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Berliners vote against massive Spree development

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Berliners vote against massive Spree development
Signs protest planned development along the alternative Spree banks. Photo: DPA
15:42 CEST+02:00
A referendum calling for changes in a planned development project along a portion of Berlin's Spree River passed on Sunday with a large majority. Residents in two city districts voted against high-end apartments and offices in favour of public access to the riverbank instead.

Voters in the Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts gave overwhelming support to the initiative called "Sink the Mediaspree." Of the almost 35,000 ballots cast, 86.8 percent were in favor of the grassroots movement to change development plans along Berlin's river, reported the Die Welt daily on Monday.

The Mediaspree is a €2-billion project backed by a group of large investors to develop the riverfront in the two districts by building apartments, office buildings, hotels and entertainment venues.

This area of the Spree, where the Berlin Wall once ran, has already seen a fair amount of commercial development since German reunification - home to the German headquarters of MTV and Universal Music as well as the new O2 Arena, scheduled to open in September.

But Mediaspree plans sparked fears that the development would radically change the quirky character of the area and cut off public access to the riverfront. Critics said many of the businesses and venues already there, like the popular beach bars and alternative clubs, would give way to glass office buildings and private terraces.

The "Sink the Mediaspree" initiative called for a 50-metre-wide strip of riverbank to be saved for public access, demanding overall development be scaled down and made less car-friendly.

While the referendum is non-binding, the mayor of the Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, Franz Schulz of the Green Party, has now called on the Berlin Senate to respect the results of the vote. According to the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper, he said the city shoul talk to Mediaspree investors to see if they will change their plans accordingly.

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