Artists battle expulsion as rents spike in Berlin

Up to 350 art studios in Berlin are closing every year due to rising costs and development projects.

Artists battle expulsion as rents spike in Berlin
Through signs on a mattress, people protested against a development in the room of a corner property at the Oranienstraße/Manteuffelstraße in Kreuzberg in 2018. Photo: DPA

A cemetery has popped up outside a Berlin block of art studios called Treptow Ateliers, with half a dozen crosses marked “Demolition” or “Expulsion”.

The small “graveyard” is an installation by painters, sculptors and photographers who face losing their workspaces because of gentrification in the booming capital.

“It's an installation to draw attention to what's happening here,” said painter Lydia Paasche, 41. “Something is being lost here. There won't be one cross standing in the end.”

SEE ALSO: In graphs: How gentrification has changed Berlin

All 30 artists in the building have received a notice to vacate the premises they have used since 2013.

They have been told to leave by March 2020 as the space is to be demolished and replaced by a five-storey mixed-use complex.

Their fate mirrors a wider problem in the city, where up to 350 art studios are closing every year, driven out by rising costs, according to the Association of Professional Visual Artists in Berlin (BBK).

With rents doubling in just a decade, Berlin risks losing its reputation as a mecca for artists.

SEE ALSO: Berlin rents rise above record €10 per year

Irishman Lorcan O'Byrne arrived in the 1980s in a still-divided Berlin, drawn by its extraordinary mix of cultural edginess, political activism and huge vacant spaces in which budding artists could thrive.

For him, “the irony is that the newly arrived, who were drawn to Berlin by its arty scene, are driving out the cultural spaces that drew them in the first place” by putting further pressure on the property market.

'Not prepared'

Artists flooded into the German capital from the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, many taking over vacant residential buildings or disused industrial sites.

Far cheaper than other Western capitals, Berlin swiftly became a magnet for many young artists starting out.

But three decades on and with Germany's job market booming, investors have also increasingly crowded into Berlin, putting pressure on the property market.

Over the past decade, several art squats or colonies had to make way, including the celebrated Tacheles in central Berlin which was cleared in 2012 to be replaced by a luxury apartment block and a hotel that are yet to be built.

Tacheles on Oranienburger Strasse in August 2012. Photo: DPA

Half of the 8,000 Berlin artists polled by BBK fear losing their studios in the medium term.

Acknowledging the problem, Berlin's culture minister Klaus Lederer said: “The spiral of commercial rent is inversing rapidly and leading to the disappearance of a big number of art spaces.”

“We were not prepared for this,” he conceded in an interview with Berliner Zeitung. “We should have begun preparing policies seven or 10 years ago.”

But Peter Ottmann, who owns Treptow Ateliers, defended his rebuilding project, arguing that it would in future benefit more people because new studios would be built alongside around 30 apartments and a kindergarden on the site stretching over 4,500 square metres.

“I can understand that the tenants are emotional about this,” he said.

“But it's important to remember that the new project will provide space for 175 people — that is, 150 more than currently.”

'It would be boring' 

But the artists said they were not given a guarantee they could stay.

Further, rents would be raised in the new complex, at a time when Berlin has taken the drastic measure of freezing rents for five years to cool the market.

“There hasn't been any discussion,” Paasche said. “He informed us that we can put our names on the waiting list for these studios.

“But putting myself on the list is accepting that I'm being expelled and not fighting against it.”

The artists at Treptow Ateliers are hoping that the authorities will step in.

“There is more than a million square metres of state property space that's unused,” Paasche said.

“We would have liked this public space to provided for local artists.

“We're not fighting only for our own cause but for all artists who are in difficulties.”

Painter Sebastian Körbs warned that without its cultural scene, Berlin would lose its soul.

“What is Berlin without its art, its clubs, without culture? It would be just one in many other capitals.

“Berlin without art is like Bonn without the government. It would be boring.”

By Antoine Belhassen

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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.