Milieu sind wir! ...
...is an initiative founded by tenants living in a listed heritage building complex in the social neighborhood preservation area Weberwiese in Berlin-Friedrichshain. We are located between Warschauer Straße, Frankfurter Tor and Ostbahnhof, the famous nightclub Berghain is only a stone's throw away. Our complex comprises 35 buildings with nearly 500 apartments, with hundreds of tenants, some of them living here since the construction in 1954.
Since the ownership of the ensemble was passed to the Danish company White Tulip GmbH as part of a share deal, they immediately started dividing the 35 buildings into individual condos in order to market them internationally under the new moniker 54East.
Ever since White Tulip GmbH took over, their strategy has been to discontinue renting out vacant apartments on a regular basis, and instead subletting them on a temporary basis through a third-party company as furnished apartments at publicly available prices. Around one third of all apartments have been profitably exploited in this manner already – with revenues far beyond the limitations of the Berlin rental cap act that recently came into effect. After buying such an apartment, the new owner can decide whether to continue subletting the furnished apartment as a lucrative business model, or simply evict the subtenant and claim the apartment for his own personal use.
In the 30 years since German reunification, nothing had been done about our crumbling facades and rotting window frames. Now, facades, ornaments, staircases and lush gardens are being restored in line with the preservation laws. However, these beautifications obviously only serve the better marketing of the apartments, while the needs and requirements of the existing tenants are not being taken into account. Electrics and bathrooms remain unrenovated, window frames remain rotten.
At the same time, tenants are being approached by the estate agency and asked to move out and accept insufficient compensations in return. A drop in the ocean, considering the dwindling chances of finding comparable living space in Berlin today. The constant fluctuation of people moving in and out - sometimes in large groups - increases the anonymity in the buildings. Noise complaints become more frequent, front doors are being left open wide, thefts and burglaries are on the rise. While all this creates a widespread uncertainty amongst the remaining residents, the legal situation remains complex and confusing.
In case an apartment gets sold, the law grants tenants the pre-emptive right to buy. However, recent surveys have shown that only a negligible number of tenants in Berlin make use of this right, probably due to lack of financial resources.
Counting from the day of the sale, tenants in Berlin who had moved into their apartment before the division into condos, benefit from a 10-year protection against eviction based on the owner’s personal claims. But ten years can pass very quickly, while there is no sign of relief for the Berlin housing market in the next years.
But how could all of this this happen at all? After our neighborhood had been declared a social neighborhood preservation area a few years ago, for a while many of us had assumed that they were legally protected - unfortunately, wrongly so. Seemingly, laws like social neighborhood preservation areas and rent caps suffer from too many loopholes in order to take effective action against a total sell-out and displacement of neighborhoods like ours: Almost one and a half years had passed between the ruling of our social neighborhood preservation area in March 2015 and its entry into force in August 2016. Time enough for our previous owner Tækker to get the legal approval that allows him to divide our 35 buildings into hundreds of condos. Other regulations, such as the one against wrongful use of rental apartments, have been deliberately ignored. A run-down municipal administration seems to be completely helpless in the face of the sheer amount of violations in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg alone.
And while the local population is under threat, the global capital can quietly continue their profit maximization here in the former socialist flagship housing project at Weberwiese, unhindered by laws and regulations which will sooner or later render themselves obsolete: With increasing conversion into condominiums, the social structure within the neighborhood will change inevitably. That way the social neighborhood preservation area will abolish itself over time.
No one in our neighborhood should be evicted and forced to move to the outskirts of Berlin, only to satisfy the greed of international corporations. That’s is why we get into action right now, solidarize with each other, start networking with other initiatives and try to draw the public attention to our situation. The goal is to mobilize as many residents as possible and to leave no stone unturned in order to prevent the mass displacement of the local population and thus to preserve the social mixture of our neighborhood.