Posted by: Matt Kelley | 13 March 2009

The Korean Diaspora: Berlin

diaspora_berlinSearching for a little “seoul” in Berlin, Germany.

I’ve been told frequently that Koreans are the Italians of Asia. The explanation is that both countries are peninsulas home to “passionate” people. But if you’d indulge me in this absurd exercise, I’d like to add that there’s also a Korean-German connection. 

First, both revolutionized the dissemination of the written word. In 1455, Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible was printed using metal movable type, a technology used some 200 years earlier during Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty. The “Jikji“, the world’s oldest remaining movable metal print book, was printed in 1377. More recently, of course, both countries were physically divided by political ideologies.

diaspora_berlin_hostelA little bit of Communist kitsch at a reasonable price.

It was this tragic, latter fact that compelled the West German and South Korean governments to collaborate on a guest worker program in the 1960s. In 1963, the first group of Korean miners came to West Germany. They were followed by nurses in 1966. In the 1970s when their work contracts ended, the Koreans protested their impending expulsion, and ultimately, about half of them stayed in Germany. Today there are about 30,000 ethnic Koreans in Germany, which boasts Europe’s second highest Korean population, behind the United Kingdom.

Germany’s largest ethnic Korean population is in Berlin. So, this past December while I was there for a few days, I made it my mission to discover everything Koreanisch. The next time you’re in search of the Korean diaspora in Germany’s capital, here’s where I suggest you go.
diaspora_sleep_hostelIt was Christmastime in the North Korean embassy’s Cityhostel Berlin.

Where to Stay: Cityhostel Berlin

If you’re wondering how a very cash-strapped North Korean government funds its German embassy, check out the Cityhostel Berlin. Opened last year in a building that’s officially part of the NK embassy complex, the comfortable hostel is very conveniently located between the Stadmitte and Mohrenstr. subway stations. If you’re hoping the staff are stern-faced North Korean soldiers demanding salutes to the “Dear Leader”, you’ll be disappointed. Inside, there isn’t much that says “Stalinist regime.” There is, however, a pool table, a black lacquer grand piano and impeccably clean rooms. My 6-person dorm room (15 euros per night with singles at 41 euros) featured both bunks and single beds. I wandered the hall before my lone roommate (coincidentally also from Seoul) pointed out our bathroom was in-room! If you must get some NorKo kitsch, there’s a window box on the embassy gate beside the hostel featuring six snapshots of Kim Jong-il in his trademark designer sunglasses and jumpsuit.

Cityhostel Berlin
Glinkastr. 5, 10117
+40 (0) 30 206 96937 
open 24 hours. Located between the Mohrenstr. (U2) and Stadmitte (U?) U-Bahn stations.

diaspora_eat_yookgaejangAuthentic Korean food in Berlin’s Friedenau neighborhood.

Where to eat: Seoul-Kwan

If you’re looking for a Koreanischen Speiserestaurant in Berlin (I know I was), I’d recommend Seoul-Kwan. Located on a stretch of non-descript Schmiljanstr. in the Friedenau neighborhood, the restaurant offers an extensive menu of Korean favorites, like kimchi chigae, haemultang and bulgogi. It was a cold December evening, so I was craving some hot and spicy yookgaejang (9.5 euros, or 18,100 won). I wasn’t disappointed. There was a nice amount of shredded beef and egg alongside the noodles and veggies. Seven banchan vegetable side dishes were also served. Sure, I was paying 4x what the meal would cost in Seoul, but I wasn’t in Seoul.

Schmiljanstr. 25, 12161
+40 (0) 30 852 6262
open M-F 12:00-15:00, 18:00-23:00; S-S 17:00-23:00. Located southeast from the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Platz (U9) U-Bahn station.

diaspora_play_kimskaraokeBelt it out at Kim’s Karaoke in Berlin’s trendy Kreuzberg neighborhood.

Where to play: Kim’s Karaoke

This Korean establishment in popular Kreuzberg features not only Korean songs, but also Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Turkish hits! Unlike the noraebang private singing rooms popular in Korea, at Kim’s you perform for everyone on a lit stage with 16 television screens behind you. If that’s not tacky enough, there are fake plants glowing in green light and the requisite disco ball. Located just centimeters from the Mehringdamm U-Bahn station, Kim’s is located in a building next to Schnell & Sauber Waschcenter and Mustafa’s Gemusc Kebap kiosk.

Kim’s Karaoke
Mehringdamm 32
+40 (0) 30 252 98304
open 20:00-04:00, Located steps from the Mehringdamm (U6/U7) U-Bahn station.

diaspora_art_berlinYusimi’s gallery at the Art Center Berlin includes works by several Korean artists.

Where to see art: Art Center Berlin’s Forum for International Art

On the first floor of the Art Center Berlin is their Forum for International Art. Behind the entrance desk was an Asian woman with bright red lipstick and arched lines drawn over her eyebrows and lower eye lids. I had an inkling that this very fierce curator was Korean, and as it turned out, Yusimi (유시미) is. Not surprisingly, her gallery features works by several Korean artists, including Lee Doo-shik, Kim Jin-aun and Choi Jeong-soo. I liked Choi’s sculpture of two dogs whose heads ostensibly meet inside an inflated balloon. I assume the collection changes frequently, but with Ms. Yoo in charge, I bet there will always be Korean artists on display.

Art Center Berlin
Friedrichstr. 134
+49 (0) 30 2787 9027
open 11:00-21:00 (guided tours available), Located 5 minutes from the Friedrichstr. U-Bahn/S-Bahn station. 

diaspora_park_gartenA little bit of Joseon architecture and horticulture in Berlin.

Where to relax: Seouler Garten

Eastern Berlin is the site of a popular garden complex. First opened in 1987 to commemorate the city’s 750th birthday, Marzahn Recreational Park‘s 21 hectares include a 3,000 square meter Seouler Garten (Seoul Garden). Opened in 2006 to celebrate the friendship between Seoul and Berlin, the Korean garden is the latest in Marzahn’s “Gardens of the World” series, which also includes Arab, Balinese, Chinese and Italian-themed gardens. The Korean garden is a recreation of the home of 16th century Confucian scholar Lee Eon-jeok (1491-1553), and contains 1,600 trees (pine, oak, maple, magnolia and ornamental cherry) as well as bamboo and azaleas. In addition to the flora, there’s a Joseon-style main pavilion and terraces, a traditional stone wall, a roofed main gate and four smaller entrances. The park is the fourth Korean-style garden financed abroad by the Korean government.

Seouler Garten
Erholungspark Marzahn (Marzahn Recreational Park)
Eisenacher Str. 99, 12685
+40 (0) 30 700 906-699
open April-October, M-F 13:00-dusk and S-S 09:00-dusk. From Alexanderplatz, take U5 to Neue Grottkauerstr. Admission is 3 euros for adults.



  1. Be careful with seoul garden- Marzahn is a well known neo Nazi hangout.

  2. Yikes. Thanks for the heads up, Ed. -Matt

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