BERLIN – Berlin's funky Kreuzberg neighborhood teems with diverse places to eat. It has Chinese and Thai, a laid-back cafe with old sofas and dark German beer, and an Italian coffee bar with artisan-roasted beans and organic provolone.
Another flavor — McDonald's — will soon join the mix and the arrival of the fast-food giant is causing consternation in Kreuzberg, for decades a stronghold of left-wing, anarchist and anti-globalist sentiment.
Police this weekend barred a small demonstration against the restaurant that they said had no permit, organized by a citizens' initiative under the German name McWiderstand, or "McResistance." Several demonstrators in Ronald McDonald wigs nonetheless managed to sneak through a construction barrier and put up a banner decrying the restaurant.
The site's fence already is smeared with obscene anti-McDonald's graffiti, and the company has hired security guards to watch over it.
Berlin already has 40 McDonalds, including one just a few blocks away. But opponents argue that the latest venture from the Oak Brook, Ill.-based multinational will tempt local students to eat fattening food, diminish the area's unique flavor and add to traffic with a drive-through.
"Kreuzberg is a very alternative neighborhood," said Philipp Raschdorff, a spokesman for the group. "That's what distinguishes the area."
Kreuzberg, which stood in the shadow of the Berlin Wall until it came down in 1989, for years attracted Turkish immigrants, squatters and leftists. Organic grocers and twentysomethings in dreadlocks and sandals still coexist with Turkish kebab stands and immigrant women in headscarves pushing baby carriages. In the late 1980s, it was the scene of clashes between police and left-wing protesters every May Day.
Alexander Schramm, a spokesman for McDonald's Munich-based German branch, said the restaurant will add to the area's diversity.
"Not everyone will have McDonald's, just as not everyone likes doner kebab," Schramm said, referring to the classic Turkish fast food.
The company found the average age of students in the area, which includes a vocational school, was over 20 years old.
"We're not talking about small children," Schramm said. "They're old enough to decide for themselves whether they want to eat at McDonald's."
McDonald's had 1,276 restaurants in Germany last year, with more than 300 of them company-owned like the one to open in Kreuzberg. The company employs 52,000 people in Germany.
The local member of parliament, top Green party lawmaker, Hans-Christian Stroebele concedes there is no legal way to stop the restaurant but says: "I fear McDonald's, with all its media power, will tempt the students not to eat their sandwich and apple for lunch," he said.
Others are more sanguine. Volker Koenitz, who runs an Alsatian and southern German restaurant on Wrangel Street, is among those not getting excited.
"If the initiative says Kreuzberg is a tolerant place, they should be tolerant," he said.
Gritje Lomer, who runs the nearby Baretto coffee bar with her husband, also found no reason to get worked up; her baguettes with organic pecorino and provolone appeal to different tastes.
"I don't have a lot of worries that it's competition for us," she said.