Since the reunification of Berlin in 1990, the riverside of the Spree between the Berlin districts Friedirichshain and Kreuzberg has been a major topic of discussion. For many years this area was desolated and abandoned. Old train rails, bushes and ruins of former factories marked the area. As ‘no-man’s-land’, many Berliners loved this strip for its roughness and reminder of the city’s youngest history. If it’s up to investors though, this area will change dramatically in the next years.
Mediaspree is one of the largest property investment projects in Berlin. Its goal is to establish media companies and businesses alongside a section of the river Spree. Hotels, office buildings, lofts and other new urban projects are to be build in this unused or temporarily occupied real estate area. The strip is 3.7 km long and contains about 180 hectares space on both sides of the Spree riverfront. It lies on the borders of four districts: Mitte, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg und Alt-Treptow.
During the 19th and early 20th century this area was mainly used for industrial and trade purposes. During the Second World War the Wehrmacht used most of the properties. The harbor served as a shipping center for goods, tanks and other ammunitions. After the war the buildings were mostly destroyed. Until 1947 large sites were seized by the Soviets.
During the Cold War this area was actually located in the middle of the border zone between East and West Berlin. The Berlin Wall ran along the northern bank of the Spree, parallel to the river that marked the official border. Commercial development was impossible. On the GDR side, parts of the industrial buildings were transformed into watchtowers for border security. On the West Berlin side, especially in Kreuzberg, various alternative artistic projects arose.
The restructuring of the area after reunification began slowly. For many years this open space formed a wilderness in the middle of the city and was a reminder of the GDR time. At many other places in Berlin this memory was slowly wiped out, as a long track of construction works and new modern architecture showed the changes in landscape.
But also in the ‘no-man’s-land’ things have changed. A few of the remaining buildings are now protected and listed as historical monuments. They are not allowed to be changed. But properties that are not on that list have been bought over the years by investors. One decisive development began in 2002 when a land development plan passed the Berlin senate and the “Mediaspree” project started.
Jobs and money
Mediaspree was a project initiated in order to improve the economical situation of Berlin. The city council hoped to generate more commercial businesses and therefore jobs by redeveloping this area. There is no specific institution that centrally manages and markets the project. Mediaspree is therefore merely a label. The planning for individual building projects lies with investors, property owners, and the districts Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.
One of the first development projects that was completed in the Mediaspree-region was the renovation of the Eierkühlhaus into the German headquarters for Universal Music. It received ten million euros worth of sponsorship funding from the senate and was completed in the middle of 2002. A similarly subsidized settlement of MTV Networks Germany in a former warehouse at Osthafen followed in 2004. The prominent O2 Arena was constructed in 2008 by the Anschutz Entertainment Group. It was built on the grounds of the former Ostgüterbahnhof. This used to be the place where the legendary nightclub Ostgut – the predecessor of Berghain – was established from 1998 until 2003.
But many citizens of the surrounding districts are not happy with the developments around the Mediaspree. So far, many protests have been held to stop these plans. Not only will a unique part of Berlin’s history disappear, many people also fear that the rents will rise significantly when wealthy employees of the future offices will settle in their districts. Artists and squatters consider Mediaspree a danger to the cultural diversity of the area.