Translation of the article below, published on March 1st 2023:
Patrick Neumann is one of those who came to Berlin when the capital was still cheap. He lives in a four-story old building on Reichenberger Strasse in the Kreuzberg district. On the street side, the door and base are sprayed with graffiti, the yellow paint is peeling off on the side wing in the courtyard. Born in Dortmund, Neumann studied business administration in Münster and Copenhagen and then worked for a marketing company in Düsseldorf.
In 2012 he resigned from his permanent position there and moved to Berlin. In this one-room apartment, in which he first exposed the floorboards under the cheap laminate, removed various layers of wallpaper and even bought the sockets and switches at the hardware store. Neumann does not want to read in the newspaper how much or how little he pays as net cold rent. Suffice it to say that the apartment is still fairly cheap to this day.
„This project was practically delivered to my door,“ says the communications consultant over waffles and coffee at the table in his kitchen. There he tells his story. When he moved in, the house belonged to a private individual. He sold it in 2016 to real estate investors from Bavaria, who had already made a name for themselves in the neighborhood, but not a good one. “The evictions business model,” Neumann calls it. Buy apartment buildings, divide them into condominiums and modernize them until the last tenants move out. Neumann and his neighbors founded a house association and began to research. They „uncovered“ about 40 houses of these owners in this way.
To prevent a similar fate from befalling their house, Neumann did what he could: communicate. He networked with other households, wrote to the media, including the F.A.Z., informed politicians. He himself would probably have found a new apartment, he says. But the 100-year-old Willi from the top? In 2018, the investors from Bavaria resold the house with the 22 apartments to Deutsche Wohnen and Accentro.
Neumann has little good to say about the time that followed. The operating costs had skyrocketed, the heating oil tank suddenly ran empty in January and nobody could ever be reached. „For me, it’s an apartment in a house. For Deutsche Wohnen it was a unit in a property in a portfolio.” Neumann throws himself into public relations again, with success. When the Berlin Senate bought more than 14,000 apartments from Vonovia and Deutsche Wohnen in autumn 2021, the ones at Reichenberger Strasse 55 were part of the package. „We saved our house,“ is how Neumann sees it.
Since the house has belonged to the state-owned Howoge, the stairwell has been wiped again, and there is also a caretaker who does simple repairs directly. Even the most serious damage to the facade has been repaired. „With the Howoge, responsibility has moved into the house,“ says Neumann. The heating is to be renewed soon, and the outer walls are also to be insulated. Neumann is preparing for the fact that the rent will then increase. But he has faith in the owner for the first time in years.
Does he want the next Berlin state government to implement the referendum on expropriations? Neumann squirms, preferring to tell a few anecdotes from the past. Only after the third question does he answer. split in two. He’s not in favor of expropriation, he says, because it doesn’t create an additional apartment. But the business economist, the communications specialist, the long-term tenant also says: „If I want so much“ – he raises his arm just above the last waffle – „then I have to demand so much.“ His hand is now almost under the lampshade.