• Politics
  • John Riceburg: Does this loft seem familiar to you?


John Riceburg: Does this loft seem familiar to you?

A loft apartment in Kreuzberg that just came onto the market isn't just tasteless – it's in the building of a left-wing house project that was violently evicted in 2005.

Image for John Riceburg: Does this loft seem familiar to you?
Photo by URBAN ARTefakte (Flickr CC)

John Riceburg continues the Linkenland blog with a look at current realty listings.

Every once in a while, you look at the ads for expensive new condominiums in Berlin, right? Well, for some reason, I do. I feel rage when I picture the Bonzen* who live there: rage at their ridiculously privileged lifestyle, but also rage at myself for feeling a bit curious. Wouldn’t it be nice to have heated floors instead of cold feet? Would I be happier with panorama windows instead of a shadowy Hinterhof?

This one put on the market just this year, however, is in a case by itself. On the West side of Kreuzberg, this amazing loft could be yours. Imagine what you could do with six rooms that are each four meters high – impromptu indoor basketball game, anyone? Imagine all the fun you could have with 252sqm, including designer furniture (such as this tasteful Zebra-skin rug – the ad doesn’t say if it’s real or not). All that’s missing is a Mona Lisa in the bathroom, like Daddy Warbucks had.

That could be an amazing WG – and all you need is €4,000 per month. That’s just €700 for each Mitbewohner – of course, if you can afford that, you might not want to live in shared housing.

This loft is in the Yorckstraße 59a – the former address of the left-wing house project Yorck59. Until eight years ago, this was home to 60 people and also included rooms for political meetings. The house had been leased in 1988, but by 2005, the owner wanted to double the rent and had the tenants evicted. In the early morning of June 6, more than 500 police violently dispersed a sit-down blockade in front of the Yorck. One woman was beaten so badly that she lost consciousness and had to be taken away in an ambulance. The same evening, several thousand people demonstrated against the eviction. I remember that at one point everyone started running and I was toppled over by a bicycle right in front of me, almost breaking my wrist. (“No babies, no dogs, no bicycles!” at demonstrations, people!)

Luckily, the residents of the Yorck were able to find a new home: a few days later, they occupied the south wing of the Bethanien on Mariannenplatz and remain there to this day (hence the clever name “New Yorck”). There you still have space for a political film showing, a solidarity party for a lesbian-queer-trans initiative or a home for illegal immigrants. But the new lofts in the Old Yorck shows what is happening to the living space in this city: where 60 people used to live, now you will have underused party flats for billionaires from Moscow, Doha or even the rare one from Berlin.

That’s why I feel more rage about this condominium than any of the others. When two thousand people demonstrated in Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain against rising rents on September 29, a number of yuppies must have wondered why police trucks were parked in front of their houses to protect them from the angry mob. A lot of them are probably Ökos – maybe they were demonstrating themselves a few years ago. It must be strange to see people demonstrating against your house. Well, if you’re reading this and you were wondering, this is what everyone is so upset about. And you’re part of the problem, whether you think you are or not.

Now isn’t it weird that Neuberliner get more excited about this than the natives? I’ve only been here for a decade, but I wear my “Die Yuppie Scum” shirt and protest against gentrification all the time. It was Kurt Tucholsky who wrote in 1921: “The real Berliner comes from Breslau or Posen.” The two cities are now in Poland (Wroclaw and Poznan), but real Berliners still come from far away to defend the city the way it was long before they arrived. Now the “real Berliner” might hail from Madrid, Haifa or Houston – but still defends the city’s great traditions of protest against the real gentrifiers.

*Bonzen is a disparaging word for anyone in power that doesn’t have a precise equivalent in English. The rich are of course Bonzen, but the well-paid leaders of the trade unions are Gewerkschaftsbonzen while the higher-ups in East Germany’s regime were Parteibonzen. Germans’ deference to authority is somewhat compensated by this wonderful word full of hate of anyone in power, far more spiteful than “fat cats” or any English translation.