“Nothing passes Schöneberg 30,” raps Schöneberg rap star and Lokalmatador Alpa Gun. It’s just a couple of blocks, but  between Kleistpark and Kurfürstenstrasse, Yorkstrasse and Pallas, stretches an embattled Schöneberg neighborhood which is as ghetto as Berlin gets. Home to generations of Turks and Arabs, the neighborhood is currently fighting rising rents, junkies and ever growing prostitution scene. Schöneberg 30 is also home to a gang called the 30 Kingz, one the last of the Berlin immigrant gangs of the nineties. I spoke with erstwhile gang member and rapper Big Baba.

So you grew up in Schöneberg?

Of course.

And you were born there as well?

No, I was born in Salzgitter near Hanover.My mother was only there for the birth, because she had family there.I came directly after my birth to Berlin.

Directly to Schöneberg?

Directly to Schöneberg.

Whereabouts in Schöneberg?

My first five, six years Schöneberg 62 – Hauptstraße, Kleistpark. Then directly to 30. Bülowstraße.

When were you born?

’81. A lot of time has passed. I’m not a young pup anymore. I’m a father with kids.

And how was it as a teenager growing up? When did you start rapping?

I started early, at thirteen, fourteen. The district of Schöneberg was famous for break-dancing. We had some good break dancers. There was this movie, Wildstyle. It was like a virus. Everyone was a break-dancer, did graffiti.

I remember when I was thirteen or fourteen Wildstyle came out.

Of course. We were children. But the older ones passed it on to us. We saw how the older ones were break-dancing. At the Jugend Cafe it was a lot about break-dancing. We drove the counselors crazy. There was a lot of action there.  Also Drugstore, on Potsdamer Straße. There were these break-dance battles there, with crews from different districts. And then it always escalated. There were fights.

That was the time of the gangs? 36 Boys, Black Panthers etc.

Exactly. 

So how was it, Schöneberg 30? On the one side Pallas, on the other side Steinmetz.

Before it was dangerous. In the ‘90’s. As a child you couldn’t walk around nights. 

And it’s become safer?

Yes, of course.  It’s changed. It’s not like how it was in the past. It was bad. We were still children.  Maybe it just seems that way because we were young.  Today you look at things differently. You are older. 

When did you first get to know Alpa?

Alpa. Twelve, thirteen. I beat up a kid, and his best friend was Alpa. And Alpa got mixed up in it. And that’s how I got to know Alpa.

You lived on Bülow Straße, and he was on Steinmetz Straße.

I was more in the direction of Nollendorfplatz. Alpa was Steinmetz.

When did Alpa start rapping?

He never rapped. First with Sido. In the beginning Alpa was Sido’s driver. At first he was the driver. And then he was backup rapper. Then he went on his own. Then he fought with Sido. Now each does their own thing. Sido is now doing something completely different. Completely different scene. He’s not the old Sido.  He’s successful, has money. His style of music has completely changed. It’s much more mellow now. Of course. Money makes you happy and satisfied.

Were you in contact with Sido?

Only through Alpa. We all got along. Sido invited us to events. We had a lot of fun. 

But he also fought with the boys, Alpa.

Yes, with everyone. 

They were a bit envious that Sido took him.

He had his own rap group. That was Außer Kontrolle. And now he left. He’s living in Wilmersdorf, Schmargendorf.  He got married, two kids.

Are you still in contact him.

Yes, we are still in contact. A bit less than in the past. Because he was children, I have children. Two years ago we were on tour.  Alpa Gun went on tour and I went along with him. 

And he can live from his music?

Yeah, he can. He’s not the rich rapper. But he’s kept himself above water till today.He was together with Sido. You can’t forget that. 

And how was that with you when you started rapping? Who were your role models.

American rappers. Biggie. But definitely influenced by American hip-hop. Easy E. Just the film. We were thirteen, fourteen years old. Menace to Society. That’s the most watched film in my life. I don’t know why that film had such an impression on us. When I watch it today it comes across much differently.  Doesn’t come across like it did in the past. 

What about German rap?

Germany? You know Azad? From Frankfurt. The way he rapped in the beginning was cool. Savas is also for us the best.  Definitely. 

How have you guys changed in the last years?

Back then we really wanted to mess things up.

Last time I interviewed you guys you had just come out with that really intense song, “Wir Übernehmen”.

Yeah. That was new. “Wir Übernehmen”. It went went over like a bomb. Most people know me only from this song. And from “Halt die Fresse” as well. But then we got to an age where either we do only music or children and family. We thought we could do both. But we didn’t want to be forty and have our first child. That’s why, Alpa and me: he had two children, I had two children.

What was the background of “Wir Übernehmen?” 

We were hungry. I like it when a rapper is hungry. He wants to eat up the world. I like that. When a rapper is sated he doesn’t come across as good as when he is hungry. And that’s how it was with me. I was also hungry.

I liked it, but I can imagine that many German people would think that it was aggressive.

Of course. I’ve had colleagues at work, who have seen the video, ask me, “Why so aggressive? What’s eating you guys?” 

What does it mean, “Wir boycottieren eure Geschäft” – We’ll boycott your business?

It means the rappers. We’ll wipe you out.

And then there was a place where it says,”manche drehen durch, manche finden zu Islam” and there is a picture of the brother of King Ali. What is your relationship to religion and Islam?

We are, of course, Muslims. But we aren’t the strictest. We have all partied and drank alcohol, had sex before marriage. We have nothing to say to others. We have grown up in Germany. Maybe it would be different if we had grown up in our own countries.

Have some of your friends become religious?

Not radical. But just religious. I know how they lived. And then they stopped smoking, nothing bad, no women, no drugs, no going out, nothing, nothing, nothing. Just for the family and for the religion. It is impressive. To see the turn they took, I’m impressed. It’s nothing bad. But when I look at Deso for example and I see how in his whole life it didn’t make a difference if someone was Sunni or Shi’a, and now all of a sudden it played a role, I don’t understand it. But, as I say, everyone is responsible for his own actions. 

Is it possible to be religious and in the rap scene?

Of course, you can make your music. And if you are a religious person then your songs are that way. I don’t think music is a sin. I can’t get by without music. I like making my life into texts and putting it to beats. In the past it had a lot to do with kiffing and drinking, but that’s not the case anymore.

Now you don’t kiff anymore?

Since I’ve married, not really.

Your wife is Arabic?

Palestinian. Like me. When you were young and single it was like: fuck the world, we’ll do what we want. The way we lived: weekend in Hamburg, weekend in Frankfurt, weekend in Hannover. Didn’t matter. Holland. Off the cuff.

You’ve seen a lot of Germany. How would you compare Berlin to the rest of Germany? 

Can’t compare it. Hamburg is a little bit similar, but different all the same.

But what about other cities?

Stuttgart is cool. People really friendly. It really fascinated me even. They don’t think right off I’m going to rob them. Here when you enter a German shop, they think right off you are going to steal something. But there they don’t think like that. They are predisposed to you differently. Berlin is different.

If you didn’t live in Berlin where would you live?

My wife comes from Ulm, near Stuttgart. If I made a lot of money….but the big city, I grew up here, I feel good here. But if I had money I would move into the country and opt for the quiet life.

Do your parents come from Palestine or Lebanon?

No, no, Palestine. Refugees in Lebanon. And then here. Refugee camp in Lebanon.

Do you still have contact to people down there?

Yes, of course. Still. I’m the only one of my family who spent the least time there. My father was there two weeks ago. He goes there regularly.

And your colleagues at work (Media Markt, in Neukölln Arkade) know that you are a rapper?

They all know. They were all surprised: what is Big Baba doing here? They said, “don’t we know you from YouTube?”

What about King Ali?

King Ali is a kiez legend.

Why is he a legend?

He also has an interesting life behind him. The wild times that I told you about? Ali was already one of the older ones.

How old is he?

Ali was born in ’75. But back then when you were ten and he was fifteen that was a huge difference. When you are young one year makes a difference, who is stronger.

But tell me about Ali.

Ali also experienced a lot. He was one of the ones who founded 30 Kings in the gang times. Was together with Bushido and Maxim (a legendary early founder of the Berlin rap scene). His best friend was stabbed in the heart.

Maxim.

He and Ali were a team.

Did you know Maxim?

I knew him. I knew who he was. But Ali and Maxim were best friends. But Ali is loved by everyone.

Does he work?

He had a café on Winterfeldt Straße. Ali is self employed.

Was that also a hang out for you, this cafe that he had?

Of course. Those were intense times. Back then we were together every day. Ali still lives where my parents live.

Why did he close the cafe?

At the end it was an annoyance. And he had other plans. Also Ali’s father died. Was also a sad story. Family is an important thing. We are like family to them. When a father dies it’s a catastrophe.

And now the mother lives on Steinmetz Straße.

They still live on Steinmetz Straße. Ali and family they were always on Steinmetz Straße.

They are thirteen siblings.

They are thirteen kids, exactly. Eight boys, five girls.

Amazing. And you?

Now I’ve been living in Neukölln as of a year. In Kölnische Heide. Almost Baumschulen Straße.

Why there?

I was looking for a place everywhere for me and my wife. For a respectable apartment. So we found this place. And we even stuck a thousand euro under the table. It was really nice and reasonably priced. And we needed somewhere. She was pregnant. So we said we would take it.

Do you like it there?

Yeah, but I can’t see myself living there for more than three, four, five years.

Your last album was called Volles Program. What was the concept?

There was no concept. I didn’t do anything for a couple of years. I took a look at the scene. It’s not about snorting coke, that’s not my thing. It’s ridiculous when rappers rap about making major cocaine deals and all, when they have never seem cocaine in their life before. I like rappers who are real. I don’t like it when they exaggerate.   I like real music.

What are you rapping about now?

About life. About hip-hop. I’ve polished a couple people off. But I don’t want to glorify violence. 

Berlin has changed a lot in the last years. How do you see these changes?

It’s bad. In the past, in the nineties, the Berliners were notorious. In all of Germany, when you showed up people said, “fuck, the Berliners are coming”. It’s not like that anymore. So many people have come here. Alone Kreuzberg. Kreuzberg was notorious. Now it’s szene. Everyone wants to go to Kreuzberg. The rents are going up. Most of the people from the past don’t live there anymore. 

It seems as though many are moving to Spandau.

Everywhere. The rents of tripled. Of course, they want the old people out. Most of them are Hartz IV, can’t pay for their apartments, and are moving to where its cheaper. And that’s Spandau and the peripheral districts. 

Do you know a lot of people who have left?

I know a lot of people who are from Schöneberg and have stayed in Schöneberg. For example, my family.  I’m the only one who has left. 

But Kreuzberg 36 is different.

They are all gone. It’s changed. In Schöneberg it’s still as it was. But many have left Schöneberg as well. 

Are there other parts of Germany that in the time being have become more real?

Of course. Everywhere. There are problems everywhere.  But Berlin is big and it’s well known. And everyone knows what Berlin is like. A lot of Berliners have left. To Essen, or wherever. And have spread it. It’s normal.

What do you miss about Berlin when you are away?

When I’m walking around another city I start to miss the spätkaufs. Here there’s a spätkauf on every corner. Here in Berlin they are like little flea markets. 24 hours whatever you want. Nights when you don’t have any papers in another city, big adventure trying to get papers.  In west Germany, maybe there’s kiosk that is open nights. But not like it is here…for an emergency: cigarettes, drinks, whatever you need…

You speak Arabic at home or German?

Make it a point to speak Arabic. I want my son to speak just Arabic. A lot of people growing up here can’t speak such good Arabic. 

Do you think that Berlin is a tolerant city?

Yes, definitely. But to tell you the truth, my whole life I’ve never experienced racism. But the last couple of years I’ve picked up on a bit. Honestly. I experienced one thing. On the bus, there were three Germans, drunk, the one had a Post uniform, they were drunk in the bus. And there were a lot of Turks and Arabs and women in headscarves, and then one said, “Ought we to be afraid that a bomb will go off?” And no one told them to shut up or anything. Normally someone who says something like that gets smacked.  But they laughed about it.