Kalinka Calling: Russian Immigrants in Berlin

My son has a Russian piano teacher from Novosibirsk. I have stopped by the Russkije Zenter in Charlottenburg from time to time to stock up on canned gorbusha. One of my favorite Berlin books of recent years is “Russian Disco” from the Russian D.J. Wladimir Kaminer. And sure, there are a few isolated areas of Berlin that still look as if they are under Soviet occupation and I always hear Russian being spoken in the U-Bahn and then there are all of those Russian newspapers out there and… Hey, come to think of it, my wife speaks Russian, too.

Didn’t they like lose the Cold War or something?

Hundreds of thousands of Russian Ã?©migrÃ?©s have passed through Berlin over the years – in one way or another. Berlin had a huge Russian “colony” of hundreds of thousands of Russians back in the Weimar Republic days of the 1920s, for instance. And tens of thousands of them are living here now again. It’s understandable, too. If you decide to head west from Russia, how can you miss that all-important East-West-hub called Berlin? Hey, just go west young man. It’s the next big city after Warsaw.

And lots of Russians have decided to “come out west” in recent years. Approximately 35,000 Russian pioneers are officially registered with the Berlin police department. Many of them are Russians of German ancestry, “Aussiedler”, who are entitled by German law to immigrate here. Many are Russian Jews. And one estimate is that there could be as many as 300,000 Russian-speaking residents living in and around Berlin right now.

It used to be, well, different. There used to be even more. The Soviet ghost towns surrounding Berlin, like the old Headquarters in WÃ?¼nsdorf just south of the city, all testify to the enormous Russian troop presence that encircled this city – WÃ?¼nsdorf alone was home for 70,000 troops, for instance. The thirty-six hour train ride from here back to Minsk, Smolensk and Moscow must have seemed like the end of the line for many of these soldiers ten years ago. But many have long since left the army and prospered and a few have even come back to a new, if not somewhat different and still rather closed Russian community in Berlin.

They have had to fight with the common mafia clichÃ?© here. Most Russians have come to Berlin to start a new life in a free society, not to sell Kalashnikovs. But most Germans seem convinced that they are all somehow involved in the Russian underworld – although even this dirty money is more than welcome in all of the expensive, chic establishments to be found along the KurfÃ?¼rstendamm, for example. Man spricht russisch here.

And the Russian mafia is unfortunately very present. They are involved in protection rackets, prostitution and gambling. They are believed to hold the monopoly of control over Berlin’s gambling arcades (a good place to wash money) and through all of this, sadly, Berlin is not just the German capital, it is also known as the capital of Russian mafia activities in Germany.

And yet the majority of Russians who come to Berlin come here to do honest work and to write their own legitimate economic success stories. They may not yet necessarily feel at home in Berlin, but many of them have been conspicuously successful. And the group as a whole has become a noticeable economic factor in the city’s economy.

Russian newspapers like Russkij Berlin are very popular with the Russian colony here. Local television programs and radio channels like Radio Russkij Berlin 97.2 FM also serve this growing market. Four Russian television channels from “back home” are also available via satellite and provide another important source of Ã?©migrÃ?© information.

The Russian House of Science and Culture (Friedrichstra��e 176-179) offers a Russian library and organizes many cultural events like exhibitions, films and theater performances. Russian theater performances are also held at The Tschechow-Theater in Marzahn (M�¤rkischen Allee 410).

Kaffee Burger (TorstraÃ?Â?e 60), the famous “Russian Disco” in what used to be East Berlin, has become a bit of an institution since the publication of the same-named book. It’s one of the hottest clubs in the city, at least for those preoccupied with underground music or preoccupied with finding that inner Russian (Soviet?) child in all of us. “Berlin is Heaven,” said D.J.-author-owner Wladimir Kaminer in a recent interview. “Here you can be yourself, do what you want, and even if you are completely crazy, nobody will care.”

But if you are looking for “the real thing” (Russian rock – whatever that is – and Ukrainian folk music), try The Tusowka (Glogauer StrÃ?Â?e 2) in Kreuzberg. Don’t tell them that I sent you, though.

Then there are the restaurants – did I mention that I love Russian food? There are way too many of them and I just haven’t had the time to try them all. But here is a short list of the nicest ones I’ve found so far:

Restaurant Pasternak
Knaackstr. 22-24
10623 Berlin
Tel. +49 030 441 33 99

Restaurant Samowar (across from SchloÃ?Â? Charlottenburg)
Luisenstr. 3
10585 Berlin
Tel. +49 030 341 41 54

Restaurant Iwuschka
KantstraÃ?Â?e 7
14057 Berlin
Tel. +49 030 322 20 46

Caf�© Hegel
KantstraÃ?Â?e 146
10627 Berlin
Tel. +49 030 302 71 35

Restaurant Paris-Moskau
Alt-Moabit 141
10557 Berlin
Tel. +49 030 394 20 81

And should you be in a hurry and just don’t have the time to sit down at any of these great places (travel itineraries can be that way), or if you prefer instead to browse around for Russian souvenirs, books or groceries, here are a few addresses for your Russian specialty shopping enjoyment:

Russkij Zenter
Stuttgarter Platz 5
10627 Berlin
Tel. +49 030 324 75 69

Russkie knigi
KantstraÃ?Â?e 82
10627 Berlin
Tel. +49 030 323 48 15

Dgivaja Riba
Kaiser-Friedrich-StraÃ?Â?e 61
10557 Berlin
Tel. +49 310 148 38

You can tell them that I sent you if you want to – I’m trying to organize a commission.

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