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  • John Riceburg: New apartments, anyone? Anyone?!?


John Riceburg: New apartments, anyone? Anyone?!?

Activists are collecting signatures against construction on the Tempelhofer Feld. But who will speak for people in favor of new housing and a new library? John Riceburg went out to the park for an experiment.

Image for John Riceburg: New apartments, anyone? Anyone?!?
Photo by Neil H (NeilGHamilton; Flickr CC)

Who in Berlin wouldn’t want new apartments?

It’s a Sunday afternoon and the sun is shining. A colleague and I have gone to Tempelhofer Feld, once an airport and now a 355-hectare park, to find the answer to this question. We have a giant banner – “5000 new apartments and a new city library!” – and petitions so that visitors can express their support for the government’s plans to put this giant field to use with housing, a library, a school and more. The Tempelhofer Projekt GmbH recently wrote in a press release that their plans for construction implement “citizens’ wishes”. So we set up at a Neukölln entrance to the park in order to find a few of these citizens.

People walk past us with strollers, kites and bicycles. They smile and approach us – and then they see the banner. “Wait, you’re for the construction of the field?!?” Whether they are young people with dreads, new parents with babies or old people with canes, the smiles disappear: “Nein!” “Auf keinen Fall!” “Tschüss!”

My colleague and I had even dressed in bright red to avoid being confused with the activists from the initiative 100% Tempelhofer Feld in their lime green jackets who oppose any construction.

We studied all the arguments in favor:

“There will only be construction around the edges, no more than 15 percent of the total space,” I tell an inline skater, “so there will still be an enormous field in the middle.” You don’t need a full 355 hectares for skating, right?

“New apartment buildings will release pressure on the housing market” my colleague reassures two young men, “and the city needs housing.” We smile like Mormon missionaries – we won’t be deterred in our quest for signatures.

When people say “they’re only going to build luxury apartments”, we repeat the government’s promise that half of the housing will be affordable. But then we have to admit that this is only a non-binding declaration of intent, and in this case “affordable” means €6-8 rent per square meter. “I could only afford that if I squeezed onto two meters” says a bike rider as he drives away.

We repeatedly hear that there are enough empty apartments in the city or enough space elsewhere to build new housing. Most people snort and walk off, but some get really angry. “People like you should be beaten up!” says a middle-aged woman we assume is a preschool teacher. At least she used the respectful Sie form to threaten violence.

Somewhere out there must be Berliners who favor the construction plans. But after almost an hour, we still haven’t found a single one who wants to sign. The woman a few meters away with a petition against construction has gathered 30 signatures. This seems, at least according to our experiment, to be the wish of the citizenry.