Return to Stories


Amongst Berliners, the burning issue at the moment is the creeping, and seemingly unstoppable, gentrification of their city. Rising rents, now incomparable to unusually cheap rates in the early 1990s, and a huge tourist boom in Berlin are driving up prices across the German capital and forcing poorer residents, who settled in Berlin at a time when it was divided and cut off from the rest of Germany, ever further into the suburbs. What began in the rundown inner city districts of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, when large groups of students started to arrive in the early 1990s is now spreading to other central parts, breaking up traditional communities and displacing long standing residents. For decades after the war, when Berlin was occupied by the Allies and subsequently divided in 1961, alternative subcultures gave the city a unique Bohemian flair particularly evident in the mixed working-class districts of Kreuzberg and Neukölln where people in search of alternative lifestyles and artists coalesced comfortably with the city's large Turkish population.

With the move of Germany's capital back to Berlin and the re-establishment of the Bundestag in the old Reichstag building in 1999, Berlin's attractiveness to investors from around the country and around the world jumped dramatically. Waves of middle class arrivals taking up new employment opportunities in the government, private and arts sector started to be drawn to parts of the city that had previously been working class ghettos or had simply been overlooked in the general sprucing up of the city.

Residential real estate prices have jumped an impressive 32 % in the past 5 years and continue to rise unabated. Many of the buyers these days come from as far afield as Russia and France. Renting is the norm in Germany and 85% of people don't own their properties so rises in rent present a serious economic challenge to many families. For many, however, simply moving out and relocating to somewhere else is more than a mere practicality. Berliners speak of their Kiez, a colloquial term meaning neighbourhood or district, a notion that is much stronger and more emotional than the sum of its parts.

There are a number of glaring manifestations of Berlin's regeneration and the strong opposition various projects have faced. The so-called Schillerkiez, a formerly decrepit neighbourhood abutting the now closed Tempelhof Airport, has become one of the focal points of the anti-gentrification lobby with graffiti appearing overnight and expensive cars being burnt to protest against the doubling of rents of the past few years.

The Mediaspree development, one of Berlin's largest property investment projects, has been dogged by protests, with one major investor pulling out entirely due to fears of violence and sabotage.

Probably the most famous icon of Berlin's radical, chaotic past is the Tacheles cultural centre, bar and venue, a bomb-damaged ruin that has stood as it was left in 1945 in the centre of East Berlin and has become a huge magnet for tourists and the curious. At present, city planners are considering what to do with the building.

Stefan Boness, a long time resident of Berlin, went to gauge the public mood across the German capital.
powered by