Everything Must Remain as Is

“Nothing may changes, everything must remain as is, reads the maxim.” That is how the SPIEGEL news magazine summed up the policy of Berlin’s boroughs in an article it ran in early February. It reported that a property owner in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg was denied permission to add balconies to an apartment building he owns. “The planned 6.5 square metres unduly increase the residential value, the permitted maximum being four square metres,” the argument reportedly went. Another property owner, again according to the SPIEGEL, wanted to merge two flats to accommodate his family of four. Here, too, the owner’s attorney had to advise his client that the authorities were highly unlikely to approve the change in floor plan.

“Down to the last detail, urban developers in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg listed what they consider luxury and therefore reject,” the SPIEGEL added. “These aspects include the installation of a guest WC, or the letting of apartments as holiday accommodation. Other anathemas include a second balcony and a double hand basin. Even fitted kitchens are off limits.” The legal basis for all of these encroachments on the right of ownership is Article 172, German Building Code, that governs the so-called historic district protection.

But historic district protection is but one symptom of a policy generally hostile to investors that is pursued by many boroughs in Berlin. In late January, an event hosted by the Berliner Immobilienrunde panel gave nine developers the opportunity to present their projects. Many speakers voiced their frustration over red tape and district assemblies.

In one case, a project was put on the agenda of a certain district assembly no less than nine times. In another case, an investor had to address an issue raised by the “Pirate Party.” Yet another project developer reported that he had invited the case workers from the competent authority to celebrate the ten-year anniversary since the initial planning application for his project “in due style.”

Berlin urgently needs new housing. The construction volume is nowhere near adequate. But instead of welcoming investors with open arms, they are generally suspected to be in it for the money only, and their life is made as hard as possible. In one of the previous issues, I commented on an article the SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG carried, which suggests: “Berlin is facing a housing shortage. But those who build are antagonised.” The paper actually spoke of a “war against investors.” The fact that the hostility against investors as it manifests itself in local sentiment and policy has raised concern not just in business-friendly papers like the FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG and the HANDELSBLATT, but even in liberal left-leaning papers like the SPIEGEL and the SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG, presents an opportunity that, sadly, has not been seized by project developers so far. For the time being, it is each man for himself in battling red tape and civic rage rather than a joint effort to mobilise public opinion against the anti-investor policy.