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In contrast to many other areas of Berlin, which were villages before their integration into Berlin, Kreuzberg has a rather short history. It was formed on 1 October 1920 by the Greater Berlin Act providing for the
incorporation of suburbs and the reorganisation of Berlin into twenty boroughs. The eastern Friedrichsvorstadt, the southern Friedrichstadt, the western and southern Luisenstadt and the Tempelhofer Vorstadt were merged into the new VIth borough of Berlin, first named Hallesches Tor. On 27 September 1921 the borough assembly of Hallesches Tor decided to rename the borough after the homonymous hill. Kreuzberg, literally meaning cross hill, is the point of highest elevation in the Kreuzberg locality, which is 66 m (217 ft) above sea level. The hill is traditionally a place for weekend trips. It received its name from the 1821 Prussian National Monument for the Liberation Wars by Karl Friedrich Schinkel within the Viktoriapark, built in commemoration of the Napoleonic Wars. Except for its northernmost part, the quarter Friedrichstadt (established in the end of the 17th century), today’s “Kreuzberg” was a very rural place until well into the 19th century.
This changed when, in the 1860s, industrialization caused Berlin to grow rapidly. This called for extensive housing – much of which was built exploiting the dire needs of the poor, with widespread land speculation. Many of Kreuzberg’s buildings originate from that time. Far into the 20th century, Kreuzberg was the most populous of Berlin’s boroughs even in absolute numbers, with more than 400,000 people, although it was and still is geographically the smallest. As a result, with more than 60,000 people per square kilometer (155,000 people per square mile), Kreuzberg had the highest population density in Berlin.
In addition to housing, Kreuzberg was also one center of Berlin’s industry. The “export quarter” along Ritter Street consisted of many profitable small businesses, and the “press quarter” along Koch Street (Friedrichstadt) was the home of most of Germany’s large newspapers, as well as the Ullstein, Scherl, and Mosse book publishers.
Both of these industrial quarters were almost entirely destroyed by air raids during World War II, with the bombings of a single night from February 3, 1945. In remembrance of the old tradition, the Axel Springer press company erected its German headquarters at Kochstraße again, right next to the Berlin Wall.After World War II, Kreuzberg’s housing rents were regulated by law which made investments unattractive. As a result, housing was of low quality, but cheap, which made the borough a prime target for immigrants coming to Germany (and Berlin). Starting in the late 1960s, increasing numbers of students, artists, and immigrants began moving to Kreuzberg. Enclosed by the Berlin Wall on three sides, the area became famous for its alternative lifestyle and its squatters, especially the SO 36 part of Kreuzberg. Starting in 1987, there have been violent riots in SO 36 on Labour day.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kreuzberg suddenly found itself in the middle of the city again. The initially cheap rents and high degree of 19th century housing made some parts of the borough more attractive as a residential area for a much wider (and richer) variety of people. Today, Kreuzberg has one of the youngest populations of all European city boroughs; statistically, its population has been swapped completely twice in the last two decades.
Berlin’s 2001 administrative reform combined Kreuzberg with Friedrichshain to form the new borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Since the two areas are linked only by a single bridge over the Spree River, the Oberbaumbrücke, this combination seemed awkward to many residents. The two areas not being able to agree on a common location for the future borough’s city hall, the present location in Friedrichshain was decided by flipping a five-Mark coin.
Kreuzberg has historically been home to the Berlin’s punk rock movement as well as other alternative subcultures in Germany. The SO36 club remains a fixture on the Berlin music scene. It was originally focused on punk music and in the 1970s was often frequented by Iggy Pop and David Bowie. In those days the club rivalled New York’s CBGB as one of the finest new-wave venues in the world.
There has also been a significant influence stemming from African-American and hip hop culture on Kreuzberg’s youth and the area has become a centre for rap and breakdance within Berlin. Though the majority of Kreuzberg’s residents are of German or Turkish descent, some identify more with American or African-American culture. Hip hop was largely introduced to the youth of Kreuzberg by the children of American servicemen who were stationed nearby until the reunification of Germany.
Every year there is a big festival in Kreuzberg called the Carnival of Cultures where different cultures and heritages are celebrated in colourful street parades which include music, street entertainment, food, and art and craft stalls.
Kreuzberg has long been the epicenter of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer life and Arts in Berlin. Kreuzberg is home to the Schwules Museum which was established in the late 1980s. The museum is dedicated to preserving, exhibiting, and discovering LGBTQ history, art and culture. The museum is composed of three main divisions: archives, library, and exhibitions.