Gentrification in Berlin

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Berlin, baby

“I have been to Berlin five times already. And I will go again around New Years” says Evy V., Arts and Culture student at Erasmus University Rotterdam. And she is not the only visitor who drops in for a weekend by plane to enjoy the German capitals well-known nightlife and easy-going atmosphere.

Tourism is on the rise in Berlin. So are the rents. And while the governing parties of Berlin are congratulating each other for the glorious recovery of the once divided capital, one group of people seems to be largely excluded from the public discourse surrounding Europe’s “place to be”. You could call them the victims of the ongoing hype. They are the long-term residents and native Berliners who are getting priced out of the inner city districts and are now forced to take up residence in the outskirts of the metropolis.

Meet the residents

“It’s getting tougher and tougher to find an affordable flat in a somewhat central neighbourhood” tells Anton K. an old friend of mine and a native Berliner. “Just go to any apartment viewing, especially in East Berlin and you can already see the hordes waiting outside.”

While especially people from southern Germany have in recent years been sometimes the target of odd attacks as the cause of gentrification it is also internationals who flock to the city. Not only as tourists but with the prospect to stay, albeit it being difficult to find employment without a good knowledge of German. Multinationals are mostly absent from the city, so the chances go to people with IT knowledge, the ones with the willingness to do low-wage jobs or with just simply enough cash to support themselves without the necessity of full-time employment. Meanwhile Berlin is breaking yearly records in the number of visitors and in the increase of rent.

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Poor but Sexy

Berlin had always had the reputation of being affordable. It is vibrant and surprisingly relaxed for a city of its size. During the times of the wall, West Berlin had been a haven for pacifists, artists, students and just generally everyone who sought a bit of freedom in the walled in city. All made possible by special regulations, which for example excluded residents from having to serve in the military.

This only accelerated after German reunification, when the GDR collapsed and suddenly a gigantic vacuum appeared in East Berlin. Very cheap rents in the former east drew in young people and artists from all over Germany, and to some extent from abroad, like a magnet does with iron. The techno scene exploded with parties in abandoned basements and industrial buildings. All this was owed to the unclear ownership situation of much property. Of course this could not stay the way it was. At least not under the political and economic system from West Germany, which was now law. Slowly but steadily gentrification set in.

It only really kicked off after the football world cup in Germany in 2006, but then it really did. Districts like Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg are now a far cry from the cheap and oddly different neighbourhoods they were in the 1990s. Tourists seem to be the new majority on the streets and expensive boutiques have become the trademark of the area around the Hackescher Markt.

Berlin Boom Town

In the year 2013 alone, the number of visitors to Berlin grew by 4.4 percent to 11.3 million from the previous year. In fact, the total number of visitors doubled between 2003 and 2013. A success story with no end in sight. But the amount of tourists is not the only number, which is rising of late in the capital. Rents have literally exploded with a steep hike of 13.5% between 2005 and 2010 and continue to do so to this very day.

And while Germany is admired as an economic miracle in foreign media, Berlin actually has the second highest unemployment quota in all of Germany, with 10% just after Bremen with 10.5%. While everything looks great and the inner city is being taken over by tourists, people who have often lived there for decades and made the city what it is are now being forced out by rising rents and the prospect for profit. After all the costs of buying an apartment is still only a fourth of the price in London.

Demonstration von Anwohnern, Stadtplanern, Architekten, KŸnstlern, Studenten sowie stadtgeschichtlich und politisch Interessierten aller Generationen. Die Aktion richtet sich gegen die vehementen Versuche der Treuhand Liegenschaftsgesellschaft mbH, die denkmalgeschŸtzten Bauten der historischen Eisfabrik Berlin Mitte abzurei§en und damit den Gentrifikationsprozess in den Quartieren an den innerstŠdtischen Spreeufern voranzutreiben.BildfŸllend ist ein Transparent mit der Losung ãStop Gentrification. Gegen die Kommerzialisierung von stŠdtischem Lebensraum!Ò zu erkennen. Dahinter zeigt das Bild die Hinterkšpfe von  Demonstranten unterschiedlichen Alters. Die Beteiligten wenden sich vom Betrachter ab und der im Hintergrund sichtbaren grauen historischen Fassade der Berliner Kšpenicker Stra§e 41 zu, dem stra§enseitigen GebŠude, hinter dem sich das vom Abriss bedrohte FabrikgelŠnde liegt.Die Immobilie mit den historischen Produktions- und LagergebŠuden der frŸheren Norddeutschen Eiswerke AG unterliegt aufgrund ihrer attraktiven Lage direkt am Spreeufer einem hohen Spekulationsdruck. Die seit 1995 mit der Verwaltung und Entwicklung der Immobilie betraute Treuhand Liegenschaftsgesellschaft mbH strebt mit wachsendem Eifer dieZerstšrung des  denkmalgeschŸtzten Bauensembles an, um hier Platz fŸr profitable Neubauten zu schaffen. (Weitere Informationen unter: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisfabrik_%28Berlin-Mitte%29#cite_note-6 und http://www.berlin-eisfabrik.de)Die Demonstration fand am 7. Mai 2010 zwischen 18.00 und 20.00 Uhr statt. Sie ist Teil der breiten Bewegung ãMediaspree versenken!Ò in der Berliner Bevšlkerung gegen das ãMediaspreeÒ-Projekt des Berliner Senats, eine befŸrchtete profitorientierte und damit unsoziale und geschichtsfeindliche stŠdtebauliche Entwicklung der attraktiven Spreeufer zwischen den Berliner Bezirken Mitte, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg und Treptow.

What next?

Anton has found a flat after all. In a quite sought after neighbourhood actually. Mostly owing to his personal connections as a native. “Man, I would never go flat hunting just like that. It’s too much. Luckily I know people. But who knows what happens if I have to move out at some point? Maybe I just move to Spandau or Wedding. A bit off but at least you can pay the rent if you are not someone having a big office job.”

There are still affordable corners in Berlin. Mostly in lesser known parts of town. But who knows for how long? And where will everybody go who does not have the money? Surely not into one of the numerous flat where residents have been forced out to make way for more profitable holiday apartments.

The city government has promised to tackle the issue with setting legal limits to rent increases and forbidding or making it severely harder to transform rental flats into condominiums or holiday apartments. If it will work out? The future will show, but it does not look to great.

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