A Berlin Neighborhood Clamps Down on Fancy Apartments

No second bathrooms, no fireplaces or under-floor heating, no new balconies and no reserved parking places.

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No second bathrooms, no fireplaces or under-floor heating, no new balconies and no reserved parking places.

The Berlin district of Pankow is doing everything it can to make sure its housing stock doesn’t get any fancier. This month, Green Party-led authorities in this small, attractive section of East Berlin banned any real estate improvements that might push up rents, outlawing any new holiday homes at the same time. The measures don’t come from a yen to keep the neighborhood shabby per se, as Pankow is a pretty well-scrubbed place already. They’re aimed at halting a galloping wave of luxury upgrades and conversions that are making flats too scarce and expensive for local people.

Woman leaving corridor with lots of graffiti in Prenzlauer Berg. (KN/Shutterstock)

This is a problem across Berlin, but nowhere more so than in Pankow’s neighboring district of Prenzlauer Berg, where once rundown tenements have become some of Berlin’s most expensive property, pricing out long-term residents and causing tension in some weird, unexpected ways. A hive of alternative culture during communist times, the area is now the sort of place where you can get expensive organic coffee on every corner, but struggle to find a hardware shop.  Pankow, where many Prenzlauer Berg exiles went seeking cheaper rent, seems determined to stop this lightning transformation at its southern boundary.

While Pankow’s measures might sound drastic, they aren’t especially harsh. The district still allows second bathrooms conversions in properties with three bedrooms or more, and two bed, two bath apartment are rare luxuries even in Berlin’s wealthiest areas.  German apartments are also routinely warm, with double-glazing standard, so no one’s going to get chilly without under-floor heating or fireplaces, a particular rarity in a country that traditionally used enclosed stoves for heating. And while some owner-occupiers might get frustrated at planning limits being placed on their property, the vast majority of Berliners are rental tenants. 

The general murmurings from the local media about Pankow’s move are generally positive. In a city where residents look in horror at the high rents and inequality of London and New York, there’s a growing consensus that something must be done if Berlin isn’t going to go the same way. The citywide government, for example, is following Pankow and looks set to ban new holiday homes later this month.

Whether the measures will actually work is another question.  Pankow certainly has some odds in its favor. Unlike formerly working class Prenzlauer Berg, it has always been a middle class district, and was know as the home of the East German elite before 1989.  While they’re far from being the wealthiest of Berliners nowadays, Pankow’s long-term residents are still less likely to be priced out of local shops and services by richer incomers.  The measures do seem a little desperate and tokenistic, however. If the powerful surge in speculation on Berlin property is going to be halted by anything, it’s probably not going to be a ban on extra bathtubs.

Photo credit: Fretschi /Shutterstock

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