Neoliberal Berlin

Schillerkeiz. Berlin, March 2016.

Cheap cities have their downsides. Aside from being, quite frequently, depressed, they’re gated communities in training. For every vintage building full of broke punks, there’s a real estate developer looking to transform it into over-priced live-work condos. It just takes the malcontents to scout them out, and make them livable again. Bohemians are, as it always turns out, the shock troops of the wealthy.

Since the 1980s, Americans have become especially sensitive to this problem, as their favorite cultural areas –  the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland on the West Coast, Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan back east – became enclaves of the rich, after decades of underground music and, depending on the city, good coffee. The loss is so keenly felt, two, perhaps three generations are in mourning.

Though the phenomenon is universal, Americans often lay claim to the gentrification phenomenon, as it tends to serve as a foil for deep cultural currents, about independence and authenticity, which run throughout American history. The European version, conversely  tends to frame itself in terms of a return to pre-WWII state of affairs, in its biggest cities, if not earlier.

Berlin is a great example. Having lost its industries to Allied bombing between 1941 and 1945, followed by the city’s division during during the Cold War, the German capital was turned into a ghost town, inhabited, in the West, by a mixture of immigrants and artists, and foreign armies, for over five decades.

Today, Berlin is swamped with tech startups, and rents are skyrocketing. There’s even a housing shortage in the city center. Many of its longtime residents are looking elsewhere – to ‘new’ Berlins, in Leipzig and Krakow, even Istanbul, though recent events in Turkey have dampened enthusiasm.

A huge part of what made Berlin work for so long was the German capital’s artistic community. Leftist and musical, it trafficked in all the cliches claimed by its American counterparts – think Berkeley or Olympia, but with better art museums. Pioneering art bands like Einsturzende Neubauten, and music production software such as the legendary Ableton Live, are archetypal products of the Berlin of this era.

None of this would have been possible in the sort of environment that the city finds itself in today. The situation, described in the flyer below, is typical of the current crisis, and the efforts that Berlin’s ur-residents are making to try to stave off be transformed into an eastern European version of Nice, for moneyed intellectuals, and venture capitalists looking to found a new Silicon Valley.

Hence the lead photograph, of a poor Turkish resident of Schillerkiez, inspecting vintage auction books, left out on the sidewalk, for the taking. The affluence they speak of never came to be, at least during his prime. Fluent enough in English he scans the titles, looks at the photographer wide-eyed, and walks away.


Friedel 54 fights.

The neighbourhood shop stays.

The neighbourhood shop is located on the ground floor of Friedel Street 54. But we’re no kiosk or grocery store, as the name might suggest. Some know it as an open free space, others as a social centre. It’s a little bit of column A, a bit of column B.

We are an open space which is used by a plethora of different people, groups and projects from all walks of life. Currently we count anti-racism groups, a food corporation, political art festivals and anarchist groups among our numbers.

There are regular events, which offer the different groups a kitchen that is free to use and prepare brunch. There are often different information events on totally different issues and events, as well as movie or game nights.

Within its four walls, the store has a small cinema room, 2 free foosball tables and a freebox. People can bring any unwanted items here and people can take what they need or want.

Last but not least, we have a screen-printing workshop. It’s not always open, but the collective is delighted to welcome interested people.

All of this is a reason why it should stay. Decide for yourselves. Visit us or our website, where all our information is available.

On October 2015, we were delivered a termination notice with a 30th April 2016 deadline. The Viennese owner company “Citec Immo Invest GmbH” has progressed to the next level of escalation in its confrontation with the tenants and users of the building. It’s a familiar scenario for Berliners, especially those tenants in other Citec buildings. It seems to have become the norm.

But more and more people are fed up with it and starting to rile against those people and companies who believe the notion that they are allowed to decide who lives where and how they do so, based on a concept of abstract ownership.

We invite all our concerned, angry neighbours to join us in solidarity.

Let the games begin…

Translated from the German by Sam Morgan. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.