The Dong Xuan Center is located in the Lichtenberg neighborhood in Berlin. It is tucked away inside an old warehouse and factory complex, and is housed in several corrugated metal and tin-roof buildings. This being Germany, the roofs are covered in solar panels. According to Stil in Berlin, the rest of the complex is slated to be converted into an Asian Culture House, a Markthalle, and several other things.
Each building consists of a long central hallway, with various vendors - ranging from hair salon supply shops to grocery stores to belt stores - occupying space on either side of the hallway. At both ends of the hallway there are poster boards with help wanted ads, neighborhood events, and plain old advertisements. My brother, recently returned from living in Southeast Asia, said it was just the type of place a traveler might find while strolling through Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
The Dong Xuan Center is not the kind of place where you will be able to find exactly what you're looking for; but you will undoubtedly be able to find something that you need and hadn't thought of. It's the kind of place where if you need a belt of a certain size that is not on display, the salesperson will simply take out a huge knife and cut one of the display belts down to size for you. Kids, that's the story of how I left Dong Xuan with two new belts!
Dong Xuan is not the most beautiful example of capitalist re-invention or urban integration. The neighboring old warehouse buildings are crumbling even as the Center's buildings are shiny and new. The products and vendors are not high-end and high-priced and are probably not what city planners envision when they think of "retail centers." But what Dong Xuan lacks in flash, it makes up for in earnestness. This is a group of people who moved, or whose parents or grandparents moved, from a very different place. They're putting down roots in a new city, in a new kind of urban space.
Having spent so much time in the fabricated and fake-feeling Potsdamer Platz and the hipster-heavy areas of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, it was refreshing to find a place where you feel that people are just trying to earn an honest living, and not pretending to be anything but what they are.