Why Berlin is buying back nearly 700 apartments on its historic Karl-Marx-Allee

The state government in Berlin is taking over 670 apartments in the former East of the city from private ownership after an outcry over gentrification in the German capital

Why Berlin is buying back nearly 700 apartments on its historic Karl-Marx-Allee
Protest banners on Karl-Marx-Allee. Photo: DPA

The sprawling boulevard, which is lined with Stalinist-style buildings and was the showpiece of the former East German government, has been at the frontline of a long fight over gentrification and rising rent costs for months.

An outcry was sparked after property management firm Predac announced last November it was offload 700 apartments on the road that stretches from Mitte to Friedrichshain to Berlin’s largest property company Deutsche Wohnen.

But on Monday, the local government confirmed that the flats will be taken over by the state-owned housing association Gewobag. The apartments had been privatized in the 1990s.

No information on the cost to re-nationalize the homes has been given, but estimates range between €90 and €100 million.

It is a win for tenants who have been organizing protest marches and hanging banners from their apartments in a bid to block the sale.

“Berlin must regain more control over its rental market, said city mayor Michael Müller in a statement. “These 670 apartments are a first step in this direction.”

Locals feared Deutsche Wohnen, which owns 115,000 flats across Berlin and its surrounding regions, could have significantly increased the rents.

READ ALSO: Berlin sees reed over Karl Marx Allee sale

A poster for a 'rent insanity' protest in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Battle rages against gentrification

Berliners have been fighting against gentrification and rent increases for years. Regular 'rent insanity' protests are held in the capital.

Recently, the Berlin government voted to freeze rents for five years from 2020 in a radical move to halt rising rents.

READ ALSO: Berlin opts to freeze rental prices for five years

The Karl-Marx-Allee struggle is also part of a wider debate in the German capital on whether authorities should be allowed to take the radical step of requisitioning apartment buildings.

Berlin's mayor Müller has said the city would look to reclaim more apartments from private hands like the Karl-Marx-Allee example.

“I want Berliners to continue to be able to afford housing in the city – housing is a central social issue in almost all major cities,” said Müller.

“Therefore it was, and is, my intention to buy flats wherever possible.”

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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.