Gentrification Berlin Favorite 

Date: 

Apr 18 2007

Location: 

Berlin

Stop Gentrification – Take Your Right to the City


by Frithjof Wodarg, Max Zuckerman



In the middle of Berlin, two thousand armed police officers stand
guard, with instructions not to let a single person over the fence.
They have been brought in from all over Germany on this particular
Saturday. Water cannons, tear gas, and guns are at the ready. They stand
in a line, a careful five meters behind the chain link and barbed wire
fence.  Protesters, two for every officer, are standing a few meters
back from the other side. They are students and neighbors. Some are
playing music or dressed as clowns. They are each eyeing the water
cannons and the policemen's holsters, carefully weighing the cost of
climbing the fence. This fence doesn't protect a nation, a dictatorship,
or even an occupied building.  On the other side, behind the policemen,
is an expanse of grass, four square kilometers of empty space. It's
June 20, 2009. The disputed territory is the former Tempelhof
International Airport. 
Tempelhof, West Berlin’s lifeline and connection to the rest of the
world during the 1948 airlift, has stood empty for the past year.  Local
activists organized this demonstration to reclaim the space as a public
one. Their flyers, scattered across Berlin, proclaim: STOP
GENTRIFICATION / TAKE YOUR RIGHT TO THE CITY. This is just one of
several sites in Berlin on which the ideological battle for democratic
space is fought. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall exactly twenty years
ago, the attitude of the city towards spaces for its citizens has
changed and with it, a resistance to this new approach has grown among
Berliners. Public money that was invested to preserve and modernize East
Berlin with special attention to community planning and social
responsibility has since run out; the rent limits for tenants who kept
their apartments for the last twenty years have been lifted; the city
now faces the largest inner-city peacetime migration in Europe. All of
these factors have created a context in which urban spaces have become
regarded as a kind of public right in Berlin; a right that is
enunciated, demanded, and sometimes even seized.
Battles for power have been played out in the physical spaces of the
city since the construction of the Berlin Wall.  The fight for
prohibited space has an historical precedent here, echoed in the demands
of protesters today. At the root of the Tempelhof Airport conflict, the
source of contention, is the fact that it stands empty and unusable.
 Emptiness, and the sheer abundance of empty spaces, is a problem
throughout Berlin (100,000 apartments alone, according to a study
earlier this year in Prospect Magazine).  This provides justification
for the politicians advocating economic growth, encourages squatters to
take over abandoned buildings and repurpose them, and appeals to
investors who want to build a commercial center. Local architects Anna
and Fabian von Gwinner, who designed the first co-op apartment building
in Berlin (in 2007), put it this way: “What is so appealing about Berlin
is that it is an unfinished city.  Of course, we too, would like the
value of our property to go up, but the fact that we can do anything
here, that there are still ten empty lots in the middle of the city,
this couldn’t exist in any other European capital.”  The fact that the
city itself is so large, and so sparsely inhabited, is the legacy of two
cities which became one; all across Berlin, these empty voids are the
markers of history.
When the Berlin Wall came down, the Eastern districts of Prenzlauer
Berg and Friedrichshain were in terrible condition; many of the
buildings lacked central heating and personal toilets.  Soon after, the
newly-unified city invested public money into the Behutsame
Stadterneuerung (‘Careful City Renewal’), which mandated three levels of
preservation: to maintain the physical space, to preserve the social
composition of the building, and to design in consultation with the
community.  According to Andrej Holm, a lecturer in the Department of
Human Geography at Goethe University in Frankfurt, it is precisely the
removal of these forms of intervention that has caused the current
contest over urban space. Holm divides the past twenty years into three
periods of urban development, all heavily dependent upon the initial
public investment in restoring East Berlin.  In the first phase, between
1992 and 1997, the city created Sanierungsgebiete (‘renewal areas’),
including special legislation to soften the social impact of the
renovations.  Public money was used to finance the socially sensitive
renovations or, in some cases, tax breaks were provided for individuals
who were able to buy a building.  These policies were very effective at
improving the standard of living within such Sanierungsgebiete, enabling
60 percent of the previous tenants to stay after renovations.  
After 1997, the public funding for the Behutsame Stadterneuerung was
reduced and the reliance on private investors increased, with
accompanying rent and renovation restrictions. In this second period,
from 1997 to 2000, between 40 and 50 percent of residents remained after
renovations.  Later, when all public funding and tax incentives were
cut, and private investors successfully sued to lift the restrictions
and rent ceilings, things began to change more quickly. One Prenzlauer
Berg resident, Stefan Hacke, noticed these changes in his neighborhood.
“In the last few years, most of my neighbors changed and a bunch of new
latte macchiato bars opened up in my neighborhood, filled with Schwaben
(people from Southwest Germany). It feels less and less like Berlin to
me. Now, I spend most of my free time in Kreuzberg, where my girlfriend
lives.”
Between 2000 and 2003, during most of which everything was privately
financed, only 20 percent of residents of the Sanierungsgebiete in
Prenzlauer Berg (Kollwitzplatz) kept their apartments, and most belonged
to the upper or upper-middle class. 2001, public funding ran out
completely and rent ceilings were abolished altogether. By 2008, one of
the Sanierungsgebiete in Kollwitzplatz had closed after fifteen years,
leaving the area open for commercial development. Partly as a result,
only 17 percent of the original inhabitants remain in this neighborhood
today. Another example is the privatization of the
Wohnungsbaugesellschaften (‘public housing associations’) in Berlin.
These associations provided low-income, publicly subsidized housing. In
2004 one of the largest associations, containing 60,000 apartments, was
privatized. This new approach to urban development represents a drastic
shift: social consciousness and community input have been replaced with a
desire to attract investors and create commercial capital. 
Although these developments speak specifically to the residential
effects of neighborhood migration that have been mounting for the last
two decades, they also provide a framework against which gentrification
in Berlin can be understood more broadly. Commercial investment in
residential areas is a steppingstone for urban turnover. Even the city
government points to housing developments as examples of ‘the future of
urban development in Berlin’ (Mayor Klaus Wowereit’s own description of
the 2007 luxury housing development Kastaniengärten in Prenzlauer Berg).
 
Berlin operates within a global market for commercial development.
Holm describes this as an international competition to appeal to
investors worldwide, in which attention and resources are directed away
from housing the underprivileged and instead, toward so-called cultural
attractions. Commercial and residential developments work hand in hand
to gentrify urban areas, leaving little to the existing public. This is
exemplified by the self-description of Kastaniengärten as ‘representing
favoured styles of living at the pulsating heart of a major city.’
These kinds of developments have prompted a broader public resistance
to gentrification. This is perhaps most visible in big urban
development projects like the now-unused Tempelhof Airport.  Although it
reflects the larger trend of contested public spaces in Berlin, as a
structure, Tempelhof Airport is exceptional. It was built in such a way
as to be visible from outer space, having the largest building footprint
of the time. It is a historically indexical space -- built by the
Nazis, it stands as the skeleton of what could only have been an
airport.  It is not only the physical building but also the empty space
around it that is problematic; its airfield is the size of an entire
Berlin neighborhood.  After World War II, the airport functioned as the
connection between West Berlin and the rest of Western Europe; the last
island in a communist sea.  Many Berliners talk about this collective,
historic memory of the space, which makes its continued use an
emotionally charged question.
In 2008, the city government put the airport closure to a vote. Some
people in the area opposed it because the closure would automatically
increase rents – living near an active airfield was always a guarantee
of more affordable housing.  This raises a bigger issue; that even the
act of closing the airport changed the neighborhood.  Even without
further development, gentrification would still hit neighboring
Neukölln.  This is not unlike the situation that Kreuzberg found itself
in twenty years ago.  It was no accident that Kreuzberg formed at the
edge of the city – it emerged physically and ideologically on the
fringe, referring to itself as ‘at the end of the world.’  When the
Berlin Wall came down, this border neighborhood found itself at the
center of a European capital.  Gentrification is recognizable by the
presence of small, early changes that have enormous effects over time.
 These preliminary signs signal the more problematic aspects of
gentrification to come – in fact, the question of what would change in
the neighborhoods bordering Tempelhof emerged as early as 2008. 
The first public demonstration over the Tempelhof airfield was held
in October 2008, the day the airport was officially closed. After this, a
Bürgerinitiative (‘citizens' movement’) entitled Tempelhof für Alle
(‘Tempelhof for Everyone’) began informational walks along the fence and
publicized the city's development plans.  Five months later, after a
3,000-person demonstration on the right to free space, the group split
into two factions. Tempelhof für Alle says their main goal is to attract
positive media attention, and help the community discuss and plan the
space in a constructive and sensitive way. Squat Tempelhof is interested
in physically reclaiming the space, through a literal act of squatting.
This group views Tempelhof as a priority in a larger struggle against
gentrification-- their posters across Berlin proclaim: "first squat
Tempelhof, then squat the rest."  Together, these two groups organized
the "Squat Tempelhof 20.06.09" protest along the fence of the airfield,
culminating in a battle between city government (riot police) and
resistance movements (local protesters).
The city’s presence at the protest was disproportionate and
problematic. According to Tempelhof für Alle, the police cost the city
upwards of two million Euros.  This money – used for security, waste
disposal and supervision to prevent the protestors from moving in –
could just as easily have funded five days of regulated public access to
the airfield and avoided the protest altogether, they claim.
 Alternatively, according to another activist, if the police hadn’t been
there the protestors would have soon grown bored and left anyway.
Currently, there is an athletic club with baseball and tennis
facilities just inside the airfield, and there are plans to build
another fence around this to prevent the public from using it as a means
to enter the field.  Despite the city’s announcement that Tempelhof
will be open to the public only in May 2010, the resistance movements
have made explicit the question of how to use the space. The Technical
University has created an urban planning student workshop and
exhibition, and the Senator's Office for Urban Development has sponsored
two major events: an international competition of ideas reflecting
different visions for the Columbia Quartier of Tempelhof airport (the
winning designs are currently on display); and Topos, a study
commissioned by a group of architects, artists and urbanists on the
possibility of using Tempelhof as a central urban space. The most
apparent accomplishment of the Tempelhof resistance movement has been
not just to make the issue a matter of public debate, but to
specifically empower Berliners in demanding a right to the space.  
According to an anonymous representative (who will be referred to as
Inge Schulze) from Lunte, the Neukölln community center of Tempelhof für
Alle, the proposed solutions are not sustainable from the perspective
of the neighborhood, the residents or the environment. She perceives
that the development plans are being made too quickly, without allowing
the necessary time for community input.  It is as if, she says, the
Mayor is trying to create a new Las Vegas in the middle of Berlin; a
hastily improvised tourist attraction with a thin veneer of art and
culture, that is out of sync with the character of the neighborhood.
This process is already leading to problems; for instance, the
German-based Bread & Butter Fashion Show this July (taking place
twice a year in the airport building) has been ill received, according
to Inge. More problematic is the dream of having a new center for
fashion and lifestyle amidst the old buildings: why should the lively
Berlin arts scene be centralized, and how would this change public
involvement?  If the enormous airstrips are not suitable for a fashion
runway, then what other commercial use might we find for them?
While the trajectory of Tempelhof's development is still unknown,
another large development project in Berlin, MediaSpree, is openly
driven by the need to bring commerce to the poorest city in Germany.
 According to Stefan Sihler, member of one of the MediaSpree interest
groups, “we need the investments, we need the employment opportunities.”
MediaSpree describes a series of commercial developments that have been
planned along the banks of the Spree River in Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain.
Although the area is currently underdeveloped, the new urban plan
includes the tearing down of many existing buildings.  The developers
and the Senate claim that they are making the area accessible and
attractive for the public, but activists fear the impact of such a large
commercial center on the neighborhood. The city has already invested
millions of Euros on one development alone.  Some people see MediaSpree
as a manifestation of the general change in the city's urban development
strategy.  This leap from developing MediaSpree to developing the city
as a whole was made explicit by Sihler: “I want all the areas with high
unemployment rates, like Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, to also develop.”
Two resistance groups have formed in response to MediaSpree.
SpreePirat_innen (‘Spree Pirates’) protests the gentrification that
these developments will inevitably cause, whereas MediaSpree versenken!
(‘Sink MediaSpree!’) advocates for specific changes to the architectural
plans.  These two coalitions represent different approaches to
resistance: one working against the system, and one working within it.
 According to Marco Rosteck, a representative from the office of the
Senator for Urban Development, this resistance is driven by the economic
interests of local business owners, who see larger developments as
threatening their “beach bars.” 
SpreePirat_innen engages in traditional forms of protest: squattings,
demonstrations, etc. They are publicizing the issues of rising rents
and changing neighborhoods by using MediaSpree as a symbolic, iconic
example.  By contrast, MediaSpree versenken!, run by architect Karsten
Joost, has three main demands: pushing all buildings at least 50 meters
back from the Spree, limiting building height to 22 meters, and creating
public park spaces between each of the buildings.  Negotiating directly
with the developers is tricky; as a development, MediaSpree itself is
fractured into twelve different investments that are all at different
stages.  Several developers have claimed that the activists’ demands are
arbitrary – why 50 meters and not 30?  Rather than work with the
developers, MediaSpree versenken! has gone a different route; after
initiating a petition, they are  now negotiating with parliamentarians
from every local political party. Gaining local support for these
resistance movements has never been much of a problem in
Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain; when the master plan for MediaSpree was
revealed, MediaSpree versenken! circulated a petition and achieved
enough signatures to put the plan to a public vote. As it turned out, 87
% of Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain residents opposed the master plan. After
this, the District Mayor Franz Schulz (of the Green party) also openly
opposed the developments, saying, “the city is thinking in terms of
financial and bureaucratic interests.”
The account above describes an emerging pattern in Berlin: usually
urban development projects are designed at the senate/city level only
when the senate decides that a project is of 'city-wide importance'
(gesamtstädtischer Bedeutung). In the case of MediaSpree, the fact that
the district mayor is from the Green Party, and that the Senate is a
coalition of Social Democrats and Socialists, may have played a role.
After years of district planning, MediaSpree ended up in the senate’s
jurisdiction only after conflicts erupted. Tempelhof, on the other hand
was declared to be of 'citywide importance' right away. This discrepancy
arguably forms the basis for much of the negative public perception
regarding such developments: the usual democratic process of
participation in the development process normally falls to the
responsibility of the districts, but with the city in charge, many feel
that the decisions are made far above them. In the past, the city dealt
with that issue in a variety of ways, some of which were successful.
Yet, none of these cases were as hotly disputed and contested by the
public as MediaSpree and Tempelhof. The top-down communication that
characterizes these projects leads activists to feel excluded from the
process 
Political resistance is complicated by the fact that Berlin is both a
city and a state (Bundesland), which makes for conflicting interests at
different levels of power. Even regarding this structure, the dichotomy
is not always so clear. Sometimes the district plan is worse for the
local community than the city plan; as neighborhoods vie for city
support, they often discount their own community members in order to
appeal to investors and commercial developers. In addition, according to
Lena Kampf, a MediaSpree expert and documentary filmmaker, the city is
not making the project as attractive and easy for investors as it could.
 As one of the interviewed investors observed, it is not a ‘one-stop
shop.’ 
The negotiations between MediaSpree versenken! and the government are
seen as an important step, that has even pushed through some small
changes to the urban development plans. With regard to that development,
Kampf said she wished that a similar commission would be created to
organize resistance to other areas like Tempelhof, "because that is
really one of the best ways to make change." By contrast, Peter Schmidt,
a local activist, is less optimistic: "MediaSpree versenken! believes
that they can create a win-win situation through small architectural
changes, but this cannot stop the growing rents, this is a myth! Any
development will change it!"
The presence of big projects like MediaSpree (and Tempelhof) are a
powerful impetus for uniting resistance fighters.  According to Peter
Schmidt, there are rarely protests against things like rising rents, or
land privatization; and these projects have become the only outlet to
act against gentrification effectively.  That being said, it is not
enough: "everyday people need to begin to fight gentrification, to fight
against their landlords, to fight on a local level." Schmidt is part of
a group called Wir Bleiben Alle, (‘We All Remain’) which fights the
gentrification process, not just these specific developments. The group
grew out of the social justice and civil rights movements in the
collapsing GDR, taking part in the protests against rising rents in
Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg in the early 1990s. Once these areas became
gentrified, there was little interest in resistance. Although there have
been attempts every couple of years, Wir Bleiben Alle (WBA) was not
successfully re-founded until 2007, when "projects like MediaSpree gave
them power and the theme of city development became part of general
society, not just autonomous campaigns," according to Schmidt.
Compared to the openness and reinvention which characterized the
newly-reunited Berlin of the 1990s, today there is less dialogue between
groups like WBA and government officials. It used to be, says Schmidt,
that activists brought real political demands to the town and felt
heard. From the other side, Senate representative Rosteck points to the
protestors’ readiness to engage in illegal acts. “Sometimes I have the
feeling,” he says, “that nowadays protests seem to be less about the
issue, but rather for the sake of protest itself.” Since 1999, the city
has practiced urban development through very local bottom-up structures
called the Quartiersmanagement (Neighborhood Management), which are
funded by the government but operated by members of local civil activist
groups. Schmidt holds that the Quartiersmanagement offices have ‘bought
out’ civil action groups, either by hiring activist leaders or by
funding initiatives. Although this appears on the surface like an action
of support, it effectively reduced the number of civil action groups in
any neighborhood. The result is that overall, there are not so many
opportunities for cooperation with activists.  
Today, WBA is mostly composed of small directives, and although there
is a general interest in the problems of gentrification, the resistance
fighters are largely independent from one another.  "We need to involve
the people who are living here, who are affected by this. We need to
act in a way that people can understand," says Schmidt. WBA is also less
interested in engaging in dialogue; its main objective is to frighten
the government and to show the city how strong they are, even by violent
means.  According to Schmidt, the risk of cooperating or negotiating
with the government is that it becomes the end of the resistance.  "We
want the people to fight for their own interests and to empower
themselves!  If people are willing, then the state will react.  A lot of
people are frustrated, but they think, 'what can we do?  We can do
nothing!'  It is bigger than Kreuzberg, or than Berlin -- it is part of
the whole society in Germany.  People do not organize, they are afraid.
 There is a feeling that there is no alternative anymore (which is an
idea propagated by the government).  It is very important to fight and
to fight in a political way."
He gives the example of someone who faces rising rent. The first
step, Schmidt says, is to go to a lawyer, and then to a tenants'
organization. Membership in these organizations guarantees free legal
support for rent disputes. After this – and only after this – political
action should be taken. Despite the WBA's disinterest in working with
government, they are nevertheless operating within the legal framework
and trying to engage people as citizens and residents.  By encouraging
them to join their tenant organizations, for example, they provide them
with tools to legitimately challenge their landlords' demands.
Similarly, an organization called Mietshäuser Syndikat helps groups to
buy houses and legally and form cooperative living arrangements, with
the stipulation that the house can never be put on the market.
The poor are the most affected by changing neighborhoods: they cannot
move further outside of the city because they rely on public
transportation; yet gentrification creates a situation in which they can
no longer afford to live in the city, and are pushed farther away from
all forms of infrastructure (commercial, intellectual, educational,
social). Schmidt views these deleterious effects of gentrification to be
unavoidable, given that the government has only the interest of the
dominant class in mind and will not protect the weakest members of
society until they exert their power. Andrej Holm, however, asserts that
gentrification can be shaped by political will, if the government is
open to making policy changes. According to Holm, the central problem
with contested public spaces in Berlin is that there is little
cooperation among the different actors: in the current system,
neighborhoods are disempowered and overruled by the city’s agenda for
urban development. 
In contrast to these negative portrayals, a representative of the
MediaSpree investor group describes gentrification as a positive
phenomenon: by attracting big business and investment, it improves the
neighborhood, job opportunities and living conditions. To a certain
extent this description appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: it is
undeniable that real estate value and income levels will increase in a
gentrified neighborhood, but not for the original residents, most of
whom will be driven out by the rising costs. This assumed connection
between economic growth and its positive impact on residents is not so
apparent. In fact, from Harlem to London, the pattern in gentrifying
neighborhoods suggests the opposite. 
The claims that commercial centers along Berlin's main river would
improve commerce, capital and tourism may be true. The challenge lies in
managing the process in an equitable way. That is to say,
gentrification does not need to be the inevitable result of development –
cause and impact are not the same. Within the process of gentrification
there are different ramifications to be regulated. According to Holm,
in addition to the direct effects of new businesses, residents and
neighborhood spending, there are indirect effects which are less
immediately visible. These consist of perceived improvements to the
neighborhood – a more central location, reduced noise pollution, and
proximity to newer developments – which could provide justification for
increased prices, rents and taxes.
The activists and the government do share at least one piece of
common ground: the authors of the WBA brochure believe that
gentrification and rising rents can never be resolved within the
capitalist system. Ironically, Rosteck agrees; "if you criticize
projects like MediaSpree on a fundamental level, you have to criticize
capitalism as such." He views the developments as fulfilling a simple
mathematical equation: investors bring in money through commercial
developments, that can also be used to finance other projects. Under
capitalism, urban development requires private capital; public finances
have been shrinking for decades. 
Nevertheless, the prospects for creating change within the current
system are not so black and white: the resistance groups with the
greatest potential for influence are those that work within the system
(MediaSpree versenken!, Mietshäuser Syndikat). Ideally, cities will
continue to develop, to become safer and more prosperous, but in a way
that also benefits every community. Even though there may have been many
problems with Berlin’s method of urban development during the 1990s, it
appears preferable to the current system. Namely, its inclusion of a
framework for dialogue between the city and civil society made it
functional. It is precisely the Senate’s shift away from community input
and towards a profit-based urban development strategy that has led to
the tension and unrest in Berlin today. Access, both ideological and
physical, to the planning of space across the city will provide
solutions for these conflicts. Public spaces like Tempelhof and
MediaSpree, have been the stage for these battles precisely because they
engage in the idea of access. The planning phase of MediaSpree was
completed a long time ago, following the usual procedures of democratic
participation. However, the long process of urban planning (in this case
more than 15 years), involving several phases of public hearings, are
unsatisfactory for everybody. On the one hand, the investors complain
that such procedures take far too long and make it impossible for small
companies to invest. On the other hand, local residents feel powerless
and left out of the planning process when participation ends before the
first construction vehicles even arrive. 
In this light, MediaSpree and Tempelhof reveal an interesting
contrast: they involve similar problems, but these problems occurred on
very different timelines. MediaSpree was already far into the
realization process when the first public resistance occurred. Moreover,
in part it is the heated dispute that the MediaSpree development has
caused, that has made the responses to Tempelhof come much earlier in
the process. As of July 2009, a group of developers who have been
working on a project similar in scale to Tempelhof (a science and
technology park), in the Adlershof area of Southeast Berlin, were put in
charge of developing a concept for the future use of the airport.
Despite the fact that the city had already developed a master plan,
Adlershof Projekt GmbH was asked to work out a more cohesive proposal
that could serve as a foundation for a future 'organizing body'. It
should be clarified that these developers are not part of an investment
group; the project is 100% state-owned and accountable to the Senate.
Hardy Schmitz, the managing director, discussed the social consciousness
with which they are planning to approach the issue. For him, it is
important to develop Tenpelhof in such a way that it responds to the
social, economic and historical setting. At the same time, he stresses
the importance of creating an economic catalyst for Germany's poor
capital. One idea that he cited was to open the field to the creativity
of the public: Once the field is opened in May 2010, he envisions an
open competition in which architects, artists, local activists, and
Berliners could apply to use some part of the space temporarily. That
way, he says, the Berliners would reestablish a relationship to the
field involving a sense of ownership, tempered with a respect for public
space. 
The introduction of the Adlershof Projekt GmbH has the potential to
add some fresh ideas and approaches to the developments on the fields,
but many have remained skeptical. The developers’ rely heavily on their
earlier experience in building Adlershof, but Tempelhof is very
different: far more centrally located, and surrounded by densely
populated, socially sensitive districts. The latter project will demand a
more watchful eye from developers with regard to its social and
cultural surroundings. developers. Whether or not Adlershof Projekt GmbH
is the right candidate to do this remains to be seen. 
In the meantime, the struggle against gentrification continues in
Berlin. On the 31st of October, 2009, several groups of activists called
for a demonstration against a commercial development in the vicinity of
Tempelhof, and gentrification in Berlin in general. Approximately 600
demonstrators showed up at Hermanplatz (a square in the vicinity of the
field), where they faced a surprisingly large police presence.
Immediately after leaving the metro, every demonstrator was searched by
the riot police. After starting slowly, the demonstration gathered at
the fence, where protestors came into contact with the police.
Ultimately, the debate over the use of public spaces in Berlin is
about much more than physical terrain; it is situated within the much
larger issue of social justice in urban settings. The notion of  public
space as a democratic right was enunciated in open discussion by a group
of Berlin artists last year: “’Public space’ is meant to secure the
liberality of the bourgeois individual. Here, untroubled social
communication is supposed to take place, the foundation of our
democratic identity. The citizen wants to feel safe in the public space
and for a while this seemed to work.” (Tacheles, I-R.A.S.C. brochure) 
We do not oppose changing the urban landscape; rather, we advocate
policy interventions that accomplish this in a socially responsible way.
We oppose developments that are predictably exclusive; change has to
mobilize and energize as many parts of society as possible. Tempelhof is
hardly the last frontier; in an eerily similar situation, Tegel Airport
will be closed in the next five years, when the newer
Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport is complete. The idea of
contested spaces, and the right of citizens to fight for them, has a
distinctly local emphasis. Even though gentrification is a universal
problem, and the urban changes taking place in Berlin a reflection of
general trends, Berliners provide a particularly strong foundation for
bottom-up development in the city. Berlin’s situation is unique: its
sparseness leaves it particularly vulnerable to development, even while
its social history marked by the claiming of spaces has bred a heated
resistance.

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