Friedrichshain und die vielen schönen Altbauten. Die Wege sind kurz, die Möglichkeiten fast unbegrenzt—das ist die Hauptstadt in ihrer ganzen Vielfalt. Der Winskiez hat sich in den letzten Jahren zu einer Trend-Meile entwickelt, sie finden Restaurants jeglicher Couleur, Bars, kleine individuelle Geschäfte direkt vor der Tür.…Zwei Tramlinien befinden sich nahezu vor der Tür und sind dennoch nicht hörbar!” Our translation and emphasis.