As rents rise and hipsters parade down the so-called "casting alley," one building is restoring a past sense of communityby J.A. Hopkin / April 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
For many years, Berlin has been an affordable European capital where you can indulge in a unique spirit of art and anarchy. But that spirit is disappearing, and quickly.
Despite the city government’s 2016 pledge to regulate AirBnB, the company boasted 700,000 Berlin bookings last year. This has put pressure on a rental market that was once the best value on the continent, meaning that a culture where sharing and cover-my-rent flat-sitting were widely available has been usurped by over-charging. The result is an average rent hike of about 30 per cent over the last two years.
Blissfully unaware that they’re at least ten years late for the party, disaffected Americans and Brits have come to Berlin in huge numbers since Trump and the EU referendum, adding to the strain on supply. Then, of course, there are the Russian-financed exclusive apartment blocks and glass skyscrapers, the 36 hotels currently being built across the city, and a general bauboom (construction boom). The race is on to meet the demand, and at an ever-increasing cost. In fact, such is the speed of construction and renovation, there is a ten-week waiting list for painters and fitters.
Meanwhile, as well as a mid-April march against exorbitant rents, there are daily protests, especially in the once cheap, radical, and diverse districts of former east Berlin. In Kreuzberg, a pavement on Wrangelstrasse has been turned into a grave, bemoaning the death of affordable rents and alternative lifestyles. Prenzlauer Berg, once the focal point of the post-wall art scene, has in recent years become the demesne of young hipster families, trust-fund expats, and weekenders with enough cash to sample the brand Berlin.
The district’s main thoroughfare, Kastanienallee (Chestnut Avenue), has become known as “casting alley”—the place to be seen in your oversize coat and tote on a Sunday afternoon, even if you don’t notice the old anti-capitalist squat on the same street. The last vestiges of the independent scene are being erased: the latest, Bassy Club, closes its doors on May 1,“not the victims of gentrification, but of the death of Prenzlauer Berg” says its website.
Yet just off Kastanienallee, on Oderberger Strasse, there is a grand, ministerial-looking building with an extraordinary past. Built between 1898 and 1902…