The Dark Past Of Today’s Hipster Hotspots

Today they are achingly cool urban areas that have become centers of international hipster culture, but many of these trendy hotspots hide dark pasts. We’ve picked out a few of the best hipster neighborhoods around the world and taken a look at their often deprived and dangerous histories.

Shoreditch, London

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This area in the East End of London, which can be found within the borough of Hackney, has been at the center of the capital’s cool, young scene for years. The spiritual center of this hipster hotspot is Brick Lane, with its mix of trendy bars, fashionable boutiques and top notch clubs. Shoreditch has become synonymous with the outrageous fashion and offbeat culture that makes hipsters unique but it used to be a very different place.

Then: The prosperity of Shoreditch was always closely linked to the textile trade and until the nineteenth century trade was brisk, bringing money into the area. Towards the end of this century the textile industry went into decline and the health of Shoreditch took a slide. From then until the 1960s poverty, crime and prostitution plagued the area, pushing down property prices and staining the region’s reputation.

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Now: Those same cheap property prices saw an influx of artists looking for low-cost studio space in the 90s. Cool bars, clubs and restaurants followed the artists and a scene was born. Shoreditch went from being a poverty-stricken neighbourhood to a hipster mecca, becoming an attractive area for investment and urban growth.

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Kreuzberg, Berlin

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To say Berlin had a bit of a roller-coaster ride through the twentieth century is a king-sized understatement. If two wars weren’t enough to contend with, the German capital was split in half by a massive wall for much of the latter part of the century, becoming a center of tension between western democratic and eastern communist ideologies. Berlin has come out of this turmoil as an artistically vibrant, multicultural capital – the perfect place for hipsters – and the Kreuzberg neighbourhood has emerged as the city’s hotspot.

Then: Kreuzberg has a much shorter history than our other two hipster hotspots, only being formed in 1920. The area, like much of Berlin, was devastated by the Second World War and in the period afterwards. Local laws made investment in the area unattractive leading to the spread of poorly built, cheap housing. The area became popular with students, artists and immigrants and was famous for its alternative and often radical lifestyle. This radicalism sometimes bubbled over into violence, like in the squatter riots of the seventies and the May Day disturbances which plagued the area throughout the late eighties and nineties.

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Now: Its history of being a hotbed of cutting edge art and new ideas has given Kreuzberg a special place in the heart of Berlin. Kreuzberg is still full of galleries and artistic projects but now the area has the full complement of trendy coffee shops, bars and clubs which mark it out as a hipster’s paradise.

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Williamsburg, Brooklyn

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It’s hard to trace the exact roots of hipster society but New York has had a massive part in the development of this modern counter-cultural movement. While hipster pilgrims looking for hipsterism’s birthplace might want to hop on a cheap flight to the USA and make for the famous Greenwich Village, Williamsburg in Brooklyn is where today’s scene is strongest.

Then: Sitting in what was once a vibrant industrial landscape, Williamsburg has long been a melting pot for different cultures and religions. After the Second World War the economy slumped and the decline in industry saw a rise in poverty, drugs and crime. The area became notorious for its lawlessness and corruption – which was made famous by an impressively bearded Al Pacino in the movie Serpico.

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Now: Since the 90s Williamsburg has seen a massive shift towards gentrification and in 2005 many areas traditionally designated industrial zones were changed to residential areas. This shifted the fortunes of Williamsburg, drawing in new residents who were attracted by the areas unique cultural feel. These ingredients have made the neighbourhood a hot bed of hipster culture.

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What is your favorite hipster hotspot? Let us know if the comments below.

Mark Mills is a graphic designer working in London. He traveled to Berlin and New York with Aer Lingus.

2 thoughts on “The Dark Past Of Today’s Hipster Hotspots”

  1. I’d never considered where the ‘birth’ was for some of my favourite places before.

    I loved Brick Lane when I visited for the first time last April, and who couldn’t have loved Berlin the first time I went there two years previous to that. As you’ve clearly described it, Kruezberg is a hotbed of artistic life fuelled by caffeine shot after caffeine shot from one of its many coffee bars.

    I’d love to see what other areas you can turn up.

  2. I love seeing the European locations. Living in the US, I’m only familiar with the US hipster scene. New York is an interesting choice, because within the city you find your different kinds of hipsters. Brooklyn, you described perfectly, but you compare it to Manhattan and it’s completely different. Thanks for sharing!

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