Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
It is the nature of cities to change. Like snakes they shed their skin regularly and grow new one – one that makes them prettier, tougher, more resistant and better equipped for what is to come. But unlike in snakes where the animal has little say and must go through it all pretty willy-nilly, the urban skin-shedding can and should be a controlled process. Because it affects more than just one being. And because its consequences are long-lasting.
Frau Müller lives in Oppelner Strasse. For the past 30 years she has been bringing her dirty linen to the laundry behind the corner in Skalitzer Strasse 71, opposite the old U1 station. So have most of her neighbours, many of whom are gone by now. No, no dead. With the rents in the Kiez (neighbourhood) having gone up by 80% over the past 5 years and not actually stopping at the current median of 9.5 Euros/m2 yet, no wonder they had to leave. Who can afford paying so much for a flat these days?
Well, clearly somebody can. And Frau Müller, who does not really exist but very well could, would have to blind and deaf not to see it. Almost 50% of all residents of Kotti Kiez (the neighbourhood around Kottbusser Tor) moved in between 2008 and today only. That would explain why the rents in Kreuzberg SO36 – for the same number or even more moved into Wrangelkiez at the same time – exploded. Right into the old residents´ faces.
And the residents are pissed off (you might be angry in Mitte, discontent in Charlottenburg or displeased in Zehlendorf but in Kreuzberg you are well pissed off). Not only do they have to either keep up with the head-spinning pace at which the financial demands of the landlords are growing or pack their things and kiss Kreuzberg good-bye but they are also forced to put up with a complete refurbishment of their old neighbourhood. Wrangelkiez is under siege. It is being occupied by swarms of newcomers claiming the land with the same kind of ruthless arrogance that we, the Europeans, displayed before outside the continent and on many an occasion on our home turf, too. Only now instead of flying a flag over the claimed territory and shouting the name of the king or the queen they claim it for, they put up their sleak ultrabooks and their cupfuls of chai tea on every single table in view. They sit on the curbs, they lounge on the benches and enjoy the “dirty but creative local ambience” (quote from an overheard talk in a bar). They chain smoke in or in front of the new coffebars that used to be fishmonger´s or stationary products´ shops before, and watch the natives with a melange of curiosity and superior benevolence.
At the same time the natives are watching them. They know where it is all leading to. First the new neighbours in house, then more new neighbours in house, then neighbours in house who are no neighbours at all because they come for two or three days only and might wish to make the most of their stay by having a paaaaarty! at the rented flat. Then rents go up ´cos the ´hood got hot and before you know it your greengrocer is either gone and replaced by a organic sandwich bar or has raised the prices so much that you end up shopping at Lidl. Or in Marzahn, for that is where the flats are still affordable but with all of those Kreuzbergers coming, probably not for long.
Frau Müller – if she existed, that is – would have another problem now. Her old laundry behind the corner is about to pop up its clogs. Or move. But how and where on Earth do you find affordable space for this kind of heavy equipment in this Kiez? The laundry of Frau Gerda Scheffler with 30 years of uninterrupted service is supposed to make space for another organic supermarket of a well-known chain. Obviously, there would be demand for it here: with all the hipsters, the start-ups, the creatives, all the new-comers with money and environmental awareness that should make the “68 Generation” (politically aware, rebellious against any sort of authority and loving Nature a lot) swell with pride, another shop offering organic, politically-correct, locally grown – one would hope! – produce would definitely fill up with clients quickly. The question is, however, is the demand real?
Frau Müller might not be buying her carrots there. In fact, it is pretty damn certain she wouldn´t. First of all, because she already has a place where she buys them and secondly, because they would cost twice or three times of what she can actually pay. Organic food became a status symbol just like your car, your laptop and your smartphone. It is an elitist thing, really. Nobody in their right mind can honestly believe that any parent (excluding the notorious monsters whom we shall not discuss here) would rather buy for their kid a chemically treated apple than a locally-grown, like-Nature-made-it one. It is also highly unlikely that anyone buying food and having to choose between a real tomato that smells like a tomato and tastes like a tomato or one of those perfect, shiny, red plastic balls from a discounter would go for the latter if they could afford both. Let´s face it: they very often cannot. In a place where up to 37.8% of all residents (the highest percentage applies to the northern Luisenstadt with Kottbusser Tor) live on state benefits you cannot expect to be able to pander to the higher tastes only.
And even if. Even if Frau Müller had the necessary cash but still preferred her tomatoes well sprayed with half of what Mendeleyev´s chart has to offer? Then be it. As long as she has the choice and can get what she needs. And hopefully where she needs it.
And right now it seems that she needs the laundry right where it has been for the past three decades. Frauen und Herren Müllers of Wrangelkiez seem to have reached their breaking point as far as the Kiez refurbishment goes. After their fishmonger in Wrangelstrasse – the oldest non-stop working shop of this kind in Berlin! – went belly-up only several weeks ago, they are loathe to see another important service point go. For regular residents no number of chic cafes, start-ups or literature-and-drink clubs can make up for the loss of everyday facilities. In order to survive and function well the city needs more than just fun things. Otherwise it ends up like Las Vegas – a city that hardly anyone takes seriously or even believes that it exists. The city needs shoemakers and fishmongers and the brush shop and the seedy little Eckkneipe where the drinks are served at 7.00 AM. Otherwise it turns into a film set.
The fantastic research group of young scientists from Berlin´s Freie Universität led by Prof. Felicitas Hillmann, who analysed the trends in urban development of a Kreuzberg neighbourhood (their main focus was Kottbusser Tor and its satellites) found out that the number of businesses in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg went up by 45% over the past six years. There are 45,000 registered companies or small enterprises here. What comes as a surprise, however, is that although most of them have been started by people with Migrationshintergrund or in other words “foreigners”, it is not (careful, stereotype coming!) Turkish greengrocer shops that are the most numerous group. It´s services. Scientific, technical, fine-electronic services such as all Internet start-ups, all app developers, online businesses and such. Followed by Kfz-Betriebe (garages) and everything that has anything to do with art, entertainment and Erholung (leisure and recovery).
So the laundry in Skalitzer Strasse should score pretty high in fact. After all it is “services” and although not as prestigious as a slinky shared office space coming up with endless Android apps, very much needed. The problem is its location is wrong. It should be somewhere else. Anywhere but here. Preferably somewhere where it would not disturb the process of the Kiez-update to adjust it even more to the needs of the financially liquid well-updated newcomers. Like many other local businesses before.
But this time the pissed off residents decided to put their foot down. They have already put up with 2.8 million Übernachtungen (overnight stays) in the borough between 2005-2011, many of which took place in regular residential houses and among people who are being disturbed, upset or even terrorised by the so called “guests”. That is, by the way, 80% more visitors that the Kiez had to live with before.
In summer they are forced to put up with the never ending street parties, with the night noise, with the rubbish spreading out of every corner and covering Görlitzer Park like pox. They have to live with the dealers in the park whose business is doing just splendid also thanks to the half-wits writing guide-books pointing at Görli as the place to go when in need of something “green”. They cannot escape the permanently growing human mass outside their doors or single-handedly stop the rent hikes.
But they can damn well demand the organic supermarket go and stuff their Bio-Ananas where it hurts the most. Because although there is nothing wrong with offering healthier food at perhaps even higher prices to those who want to buy it at a place that is available for the opening of such a venue, there is plenty of wrong in not asking those most affected whether this is also what they want. Or in claiming the space against their specific wishes, waving the free-market ticket as a proof of their right to do so. Something particularly revolting when done by a company whose whole philosophy is allegedly based on their wish to make people healthier, happier and more environment-friendly. How about that for being friendly to the environment? Are the streets, the shops, the people in the city none?
New is not always bad. Just as not all newcomers to the Kiez arrived only in order to suck up as much of it as they can, mess it up and leave. As one of the persons interviewed by the FU researchers said: “The Kiez has always been changing. Every 5-6 years Kreuzberg is shedding its skin.” But just as with the rent prices growing too fast (something that urban and anthropogeography experts confirm), there is something foul here, too. It feels as if this time the Kiez were not shedding its skin but as if it were being skinned.
The laundry Textilpflege Scheffler in Skalitzer Strasse 71 has time until January 31, 2014. To move out. From a legal point of view there is nothing that can be done to prevent that. The question remains, what Bio Company are going to do about it.