Around 600 people of all colors came together to demonstrate from Oranien- to Manteuffelstraße to protest the planned eviction of M99, not only for the owners sake, but also to remind the neighborhood that the fight against displacement and urban marginalization has only just begun.
What I understand so far is that forced evictions are not a black and white issue. They are usually legally valid, but socially destructive.
The story of the M99 store and its owner, HG, is not the only one in the Kiez who knows how to narrate a story of social destruction. Many people are fighting against higher rents or being evicted out of their buildings completely (for reasons such as renovations). The case of Hans-Georg, as his real name is, illuminates very well the social conflicts of such “anonymous” laws.
M99: Gemischtwarenladen mit Revolutionsbedarf
“Gemischtwarenladen mit Revolutionsbedarf” is the name of Hans-Georg Lindenaus messy shop on Manteuffelstraße. You need to take a deep breath before entering his tightly packed store, which sells political books and the typical ANTIFA clothing, stickers and other left-wing paraphernalia. I never had a particular interest in revolutionary knick-knacks, but even if only visually, his store symbolizes what Kreuzberg stands for: a wild mix of people, a youth that leans heavily to a punk-ish left, roots in political protests and great support for multiculturalism and anti-fascism. If you open your eyes while walking through the streets, you can still see the remnants of a SO36 that holds high such values such as solidarity and anti-capitalism. If you speak/read German, I highly recommend reading this article about the story of HG in detail.
HG is a sympathy carrier. Bound to his wheelchair and dressed in a helmet, he tells the attendees of the protest his story: how he tried to tell this landlord, time and time again, about the awful conditions of his apartment and the store on Manteuffelstraße, and how they never reacted. He’s been living there for +20 years. Finally, instead of fixing what was broken, they asked him to move out in order to completely renovate the apartment. The protest had begun then, with a forced eviction date set for August. HG and his landlord eventually agreed on a peaceful and voluntary clearance. He now has time til September. Mind you, HG is in no condition to give up his existence, his neighborhood, his social structure- but of course, it’s up to him to decide what to do. That’s why so many supporters took the time to go on the streets for a peaceful protest (including the alliances of the Bizim Kiez initiative and the Rigaer 94 supporters).
But you don’t have to be a fan of left-wing politics or have strong idealistic views to support M99 in principle. This particular store in the neighborhood is only one out of many examples of displacement. Because the housing market in Berlin is so hot right now, buildings that haven’t been touched in centuries are flipped for profit. The problem is that most people who live and work in Berlin can’t afford this rapid rise in rent prices. Now you could put the blame on the job market and on low incomes in general – and I would whole-heartedly agree! – but that doesn’t mean that the real estate business and the supporting politicians don’t have any responsibility to take.
Displacement and gentrification in Kreuzberg
Under the legal excuse of “renovations”, longterm tenants are being evicted of their homes. After renovations, the owners can either sell for profit – or rent out the new apartments for a much higher price (as they are now renovated and thus eligible for higher rent). This dynamic seems to be perfectly legal, and renovations usually sound good when you make yourself aware of the shitty conditions some of these houses are in, but none of the residents will profit from the changes. Why should the owners of the buildings even care? They have invested time and money into financial assets. They are not altruists, nor are they supposed to be. But they are far too detached to see that their paper-based decisions (“It’s legal!”) have real social consequences. This is when politics should come into play to mediate the process. But, as one of the speakers said last night during the demonstration, how can politicians and law-makers understand? They are usually home-owners, too! Rarely do they have to deal with the same issues as tenants in Berlin.
How paradox: people are considering themselves lucky if they have a very old contract with their landlord, in an un-renovated building. This is also effectively why the housing market is getting shortened by people who are not freeing up their contracts, and instead subletting through their vast social networks – moving out means renovations and rising rent. I used to think that AirBnB was a big problem in the housing market, but it turns out it’s just a symptom.
The displacement of the neighborhood-residents thus drives the dynamics of gentrification, and, unfortunately, produces bitter byproducts such as xenophobia. The affluent people who move into the neighborhoods don’t worry about the rent-prices. If they can afford above-average Berlin housing, they are probably not comparing Kreuzberg to Lichtenberg, they are comparing Kreuzberg to Williamsburg. While the left-wing attitude in Kreuzberg (openness, tolerance, multiculturalism) generally applies to tourists, expats and new residents, it’s hard to stay composed and not direct anger at those who are ignorant to their part in the process.
I am not a left-wing idealist, nor am I particularly politically engaged. But this protest, full of love, support and solidarity for a member of the neighborhood, showed again what Kreuzberg 36 stands for – despite the struggle.