Q: Is Berlin coping with its popularity and rapid growth?
A: Berlin at the moment is in a special situation because, for the first time since the 1920s, we have experienced a sustainable economic boom. For three generations before, we had many economic crises. Ten years ago we had 100,000 empty apartments and nobody knew what to do with them. Now we’re close to a shortage. Artists and creative people first improved the image of Berlin after the economic crisis 20 years ago. The vibrant cultural and club scene in Berlin made it a tourism hub in Europe. In many parts of the inner city today, we have too many tourists. So now the major challenge is to stay open to the young people who are attracted to Berlin from across Europe, while doing something for existing Berliners, since more than 85% of them are paying rent.
The unexpected boom is connected with an unexpected increase in rent. Many quarters have transformed by heavy gentrification, so the restart of affordable housing policy is a major issue, as well as preparation for an unknown shortage of office space. The new start-up companies are growing fast and they need more office space, especially innovative models such as co-working spaces. So the challenge is to integrate these growing companies that have spread all over the inner city’s historic quarters, but who now need larger units for their expansion.
Q: Why is Berlin so attractive to young people?
A: Berlin is not a city of any establishment. When the Soviet army conquered the city in 1945, the German elites left. So Berlin does not force you to adapt to a local elite or dialect, as elsewhere. Berlin is a very tolerant city and, in many cases, this means something like co-ignorance: nobody cares what other people do, you can consider yourself a Berliner from the first moment you enter. Moreover, you can find space to do something, find a way to live your life. Berlin offered a certain kind of luxury in space, open space for public activities and very large units in the existing buildings.
We know our history. At every corner you can see memorial sites that show the problematic German history in 20th century, so we’re not nationalists and Berlin is a very cosmopolitan. Germany is economically prospering and a country with a considerably stable political system. In former decades the real estate market was very much influenced by public institutions and, since the 1990s, we’ve had many privatisation processes that opened opportunities for international investors that didn’t exist before.
Q: How are you tackling the shortage of affordable housing?
A: We completely changed our real estate policy. During the economic crisis of the early 2000s, Berlin was selling all the buildings owned by the city. We’ve stopped that now and we’re trying to play an active role again in the development of the real estate sector. So this mean regulation, and the city is buying buildings again. We want to encourage the development of co-housing projects and intergenerational housing projects, and create socially and functionally mixed-use projects. There is a history of self-organisation and co-operation between young and older generations in Berlin.