Newly-elected Berlin mayor targets city rental crisis

Former German family minister Franziska Giffey was elected mayor of Berlin on Tuesday with a plan to boost house building amid soaring rental costs in the capital.

Berlin's new mayor Franziska Giffey greeted by chimney sweeps for luck at the town house.
Berlin's new mayor Franziska Giffey greeted by chimney sweeps for luck at the town house. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Koall

Social Democrat Giffey, who served in Angela Merkel’s coalition government between 2018 and 2021, is the first woman to lead Berlin, in SPD control for the last two decades.

Deputies in Berlin’s legislature cast ballots for mayor and Giffey won 84 votes, with 52 against her and two abstentions.

Her party had finished first in local elections on September 26th on a good night for the Social Democrats, who also topped the polls in the general election, setting Olaf Scholz up to become the new chancellor.

READ ALSO: What does the Berlin election mean for the city’s housing shortage

Giffey, 43, cobbled together a coalition with the Greens and far-left Linke party, who together have set themselves the task of building 200,000 homes by 2030 in a city that attracts more and more residents each year.

The roadmap for policy the parties signed Tuesday calls for a public-private “partnership for new construction and affordable housing”.

The new government has also decided to establish a commission to assess the possibility of “expropriating” corporate landlords, a proposition which gained a majority in a non-binding referendum on the same day as the election.

Around 56 percent voted in favour of the move against real estate companies with more than 3,000 properties after a successful petition to hold a ballot.

The commission, to be established within 100 days, will have a year to “review the possibilities, means and conditions for implementing the referendum”, the coalition pact said.

The new mayor has said seizing property is “not the right way”, particularly because of the high cost of indemnities that would have to be paid.

Supporters of the proposal say they would be more able to control rental prices if the properties were transferred to public ownership.

While Berlin remains cheaper than Paris or London, rents in the hip capital have increased 85 percent between 2007 and 2019.

Rising costs for housing have weighed heavily on inhabitants, 80 percent of whom are renters.

Member comments

  1. In increase of 85% sounds terrible but it is in fact only an increase of approximately 5% per year over the 12 year period. Yes it’s a couple of % above inflation and way above any normal employees annual salary increase but it’s not ridiculously extreme and is more, I would suggest, the result of Berlin becoming a more desirable place to live. It’s not actually crisis, it’s just the basic rule of supply and demand playing out.

    1. But the supply does not meet the demand, there is a shortage of 200,000 flats. If the supply doesn’t meet the demand, the supplier will price gouge — hence the 80% increase.

      1. Yes I agree that supply has not kept up with demand but that, in economic terms, is because the supply of property is inelastic in the short term ie it cannot be quickly produced to meet demand and therefore prices will rise. Again, in purely economic terms, once companies ramp-up production, demand will be met and prices will level out. Will purchase or rental prices drop? Highly unlikely. Would the City nationalising and taking control actually work? Maybe it would appear so in the the short term but the cost would be born by Berlin’s tax payers and is not sustainable. Same applies to rent caps as these are disincentives to both the building of new flats and the maintenance of the existing stock. The bottom line is that every time Governments interfere with the market that market ends up becoming dysfunctional. Don’t forget consumers have a choice. No one is forcing anyone to live in Berlin!

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‘Unprecedented’: How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin’s Grunewald forest

An "unprecedented" fire broke out on Thursday around a German police munitions storage site in a Berlin forest. Here's how events unfolded and the reaction.

'Unprecedented': How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin's Grunewald forest

What happened?

Emergency services were called out after explosions were heard in the ‘Grunewald’ forest in western Berlin in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

It then emerged that a fire had broken out near a police munitions storage site, all on one of the hottest days of the year when temperatures were forecast to reach around 38C in the German capital. 

As explosions continued at the site, sending debris flying into the air, firefighters weren’t initially able to get near the flames to extinguish it. Emergency services set up a 1,000-metre safety zone around the area.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Berliner Feuerwehr

Later on Thursday afternoon, Berlin fire brigade spokesman Thomas Kirstein said the situation was “under control and there was no danger for Berliners” but that the fire was expected to last for some time.

No one has been hurt by the fires. Around 250 emergency workers were deployed to the site.

READ ALSO: Blasts ring out as forest fire rages in Berlin’s Grunewald

How was the fire being tackled?

The German army (Bundeswehr) was called in. They sent a tank aimed at evacuating munitions at the affected storage site as well as remote-controlled de-mining robots, while drones circled the air to assess the emergency.

Water cannons were also deployed around the safety zone to prevent the fire from spreading.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey interrupted her holiday to visit the scene, calling the events “unprecedented in the post-war history of Berlin”.

Giffey advised people in Berlin to close their windows but said the danger was minimal as there were no residential buildings within a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) radius and so no need to issue evacuation orders.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

“It would be much more difficult if there were residential buildings nearby,” she said.

What caused the blaze?

That’s still unclear. Police say they are investigating what started the fire exactly. 

The store in question holds munitions uncovered by police, but also unexploded World War II-era ordnance which is regularly dug up during construction works.

Giffey said local authorities would “have to think about how to deal with this munitions site in the future and whether such a place is the right one in Berlin”.

Is Grunewald a popular site?

Very much so. The sprawling forest on the edge of Berlin is home to lots of hiking trails and is even near some popular lakes, such as the Krumme Lanke. It’s also near the Wannsee and Havel river. 

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin's Grunewald

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin’s Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa Grafik | dpa-infografik GmbH

Authorities appealed for the public to avoid the forest, which is regularly visited by both locals and tourists.

Deutsche Bahn said regional and long-distance transport was disrupted due to the blaze.

A part of the Avus motorway between Spanischer Allee and Hüttenweg was also closed in both directions, as well as Kronprinzessinnenweg and Havelchaussee, according to the Berlin traffic centre.

Aren’t forest fires and strong heat causing problems elsewhere?

Yes. Authorities on Thursday said no firefighting choppers were available as they were already in use to calm forest fires in eastern Germany.

However, they also said the 1,000-metre safety zone applied to the air, so there was a limit to how useful it would be to drop water on the fire from above.

The German capital is rarely hit by forest fires, even though its 29,000 hectares of forests make it one of the greenest cities in the world.

Brandenburg, the region surrounding Berlin, as well as parts of eastern Germany have for days been battling forest fires.

Parts of Germany were also recently hit by forest fires during heatwaves this summer. 

Temperatures were expected to climb as high as 40C across parts of Germany on Thursday. However, it is set to cool down on Friday and thunderstorms are set to sweep in from the west.

With reporting by AFP’s David COURBET