Mietenwahnsinn-Berlin-rent-protest-Cover

#Mietenwahnsinn: Berlin’s Revolt Against Rent Madness

Still think Berlin's is cheap to live in? Think again. #Mietenwahnsinn, or the Protest Against Rent Madness, is Berliners' way of fighting increasing evictions and rent rises in their beloved city.

On April 6, thousands of people gathered at Berlin Alexanderplatz to protest the increase in rising rents and evictions. The demonstration proceeded along Karl Marx Allee into East Berlin, passing several neighborhoods that have been hit the hardest by gentrification. I attended and took pictures, and asked people who were protesting for their stories, and what they were fighting for.

 

 

According to an article published by BBC, rent in Berlin has doubled in the last decade, from 5.60€ (£4.90, $6.40) per square meter in 2008 to 11.40€ in 2018. A one bedroom apartment in the city can average up to 1,000€ a month, which also proves a 103% increase of rent prices in ten years, the highest out of any city in the European continent.

So how does Berlin becoming such a new “hot spot” affect the people who have always lived there?

 

Joanna Poplawska-Qadri and Hassan Qadri

 

 

Kottbusser Damm 9 Parklet / Laden dicht /Protest

Kottbusser Damm 9 Parklet / Photo by Ralf Lutter

Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg, also known as “Kotti,” is one such neighborhood. A week before the demonstration, I spoke to Joanna Poplawska-Qadri and Hassan Qadri, owners of the fabric and clothing store “Kamil Mode” on Kottbusser Straße. They were handed an eviction notice after 17 years of business. Refusing to compromise, the landlord rejected the Qadri’s request to remain another 3 or 4 years, saying he wanted the shop empty.

Neighborhood initiatives supported the Qadri’s, staging protests and gathering signatures. The matter was eventually brought to court by the landlord with an eviction suit. Although the trial was moved due to the crowd of protestors who appeared in the court room on the day of the trial, the judge ultimately ruled for the Qadri’s to vacate the shop by April 2nd.

“There used to be very different people living in this area, a multikulti culture, but they’ve all been kicked out and the prices are rising day by day. The whole city is being sold.”

Hoping to find another location for their store, the Qadri’s sent price inquiries to numerous landlords in the area, yet received no response. “They don’t want us there.” Ten other small businesses were similarly evicted in the past month on this street alone. “They want shiny cafés and restaurants”, Mr Qadri explained. “There used to be very different people living in this area, a multikulti culture, but they’ve all been kicked out and the prices are rising day by day. The whole city is being sold.”

 

Residents of Schöneweider 20

 

 

Elisabeth Winter (left) and Valentin Meyr (middle)- Members of building Schöneweider 20 that I interviewed

 

Many came to the protest representing their buildings, which are all in danger of being sold. One such group bore colorful signs that read ‘Schöneweider 20.’ “It was a private house for quite a while, with a good atmosphere. And we were friends with the owners,” said resident Valentin Meyr. “But now they are interested in selling the house. We tried to find to a good solution but they are not really interested in investing in social living, so it’s probably going to be an investor that buys it. Because the house is quite old, they have to make a lot of changes to it, which means that it will get too expensive for us and for the two kindergartens that are in the house. In the long term, it means that we have to get out.”

 

 

Elisabeth Winter, another resident of Schöneweider 20, remarked that: “we are not the only house that is on the market right now and our whole neighborhood is in danger. What we are doing right now is trying to connect with the others and find solutions.”

Johanna Wolle, representing her complex ‘Grellstr/Prenzlauerallee’, agreed, remarking that they had recently formed an initiative to save their building and that anyone facing modernization efforts should do the same.

 

Residents of the “Tuntenhaus”, the ex-squat turned ‘Hausprojekt’

 

 

Residents of the ex-squat turned 'Hausprojekt' which is at risk of being sold

Residents of the ex-squat turned ‘Hausprojekt’ which is at risk of being sold

At the end of the demonstration, route stood residents of the “Tuntenhaus” a historic ex-squat, which is now a residential project maintained by and for gay men. The residents attended the protest clad in bright pink T-shirts and a huge banner reading ‘Berlin without the Tuntenhaus is like a garden without a rose.’

“The house has already been sold a few times,” said their spokesperson Stefanie Gras, “We know that if it is sold again, like all the other projects, they will want to renovate the building and we will not be able to afford rent. So now we are negotiating with the landlord because we want to try to find a way to buy the building. If this doesn’t work, we don’t know what we are going to do.”

 

Deutsche Wohnen & Co enteignen

 

 

The initiative ‘Deutsche Wohnen & Co enteignen’ gathering signatures for a referendum- the aim is the expropriation of large real estate groups

The initiative ‘Deutsche Wohnen & Co enteignen’ gathering signatures for a referendum- the aim is the expropriation of large real estate groups

Central to the demonstration was the initiative ’Deutsche Wohnen & Co enteignen,’ which calls for a local referendum for the expropriation of profit-oriented housing companies. This initiative was started as a reaction to the Deutsche Wohnen group and other large housing companies having bought up over 240.000 apartments in Berlin over the last few years. The initiators are demanding that the assets of all companies in possession of more than 3000 apartments be socialized.

Over 100 teams dressed in yellow and purple carried banners and set up stands at all ends of the demonstration, gathering signatures from the protestors who showed enormous support for the initiative. Michael Prütz, a leader of the initiative, explained that within 6 months they need to have gathered 20,000 signatures in order for the referendum to be set in motion. If 175.000 signatures are collected, then the referendum will take place, which Mr. Prütz has no doubt will happen.

 

 

The protestors seemed united by the shared notion that Berlin’s character is lost without its diverse neighborhoods and communities. This character came into full swing at the protest. “Rent-choirs” serenaded the protestors, while marching bands and drummers weaved through the crowd. The crowd was a sea of colors, as individuals from all neighborhoods of the city intermingled with one another, debating, singing, and joining together in anti-capitalist chants.

Protesting Students (Wedding is a district (Kiez) in Berlin

Protesting Students (Wedding is a district (Kiez) in Berlin

As the march reached its end, an organizer of the protest addressed the crowd, declaring that until housing is no longer treated as a commodity, rents will continue to rise. “Neither the investors nor the politicians will try to solve this crisis if we don’t force them to.”

The crowd cheered loudly as the speaker reminded them of how Kreuzberg initiatives prevented the establishment of a Google Campus in 2018. While the city’s future appears uncertain, the expropriation initiative being set into motion suggests that Berliners will offer radical resistance to their city being sold. They fight to keep Berlin alive.

Sophie Cassel is an aspiring journalist and environmental activist living in Berlin. She is especially intent on exploring the structural nature of inequality and can most often be found denouncing the patriarchy.
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