THE LOVE AND HATE FOR EXPATS
As in every big city in the world, expatriates are part of the population in Berlin. It is estimated that about 44.000 expats from English-speaking countries call Berlin their home. This is a bit more than 1% of the total population of the city.
Apart from the expats who work for the big international companies, the expat community in Berlin also consists for a large part of artistic people. Artists, writers, photographers and the like are lured to Berlin for its relatively cheap, multicultural lifestyle.
But not everybody is happy with the arrival of foreign employees. Protests among the original residents are growing stronger in Berlin, as expats are seen as part of a bigger problem in the city: gentrification – the process in which poor urban areas are taken over by people with a higher income. It usually follows a pattern: artists and students move to the poor urban districts, slowly little café’s are opening up – the area is getting more loved. Investors buy up apartments buildings, renovate them and ask higher rent afterwards. Furthermore, the fact that a poorer area is getting more popular also causes the rents to go up.
This process sets a whole range of problems in motion for the original inhabitants of the area. Apart from higher rents, the ‘little shops around the corner’ are slowly replaced by fancier supermarkets, café’s and restaurants. It can force the original residents to move away from their homes, as they are no longer able to afford the higher prices of living.
After the reunification of Berlin in 1990, areas of the city have gone through major changes. Prenzlauer Berg for instance in the former East Berlin is now known for its nice café’s and high quality of living. It used to be a workers neighbourhood instead. Kreuzberg has seen similar changes. From a Turkish immigrant suburb, parts turned into a fancier version with double the original rents.
Berlin’s city council welcomes the arrival of foreign expats and investors – the city is poor and needs foreign investments to continue its growth. Politicians and investors claim gentrification is part of a process a city is going through. Many point at American cities like Boston, New York and Washington D.C. as examples of cities that have been gentrified.
In Berlin, investors buy up houses and plots of land to renovate or build luxury apartments and hotels. There are plans to build luxury flats on the field of the former airport Tempelhof for instance. Protesters are getting people together to stop this from happening – claiming the beloved park with the former runways should stay the way it is. They are concerned that when luxury apartments are built, the rents in the surrounding areas will go up significantly.
But protests go further in Berlin. Recently, the ‘Berliner Liste’ has been causing much concern in the city. The list consists of buildings and investors that will be targeted by activists. They claim the investors are causing social injustice. Berlin finds wealth more important than affordable living for its low-income citizens, according to the anonymous creators of the Berliners Liste.
They ask protesters to come up with ‘creative ways’ to block investors. Paint bombs are thrown on the construction sites for example, or windows are being shattered. Mid July, a café and a Porsche car were attacked in Choriner Höfe in Berlin Mitte. The police warns people and buildings on the list against possible attacks.