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NIGHTLIFE

Unpopular waterfront development plans still afloat in Berlin

Plans to develop desirable property along Berlin’s Spree River into a quarter for media companies has run into stiff opposition from residents fearing the city is selling out its unique spaces. Melanie Sevcenko reports.

Unpopular waterfront development plans still afloat in Berlin
A protestor against Mediaspree plans makes his views clear. Photo: DPA

At the end of Berlin’s Cuvry Strasse, the work of graffiti artist Blu looms large over an empty grassy lot as people mill about inspecting the crumbling wall and its urban art. Nearby, the undeveloped area offers waterfront seats from a stone ledge.

But the other side of the Spree River is a harbinger of things to come, with the chic Universal Music building nestled among a growing collection of other corporate headquarters and hotels.

A Berliner named Sebastian sits on the ledge with his female friend as the sun sets over the river. After living in the German capital for the past 10 years, he has come to accept the city’s constant evolution. “You have to take what it gives you,” he says.

Developers hope that will be the successful completion of the Mediaspree project, an ambitious undertaking to commercialize both sides of the city’s desirable riverfront real estate. But the plans have run into fierce opposition from residents afraid the few remaining undeveloped spots in the centre giving Berlin its unique flavour will be lost in the process.

“It’s a scandal to ignore a public vote,” says Sebastian, referring to the non-binding 2008 referendum that showed the majority of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district residents against the Mediaspree development. “They city shouldn’t have one in the first place if they don’t like the result,” he says.

A multi-tiered property development plan intending to build lofts, hotels and office space along the river, the Mediaspree also happens to threaten some of Berlin’s best-known subculture venues along the river. This has caused friction between backers of the city’s mighty club culture and development boosters hoping to lure telecommunication and media companies to the German capital with the transformation.

The Mediaspree zone runs 3.7 kilometres between Berlin’s Jannowitz Bridge to the west and Elsen Bridge in the east. Since its inception in the 1990s, the city has marketed it as the preferred location for the expansion of a creative cluster of industries.

Three state-owned enterprises, Berliner Hafen- und Lagerhausgesellschaft (Behala), the city’s waste management company BSR and Liegenschaftsfonds Berlin have been designated sections of the Spree waterfront to sell.

The development has made considerable headway in recent years, with the O2 World arena, Universal Music, MTV Networks Germany, as well as a wealth of hotels and office lofts being built. But progress has still not been as rapid as the city government originally expected.

The biggest setback has been the refusal by Berlin’s Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district to allow the construction of a 90-metre high skyscraper at the Elsen Bridge. The district demanded a height limit of 24-metre, meaning investors initially willing to pay €20 million for the land are now only offering €5 million.

“A victory for (Mediaspree opponents) and a disadvantage for us,” says Michael Reimann, a development manager for Behala.

The district has also been adamant about preserving green areas and large open spaces within the development, which decreases rental incomes for potential property investors.

Franz Schulz, mayor of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, feels that one of the positive effects of the Mediaspree development has been to raise awareness of the issue of public accessibility to the riverbank.

“Public discussions and the successful citizens’ initiative on the further development of the Spree area were quite effective,” he says, explaining negotiations have indeed resulted in smaller building densities and larger public open spaces on the banks of the Spree.

But the mayor’s words will offer little solace to members of Mediaspree Versenken! (Sink Mediaspree!), a public force that includes leftists, club-goers and other opponents of gentrification.

“This should be a symbol for the whole city and beyond the borders of Berlin,” says group leader Carsten Joost. “It should be a strong sign against this capitalism and commercialisation.”

Spree Urban, an offshoot of the BSR, is in negotiations to commercialize the property called the Timber Market, exactly where Berlin’s legendary riverside club venue Bar25 is located. “Bar25 has to leave the property this year,” says BSR spokesman, Thomas Klöckner. “That’s not talk, that’s what we agreed on, from both sides.”

More than just a club, Bar25 included a cinema, spa and garden, skate park, circus, restaurant, hostel and record label. But on September 10, the venue’s doors closed permanently.

The club’s owners are now looking to move to a new location, but complain about lacking support from city officials usually keen to promote Berlin’s legendary nightlife.

“Berlin’s political representatives seemed unconcerned with sustaining the 200 seasonal jobs that Bar25 represents,” they said recently in a statement. “When it came time to provide concrete assistance, their promises, from the mayor on down, proved empty.”

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RENTING

EXPLAINED: How to sublet your apartment in Germany

If you’re going away for a period of time or want to cut your living costs, subletting your flat can seem like an appealing option. But there are a lot of things you need to consider first. We break them down.

EXPLAINED: How to sublet your apartment in Germany

What is subletting?

A subletting arrangement is when a subtenant is allowed to use the main tenant’s apartment, or part of it, in return for payment.

Having visitors in your home, even for a period of up to six weeks, does not count as subletting and you do not have to inform your landlord. But be careful: If the visitor starts paying rent, this becomes a sub-letting arrangement and if the visitor stays more than six weeks in a row, you have a duty to inform your landlord.

READ ALSO: The most expensive (and cheapest) cities in Germany to rent a room

If close family members such as parents, children, partners or spouses move in with you, this is also not a subletting arrangement and is considered part of the normal use of the rented property. 

However, you should inform your landlord of such a change in circumstance, not least because at some point the new person living in your apartment will at some point need to register with the local authorities.

Do I have to tell my landlord?

Yes. Regardless of whether you are just subletting a room or your whole apartment, you have to inform your landlord and, in most cases, you are required by law to obtain the landlord’s permission to sub-rent. This applies for whatever time period you want to sublet for: whether it’s for a weekend or for six months. 

One exception to this rule is if you rent a room in a WG (shared accommodation) and all of the tenants are equal parties to the contract. In that case, it’s possible to sublet individual rooms without having to get permission from the landlord, but you should still inform them.

If you try to rent out your place or a room without your landlord’s permission and get found out, you could face legal action, or be kicked out of your apartment before the agreed notice period. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The most – and least – popular landlords in Germany

Can the landlord refuse to let me sublet?

If the main tenant has a so-called “justified interest” in subletting part of the apartment, they can demand that the landlord agrees to the sublet and even take legal action or acquire a special right of termination of the rental contract if they refuse.

However, this right only applies to a sublet of part of the apartment and not the entire space within the four walls – in this case the landlord is within their rights to say no to the sublet. 

When subletting part of an apartment, a justified interest must be for an important reason such as a needing to move abroad temporarily for a job or personal reasons, or a partner moving out and the tenant no longer being able to cover the rental costs alone.

In general, landlords shouldn’t refuse your request to sublet unless there are good reasons – for example if the apartment is too small. 

The landlord can’t reject your subletting application without good reason and if they do, you can gain a special right to terminate your rental contract, and can even sue for your right to sublet. 

What information will I need to give my landlord? 

Whether you are subletting a room or the whole apartment – you’ll need to give your landlord the following information:

  • Who is moving in
  • How long you will be subletting for
  • For what reason you plan to sublet

If you want to set up a WG (Wohngemeinschaft or shared flat) as the main tenant, you should discuss this with the landlord beforehand, as it may be worth changing the apartment status to a shared apartment in the main rental agreement. That way, you won’t have to send a new application every time a new roommate moves in.

Do I need a special rental contract?

If you are going to subrent your apartment, it is definitely worth having a contract. 

A contract between the main tenant and the subtenant is completely separate from the contract between the main tenant and the landlord, so all responsibilities arising from the sub-rental contract will fall on you and not the landlord. 

A man fills in the details of a rental contract by hand. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Armin Weigel

At the same time, as the main tenant, you will still be liable to your landlord for any damage caused by the subtenant, so it is best to put a clause in the sub-rental agreement that outlines how this will be covered, and also to make sure that your subtenant has personal liability insurance. 

There are plenty of websites that offer templates of sub-rental contracts for you to use, and you should make sure your contract includes the following information:

  • The personal details of the subtenant
  • The sub-rental cost and any service charges
  • When these are to be paid
  • Which rooms may be used
  • How many keys have been handed over
  • Details of a possible deposit
  • The condition of the rented apartment
  • House rules, such as no smoking, pets, etc.
  • Liability for possible damages

How much can I charge?

You can usually negotiate the sub-rental price yourself, but you should be careful not to overstep the rental limit per square metre for your area. If you charge over this amount and your subtenant finds out, they have the right to demand the local square metre rental price and you may have to refund them the total amount of overcharged rent.

If you sublet a furnished apartment, you can add a surcharge based on what you will be leaving in your apartment. You should also factor in the energy and water costs.

READ ALSO: Everything you should know about renting a furnished flat in Germany

Do I have to get consent from the local authorities?

In some cases, you will also need to get permission to sub-rent from the local authorities to rent out your place. 

If you sublet in Berlin or Frankfurt, for example, and you want to advertise your flat for holiday rentals, you have to get approval first.

A wooden judge’s hammer lies on the judge’s bench in the jury courtroom in the Karlsruhe Regional Court. Photo: picture alliance / Uli Deck/dpa | Uli Deck

If you go ahead and rent on a site like Air BnB without approval, you can expect to pay a hefty fine. Though the highest possible fine of €500,000 is unlikely, there are numerous reports of people getting fines in Germany of several thousand euros.

Another important thing to remember is that, if you make more than €520 profit in a year from sub-renting, you have to include this in your tax declaration.

Can the landlord demand I pay extra?

If a landlord allows subletting, they can also demand a share of the extra income from the main tenant. The amount of the surcharge cannot exceed 25 percent of the sublease, however.

Useful Vocabulary

to sub-let – Untermieten 

sublease agreement – (der) Untermietvertrag

termination without notice – (die) fristlose Kündigung

ban on misuse – (das) Zweckentfremdungsverbot

special right of termination – (das) Sonderkündigungsrecht

justified interest – (das) berechtigtes Interesse

personal liability insurance – (die) Haftpflichtversicherung

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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