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Red Flag: Fighting eviction with H48

Residents of the H48 in Neukölln are fighting to keep their home, but the courts keep siding with speculators

Image for Red Flag: Fighting eviction with H48

The residents of H48 are fighting to save their homes

Thank goodness we no longer live under feudalism. Back then, you had to hand over half of your crops to a lord — or else he could throw you out of your hovel at a whim.

Today, we live in a free society. Yet we still have to deal with lords: landlords. It cannot be a coincidence that we use a feudal term for the people who own apartment buildings.

The modern aristocracy of “housing feudalism” demands 30, 40, or even 50 percent of our incomes to have a roof over our heads. Anyone who can’t pay is driven out with overwhelming violence — just look at the tanks and helicopters used by police to evict people from the Köpi’s caravan park.

Which brings us to H48, a complex of three buildings at Hermannstraße 48 in Neukölln. It stands in front of a grandiose old factory building named Hermannshof. Since the 1980s, especially that back building has turned into a countercultural biotope, filled with enormous WGs (shared apartments) under cavernous ceilings.

Today 140 people live and work at H48. There is a carpenter’s workshop, a “project room” for meetings, and a hair salon. A community has grown together – so much so that they decided they wanted to pool their money and buy the property to run it collectively.

140 people liked the plan — but one person disagreed. That one person happened to be the landlord. They said they weren’t interested in selling. Yet at the beginning of this year, residents got a letter that the building was being sold to a Hermannshof 48 Grundbesitzgesellschaft mbH. In Berlin’s ultra-dodgy housing market, run by mafiosi and money launderers, it is almost impossible to ever say who owns what. Even the government doesn’t know who owns 25-50 percent of property.

In this case, the newly-registered company appears to be connected to speculators from a small town in Saxony. About the same time, the H48 got an e-mail from an official address of those speculators: “You are just a bunch of leftist senile anarchists.”

Would anyone dare to hope that the new owners might leave the current residents alone? Speculation in Berlin has driven prices for buildings to ridiculous levels. The agreed sale price would take 40 or 45 years to pay off with existing rents.

It’s no wonder that speculators are not interested in renting — the only way to make money is by flipping properties. The H48 isn’t worth much if filled with big WGs. But it could be worth a fortune as luxury lofts or office space. That is exactly what happened after Yorck59 was evicted 15 years ago. The building was once a home for 60 people — now, as far as I can tell, no one lives there.

This is where a special rule called Vorkaufsrecht applies (roughly: a preemptive option to buy). When a building is sold, the city can jump in and decree that the sale should instead go to a non-profit association. This is supposed to curb speculation and secure affordable rents.

The residents of the H48 turned to the district government of Neukölln. They only had two months to find a buyer, but they had already done most of the work. They were able to secure loans to pay the vastly inflated buying price. 

Yet two weeks ago, the judges on Germany’s Federal Administrative Court rejected the Vorkaufsrecht, reversing decisions by lower courts. While their written judgement has not yet been published, this would appear to be just another case of a privileged caste of old, conservative men ruling against renters and in favour of speculators.

What kind of order is being protected here? The Köpi caravan park was evicted on the basis of falsified documents from a speculator who refuses to pay millions in taxes. Liebig34 was evicted to the benefit of a speculator known for systematic illegal practices and ties to the Chechnya mafia. Let’s not even get started on speculators who illegally finance the AfD

The speculators have contributed nothing. In the case of H48, the house was built long before any of them were born. This is pure feudalism, and it has to stop. Like 86 percent of Berliners, I am a renter, and I don’t like the idea that I could be kicked out of my home at a moment’s notice. The only way to put an end to rampant speculation is by socializing housing — that’s exactly what 59.1 percent of Berliners voted for.