Multicultural Berlin – Vietnamese Market
Dong Xuan Centre is off the beaten track as far as the average tourist goes and in a part of Berlin I probably would not have found if I was not conducting research. Far from anything that resembles Vietnam in the sub-zero temperatures, from the outside, Dong Xuan centre is a collection of large warehouses in an industrial area of the city. This area of the city seems to house a large Vietnamese population and not much else at first glance.
However, on entering one of the warehouses it is soon clear that it is not a place that is exclusively out of bounds for other ethnicities. With traders to the left and right selling a huge variety of things from clothes and mobile phone cases to samurai swords and baby grows. Walking from room to room down the long corridor I notice Vietnamese doing their everyday food shop, buying traditional Vietnamese delicacies from other Vietnamese sellers.
They are talking in Vietnamese until they have to speak with German speakers in the restaurants, which they then effortlessly switch tongues to incorporate serving hungry Germans in authentic looking eateries with Vietnamese themed décor. I am then surprised to see other sellers who don’t appear to be Vietnamese dotted around the hall and talking amongst each other in Punjabi. As I watch, the Punjabi conversation pauses for a few seconds and they exchange a few words in German with the Vietnamese trader beside them. No more than a few words, but I am impressed with the fluidity of the exchange. This puts me in mind of Neal, et al., (2013). The article deals with everyday multiculturalism and how this may play out and look in real life. This exchange is how I imagine the ‘everyday multiculturalism’ to happen. There is no romanticised scenario playing out in front of me, where an Indian is purchasing German goods from a Vietnamese seller and talking as if they are the dearest of neighbours. Instead it is much less forced and extremely fluid and natural.
The ‘conviviality’ is there to be witnessed, to live and work and exist amongst each other seems to be enough for a place to be multicultural without going over the top and expecting a movie scene scenario of friendliness.
This term ‘conviviality’ is perhaps accurate in this case when talking of multiculturalism. This is because conviviality is often termed as ‘unruly’ or ‘messy’ because of the fact that different ehnicities can share the same space without ever having ‘meaningful interactions’ and can indeed show ‘resentment yet ‘resilience’ toward each other. I think about how the North Vietnamese contract workers were marginalised after the cold war within Germany and wonder how they manage to live beside people from ethnicities which have been complicit in this economic and social marginalisation (Su, 2017). Nevetheless they deal with these tensions which makes place nonetheless. Instead the ‘everydayness’ of minor interactions are appreciated and the idea of dealing with difference within the same micro space is given more importance than the romanticised ideals often attached to the word mutliculturalism (Neal, et al., 2017).
Schmiz & Kitzmann (2017) have written about the Dong Xuan Centre and write about the importance of this centres function in the migrant community in Berlin. It acts as a social and symbolic centre for interaction, conversation and welcomes new migrants to the area whilst acting as a tourist attraction and developing the area of Litchenberg after years of neglect during the days when Germany was split in two. Many North Vietnamese migrants were contract workers with precarious conditions surrounding their legality to work and live in Germany after reunification. Schmiz & Kitzmann, (2017) see the centre as a means for encouraging entrepreneurship amongst ethnic minorities. Despite still suffering from social exclusion, living in the same areas that they had to when their work permits had run out, showing that the term multiculturalism has its problems and limits, , the North Vietnamese in the east of the city have proven to be industrious and ambitious and set up businesses that serve their own communities as well as German and tourists (Kil & Silver, 2006).
Kil, W. & Silver, H., 2006. From Kreuzberg to Marzahn: New Migrant Communities in Berlin. German Politics and Society , 24(4), pp. 95-121.
Neal, S., Bennett , K. & Cochrane, A., 2013. Living Multiculture: Understanding the New Spatial and Social Relations of Ethnicity and Multiculture in England. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 31(2), pp. 308-323.
Neal, S., Bennett, K., Cochrane, A. & Mohan, G., 2017. The increasingly ordinary and increasingly complex nature of ethnic diversity. Conviviality, community, and why the micro matters. In: Lived Experiences of Multiculture : The New Social and Spatial Relations of Diversity. Oxford: Routledge, pp. 22-38.
Schmiz, A. & Kitzmann, R., 2017. Negotiating an Asiatown in Berlin: Ethnic diversity in urban planning. Cities, 70(1), pp. 1-10.
Su, P. H., 2017. “There’s No Solidarity” Nationalism and Belonging among Vietnamese Refugees and Immigrants in Berlin. Journal of Vietnamese Studies, 12(1), pp. 73-100.