‘We fear rising rent prices’: Berliners protest against planned Amazon offices

A new workspace for US tech giant Amazon is expected to bring thousands of jobs to Berlin's Friedrichshain neighbourhood. But does that come with a cost?

'We fear rising rent prices': Berliners protest against planned Amazon offices
A model of the new EDGE building upon completion in 2024. Photo: EDGE

Formerly a largely working class area, the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg has in recent years been subject to increasing levels of gentrification. Shiny corporate buildings now sit in place of former factories.

The latest development in this urbanization process is the construction of the EDGE East Side Berlin. Technology giant Amazon plans to move into the tower, bringing up to 1400 new jobs to the area, and relocating 2000 existing positions. 

READ ALSO: In maps: How gentrification has changed Berlin

Activist groups such as 'Berlin vs Amazon' and ‘Bizim Kiez’ have expressed their concern, with some Berliners arguing that the urban space will be the latest victim of rapid gentrification which has already seen Friedrichshain property prices spike by 131.60 percent in the past 10 years.

'We fear the rising rent'

A representative from Berlin vs Amazon, John Malamatinas, explained to The Local that the main concern of activists is that Berlin will end up like Seattle or San Francisco, also tech hotspots which have faced rapid gentrification in recent years.

“We fear the rising rent,” he said, explaining that the group has further apprehensions regarding Amazon such as the “treatment of their employees” and the general “company culture”.

READ ALSO: Amazon workers strike throughout Germany on 'Prime Days'

Malamatinas will be among the Berliners taking to the streets of Friedrichshain on Saturday at 2pm to protest the construction of this 140m high-rise tower situated next to the East Side Mall.

The protestors are then slated to march south along the graffiti-laden Warschauer Straße and finish next to where the construction is already being built at a foundational level.

Malamtinas explained that the aim of the protests was not to necessarily to bring the construction of the tower to a halt altogether – although he did not rule this out – but rather to prevent Amazon from moving into the building.

A leaflet handed out in the past week about the protest on Warschauer Str, Friedrichshain.

Amazon is slated be the key tenant of the building, with the current intention to move into 28 of the 36 floors within the EDGE by 2024.

Construction is set to be completed the year prior. Standing at 140 meters, the building will be one of the tallest in Germany’s capital.

Workplaces for 3400 people

Amazon has predicted that the relocation of the company to the EDGE will provide workplaces for up to 3400 people. Since 2011, it has been situated in multiple office across the city, currently employing 2000 people.

“We're proud to be an employer to so many,” said Jonathan Weiss, head of Amazon's research and development site in Berlin, in a statement.

“Inspiration and ideas often arise from personal exchange and cooperation with others,” he continued. “That's why we're pleased that we will soon be working in a new building, where in future many employees will be accommodated under one roof and there will be room for new employees”

The move would be the latest addition to the established business sector seemingly forming around the Mercedes-Benz Arena, with companies such as online fashion retailer Zalando also recently relocating nearby.

The Oberbaum Bridge (front) connects the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. Photo: DPA

Such demonstrations may conjure memories for some of the anti-gentrification protests in the Kreuzberg area opposing the building of a Google Campus between 2016 and 2018.

READ ALSO: How a grassroots group in Berlin took on Google – and won

Similar to contemporary opponents of EDGE, the activists then feared that a Google campus would be a catalyst for gentrification in a district that is also already struggling with rising living costs, especially in relation to rent.

The borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg has been known for embodying a culture of creativity, home to many young artists and creatives who are able to pursue their passions without “breaking the bank”.

The introduction of such a building could contribute to changing the entire district in this sense, said activists ahead of Saturday’s protests.

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Germany opens ‘anti-competition’ probe into Amazon with tougher law

Germany's competition authority said Tuesday it had opened an inquiry into online retail giant Amazon over potential "anti-competitive practices", using a new law giving regulators more power to rein in big tech companies.

Germany opens 'anti-competition' probe into Amazon with tougher law
An Amazon warehouse in Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

Federal Cartel Office head Andreas Mundt said his office is examining whether Amazon has “an almost unchallengeable position of economic power” and whether it “operates across various markets”.

If so, it would be deemed of “paramount significance”, said Mundt, adding that the regulator could “take early action against and prohibit possible anti-competitive practices by Amazon”.

“This could apply to Amazon with its online marketplaces and many other, above all digital offers,” he added.

Under the amendment to Germany’s competition law passed in January, the watchdog said it now has more power to “intervene earlier and more effectively” against big tech companies, rather than simply punishing them for abuses of their dominant market position.

READ ALSO: ‘I want to know origin of my grapes’: Amazon loses fruit and veg ruling in German court

The German reform coincided with new EU draft legislation unveiled in December aimed at curbing the power of the internet behemoths that could shake up the way Silicon Valley can operate in the 27-nation bloc.

The push to tighten legislation comes as big tech companies are facing increasing scrutiny around the globe, including in the United States, where Google and Facebook are facing antitrust suits.

The Amazon probe is only the second time that Germany’s Federal Cartel Office has made use of its new powers, after first employing them to widen the scope of an investigation into Facebook over its integration of virtual reality headsets.

The watchdog already has two traditional abuse control proceedings open against Amazon.

One involves the company’s use of algorithms to influence the pricing of third-party sellers on Amazon Marketplace, while another is probing the extent to which Amazon and major producers such as Apple exclude third parties from
selling brand products.