Figures on gentrification: berliners don’t move

Do more and more people have to move to the outskirts of the city because they can no longer pay the high rents? On the contrary, says the landlords’ association.

In, up, down, out: happens less and less in Berlin. Image: dpa

Moving is actually great. You go to Robben und Wientjes, the last big rental car store, where really nice employees at the counter first take a spin before they take the big vehicle cardboard plan in their hands and brush over the previous tenant of your future vehicle with Tippex. My favorite renter has been working here for over 20 years. Computer use here is very rudimentary. Each time, I enthusiastically re-sign the little note that says, "The tank is not full."

While friends used to call every few months or years to haul boxes, now it’s more likely to be grandparents moving into a smelly nursing home, where you’re constantly stuck in automatic doors with cardboard in your arms. Or couples separate, the one who moves out doesn’t even have an apartment yet and distributes his stuff between his office and two basement rooms.

The one left behind can then barely afford the rent and suddenly is no longer sitting at breakfast with her husband, but with a Spanish student. A petite Andalusian woman once drove a friend completely crazy because she regularly came into the kitchen at 10 in the evening.

She put a huge pot of water on the gas stove to cook a full 1.5 kg bag of potatoes. No more than three of them were eaten, all the others were thrown away. After she even refused to throw the leftover potatoes into the organic waste garbage can ("Too gross"), she was kicked out after three months.

Never again naked through the apartment

After that, a fire-red fire extinguisher was specially purchased for the kitchen to meet the requirements of a U.S. student exchange organization. There was never a fire, but you could never walk naked through the apartment again, because otherwise the Yank students would get a moral or immediately tweet it to their parents as a typical German libertarian aberration.

In another family that cannot afford to move, but is squatting in a much too large 5-room apartment in Neukolln after their two sons moved out, there lived until recently someone who claimed to be a non-smoker when he moved in. First he was caught by chance smoking on the street.

Then he replaced the names of the (moved-out) children on the doorbell plate and on the mailbox with his own, moved the resident’s clothes into another corner of the closet, and then also puffed secretly at the window. When asked about all these offenses, all he ever said was, "It’s just routine." One day he simply disappeared without a trace. At least without stealing anything.

Mrs. Kern is under the covers

To back up the feeling that almost no one moves anymore with really fat facts, I went to a "press meeting" of the BBU (Verband Berlin-Brandenburgischer Wohnungsunternehmen e. V.) the other day. The can prove everything somehow statistically and presented its current "market monitor".

Surprisingly, the BBU’s press conference took place in a neat little room on the premises of the Federal Press Office. Now BBU board member Maren Kern was allowed to happily rail against the Mietpreisbremse ("takes away our freedom") and, above all, to tout the not-so-great increase in Berlin rents. "I go under the covers when I constantly hear how much rents have risen," says Kern.

One move every 15 years

People are actually moving about a third less frequently, according to the BBU. Last year, "turnover" reached a low of 6.3 percent. Ten years ago, it was still at 9.4 percent. So on average, Berliners now move not every 10 years, but only every 15 years. Although Kern repeatedly pointed out that she could only speak for her association, her statement that there was "no social displacement" was particularly surprising. For Kern, the possibility of moving to the outskirts of the city, or better yet, to Finsterwalde, is a great opportunity, not a catastrophe.

If you take a closer look at the member companies of the BBU, you will notice that in addition to various cooperatives, there are several large corporations, some of which are listed on the stock exchange. Among them is Deutsche Annington, which is feared by tenants, and GAGFAH, which it has just swallowed. Also Berlin’s GSW and TLG. All once public, but long since privatized and committed to profit. Among them also Volksbank, Aareal Bank (M-DAX, major shareholders: Oetker and Swiss Life) and the cable network operator Tele Columbus.

Without regard for the trees

The Federal Press Office has to ask itself whether it would also allow a press conference to be held by Siemens or Adidas. And the cooperative housing industry should consider whether the demands of the BBU are still theirs. Kern, at any rate, is playing hardball for the interests of her members and is calling for a tripling of subsidies for new construction. She was also allowed to rail against excessive nature conservation, because sometimes construction projects are delayed for months because a few "little trees" are not allowed to be felled. According to its own information, the BBU represents 40 percent of the entire housing stock in Berlin, and even half in Brandenburg.

After the press meeting, there was a nice discussion over snacks and coffee beans. A guy at my table said I should prove the alleged social displacement with figures. Unfortunately, the fact that rents in my building double when they are re-rented and that uncool unsympathetic people move in instead of nice cab drivers didn’t count.

What is really booming are the so-called self-storage warehouses along the city highway. You can only move all your junk in there, but you don’t need such a big apartment anymore. Or you can just move into an old truck or construction trailer. Hidden in the middle of the Wuhlheide, behind the Gorli at the Lohmuhlenbrucke or next to the Bethanien, you then live comfortably with a coal stove and composting toilet. Or you take an even more radical approach, convert a car into a mobile home and then you’re permanently in relocation mode. Or on the run from the regulatory authorities. Very hard opponents of the move have already committed arson attacks twice at Robben and Wientjes. But anyone who hates landlords shouldn’t torch furniture trucks.

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