Wohnen in Berlin: A Mismatch Between Rhetoric and Practice

“Berlin is attractive. Berlin is growing. Berlin needs flats“. Such buzzwords are very popular in the present debate on the further urban development of the German capitol. Under the main theme “living” and the parole “Berlin braucht mehr Wohnungsbau für alle”, the Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Umwelt prepares Berlin for the upcoming Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) in 2020. The title is “Draußenstadt wird Drinnenstadt” and includes the themes “Vielfältige Stadt” (Diverse City), “Wohnen als Motor” (Living as Drive) and “Stadt baut Stadt” (City Builds City). To prepare the Berliners for and involve them in the process, the Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Umwelt invites the citizens through a row lectures “Werkstattgespräche” for discussion.

Sincerely, the debate in Berlin is slowly taking form. Yet, it shows a mismatch between the rhetoric and promises and actual actions of the Senatsverwaltung.

The most loved example and hated project of them all, “Living Bauhaus”, is to be constructed on the Spree bank. Indeed, “Living Bauhaus” deviates from the original democratic design of the German Bauhaus movement: This luxury living complex was planned in 1992, shortly after the fall of the Berlinian wall and introduces the future buyers for a square metre price of 9000 €. Building “Living Bauhaus” means tearing down the museum “East Side Gallery”, which contains the majority of the remaining Berlinian wall. On 03.03.13, about 6000 people were gathered to stop the demolition of the East Side Gallery. This massive demonstration has temporarily called off the action.

Last month, the demolition of the piece of 1984 IBA architecture by Oswald Mathias Ungers at Lützowplatz began. Instead of this social housing, the architecture bureau Modersohn und Freiesleben luxury flats, shops and a hotel by demand of the Munich investor Dibag.

The decision of constructing the overpriced “Living Bauhaus” after 21 years of hibernation as well as the demolition of Ungers flat complex at Lützowplatz disagree with the outspoken priorities of the Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Umwelt. Being very fascinated and glad of the debate, which the Senate has begun, I regret to see this u-turn in action. According to their strategy, they want to build flats for everybody but in practice, they unfortunately negate that very aim. When building luxurious architecture on the prominent urban spaces within the S-Bahn Ring, the citizens with a lower income are banned to outside of the suburbs of Berlin. In other words, the Senate starts an governmentally organized gentrification.

A city cannot merely embrace the highest social strata. In such a case, when focusing on a city’s economic capital, its social capitol is neglected. When balancing the two, a city can become an innovative hub, and in Berlin’s case, maybe exactly that innovative hub the city needs to succeed, e.g. in competition with cities as Hamburg and Munich. In my opinion,  Berlin needs to grow from beneath, not from borrowed capital. The debate neglects the theme of urban sustainability, here not concerning sustainable energy sources but the question of how we can develop an independent city that integrates its resources and grows from them. To start this process, what is articulated has to be adapted when acting; rhetoric has to meet practice.

My hope for the future debate is that Berlin would be to discuss the possibility of constructing housing architecture with visions as it once did (that of Ungers being an example hereof) and more importantly, not demolishing those that had. The next step in the debate could be to develop a “Wohnen-codex” with which citizens of different budgets could all be able to get qualitative housing.

Tomorrow, I will be going to the next debate in line “Wohnen III in Berlin” at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and will be looking forward to observe in what direction the discussion will lead.

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