While Berlin is struggling to keep up with the growing demand of affordable housing in the more central districts, Marzahn-Hellersdorf is doing everything to actually attract people. The district in the very east of Berlin has been having problems with its image ever since the Berlin wall fell.
In total, about 250.000 people live in this area. It’s the least ethnically diverse part of Berlin; 88% of the people are of German origin. With 100.000 typical East German ‘Plattenbau’ flats, it is the biggest Plattenbau area in Germany. And that is exactly where Marzahn-Hellersdorf’s imagine problem comes from. The endless rows of standard, grey flats between 6 and 11 stories high aren’t exactly a pull factor.
It was quite the opposite during the GDR times. People were waiting years to move into the – for these times – modern flats. But when East Germany reunited with West Germany in 1990, loads of people started moving away from the grey buildings. At some point in the 90s, 15% of the flats in Marzahn-Hellersdorf were empty. Over the years the average age of residents started climbing, as young people kept moving out. In 2011 the average person in Marzahn-Hellersdorf was 42,8 years.
Reason enough for the local government to upgrade the neighbourhoods and promote the positive parts of the district. They started taking down empty flats, schools and kindergartens. These places were filled with green strips, art and playgrounds. While the inside of the remaining flats were renovated, the outside got touched up with some colourful painting. Some taller buildings, like the ‘Ahrenfelder Terassen’ have even been lowered to various heights, to create a less uniform profile.
But more marketing was needed; in 2012 Marzahn-Hellersdorf started a 500.000 euro campaign to show what the district has to offer for Berliners and for tourists. The ‘Gärten der Welt’ (Gardens of the world) for instance, that will host the International Garden Exhibition in 2017. Or the biggest indoor climbing arena of Europe. Or the Berliner Balkon, Thomas Kruger’s favourite Marzahn-Hellersdorf hangout.
And slowly, people are moving back to the troubled district. Whether it’s because of the extensive marketing efforts or the fact that the rents in the rest of Berlin have gone up significantly, the future of Marzahn-Hellersdorf looks a bit more colourful.