Google shelves plans to open campus in Berlin Kreuzberg

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Google shelves plans to open campus in Berlin Kreuzberg
Jörg Richert of KARUNA, Carolin Silbernagl of Betterplace and Rowan Barnett from Google in front of the Umspannwerk. Photo: Google

Google has called off plans to open a campus in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin. After months of anti-gentrification protests, the tech giant announced Wednesday it has given the site to two social organizations.


First announced in November 2016, the company intended to transform part of the Umspannwerk, a former electric substation on Ohlauer Straße, in the Kreuzberg area, into a Google Campus.

It would have been its seventh after London, Tel Aviv, Seoul, Madrid, São Paulo, and Warsaw.

But, in a turnaround, the company said the site would now go to online donation platform Betterplace and the KARUNA association, which supports children and young people in need.

A few days ago, Google handed over the keys of the former substation to the two organizations.

Since Google announced its plans to open a campus where start-ups could go through a mentoring program led by the firm, there have been numerous protests against the project.

Opponents feared that Google would be a catalyst for gentrification in a neighbourhood that is struggling with rising rent increases. 

In September, activists occupied the substation for several hours before the police intervened.

So has Google given in to the protests?

Ralf Bremer, spokesman for Google, told the Berliner Zeitung: "We don't let protests dictate what we do.

“In recent months, many talks have been held with stakeholders such as Karuna, Betterplace and other social organizations in the neighbourhood and it has been concluded that the new concept for the substation is the best solution for Kreuzberg.”

SEE ALSO: Google is coming to Berlin Kreuzberg and locals are from happy. Here's why.

Google's commitment to start-ups will continue in Berlin, though. The team led by Rowan Barnett, who is responsible for Google's start-up funding, will soon move into offices in in the city's Mitte area.

Barnett tweeted a picture of the key handover to the two social organizations, and said: "We are delighted that the Google Campus substation will be a home for social commitment! We hand over the rooms Betterplace and Karuna and we are convinced that they will create something very valuable for Berlin!"

According to Bremer, a new campus will not be built in any other part of Berlin for the time being.

Mixed reactions

Jörg Richert of KARUNA welcomed the move. He said the organization had been looking for a place in Berlin for a long time.
"Our social cooperative unites 84 individuals, organisations and companies," he said.
Richert added that the space will help young people form ideas and visions for the future. 
"In essence, we want to prove that inclusion can succeed," he said.

The news has been met with approval by local activists who have campaigned regularly and placed posters  across the Kreuzberg area urging Google to  stay away from the site.

It's resulted in mixed political reactions.

Greens MP Ramona Pop, a member of the Berlin Senate's economic administration, said the move showed the "increasing importance of socially and ecologically oriented companies and the non-profit economy" in the city.

"There is a lot of potential for solving social challenges at the interface between social-ecological management and innovative tech solutions," she added.

Free Democrats (FDP) faction leader Sebastian Czaja, however, said the move sends a message to future companies and investors not to come to Berlin "and certainly not to Kreuzberg". 

Christian Gräff, economic policy spokesman for the CDU parliamentary group, said it was a "severe setback" for business.

"Berlin's reputation has been badly damaged as a result," he said.




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