Berliners see red over Karl Marx Allee sale

Karl Marx Allee was the former East German government's showpiece -- a wide boulevard lined with Stalinist-style buildings housing the comrades. Today, the avenue is a front line in the battle against rampant gentrification in Berlin.

Berliners see red over Karl Marx Allee sale
Signs protesting the sale of apartments to Deutsche Wohnen hang on a building on Karl Marx Allee. Photo: Christoph Soeder/DPA
A plan by a property management firm to offload 700 apartments on the boulevard to another company has raised the ire of tenants, who fear it could lead to rent hikes.
A fight that erupted in November last year has culminated in what essentially is the re-nationalisation of the apartments — ending a trend of privatisation of social housing and bringing the ownership of the blocks back to their socialist origins.
The emblematic struggle has also sparked a debate in the German capital on whether authorities should be allowed to take the radical step of requisitioning apartment buildings.
Berlin's mayor Michael Müller said the fight against property speculation was only beginning and that the city would look to reclaim more apartments from private hands following the Karl Marx Allee example.
“That means that privatisation, which has turned out to be a mess, will be halted and apartments will once again be the responsibility of Berlin city, through public housing administrators,” said Anja Kaehler, a tenant at Karl Marx Allee.
Demonstrators protest against the sale of apartments on Karl Marx Alle to real estate consortium Deutsche Wohnen. Photo: Christoph Soeder/DPA
Steep cost
But the move to re-nationalise the Karl Marx Allee buildings will come at a steep cost to the state, with estimates ranging at between 90 and 100 million euros ($100-115 million). Critics also charge that it will violate the principle of protection for private property rights.
Nevertheless, some tenants' rights activists want to push authorities to go further, with a drive under way for a referendum allowing the government to requisition properties from big companies that own more than 3,000 apartments in the capital. If initiators of the proposed referendum petition manage to collect 170,000 signatures by April, Berliners would get to vote on the issue. 
Like in cities worldwide, property prices in Berlin have shot up as it has shed its Cold War divided past to establish its political might, and become a tourism and party hotspot as well as an investment magnet. Although there are still huge swathes of unbuilt land and new construction mushrooming across the city, many low-income locals are increasingly getting priced out of the market.
The jump in property prices is all the more evident in places like Karl Marx Allee, which geographically sits close to the centre of a unified Berlin.
A broad 90-metre wide boulevard lined with seven to nine-storey massive blocks in the classical socialist style of the 1950s, Karl Marx Allee was built by the GDR communist government to “impress the world” and “intimidate its own workers”.
Some in reunified Germany find the visual reminder of the communist years depressing, but many who call the street their home would not give it up for the world.
“What makes our Karl Marx Allee special is the architecture. We can imagine that we're in Moscow or Warsaw,” said Ruth Notowicz, standing on her balcony overlooking the avenue that tanks rolled down during celebratory military  parades.
Running 2.6 kilometres through the heart of East Berlin, the buildings lining the boulevard were also known as “wedding cake-style workers' palaces” for their decorative flourishes.
'Housing security'
Anja Kaehler, who has lived in one of the blocks for 15 years, noted that, in the GDR era, residents from “factory workers to managers” lived next to each other in the flats.
“I also came from East Germany, and in these buildings, I see something of what was positive about the regime — housing security at a low price,” said Kaehler, also a tenant representative.
After reunification in 1990, the flats which were once owned by the communist state were entrusted to local authorities, who subsequently embarked on the path of partial privatisation from 1993.
Although the 700 apartments in question were in private hands, rents held at around 10 euros a square metre — the lower bracket of current market prices. But in November, tenants were informed that property owner Predac was selling the apartments in three blocks to real estate consortium Deutsche Wohnen.
The news sparked an outcry, with tenants fearing that Deutsche Wohnen, which owns 115,000 flats across Berlin and its surrounding regions, could significantly raise rents.
Residents, lawyers and politicians leapt into action and managed to force a court order for a temporary halt to the sale as tenants mulled using their first right to buy under Berlin property rules.
In an ironic nod to history, a sufficient quorum of tenants called for a re-nationalisation of the buildings.
For the residents, their fight is not about “Ostalgie” — a word play blending the German for nostalgia and the former East Germany.
“Most tenants never knew the regime and they are the ones who are mobilised, they woke up through the communal action,” Notowicz said.
By AFP's Daphne Rousseau
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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.