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Germany's upcoming federal elections, which will decide who will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor after her 16-year rule, dominate worldwide political discourse.

On Sunday, though, Germans will be voting on much more than Merkel's successor. On September 26, Berlin will have state elections and a referendum that may send shockwaves throughout Europe.

Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen, a referendum movement named after one of Germany's largest property corporations reflects increasing anger and powerlessness among city tenants.

Berlin was formerly regarded as one of the continent's most inexpensive cities, but rising rents have turned it into a symbol of increasingly widespread urban problems with housing prices.

Residents in Berlin will vote on whether or not so-called "mega-landlords" should be ousted. If that is the case, the legislation would be one of Europe's most drastic reactions to gentrification and increasing housing costs, socializing about 240,000 units.

In recent years, Berlin has regularly had among of the world's fastest-rising home prices. Though still cheap compared to other major European cities such as London or Paris, rents in Berlin nearly quadrupled between 2009 and 2019.

While Berlin's trendy image and growing IT industry have given the city a sheen of a gloss, salaries remain modest. Despite being the capital, Berlin ranks 11th out of 16 German states per-capita income, far below the national average.

Housing prices, according to Kalle Kunkel of the Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen movement, not only put a strain on low-wage workers but also threatened to unravel the city's structure.

Though worldwide real estate speculation has increased in recent years, the city of Berlin has exacerbated the problem by selling off its public housing stock for a pittance following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Hedge funds and private equity companies have purchased about 200,000 homes in Berlin since 1990.

Meanwhile, the city has expanded considerably in the past decade, adding to the housing market's stress.

Regardless of the budget range, finding a new apartment may be a demoralizing and gladiatorial process. Renters often accept whatever they can get since they know they can't afford to be choosy.

Landlords often exploit modernizing flats between renters to increase prices, according to Reiner Wild, head of the Berlin Tenant's Union (BMV). Rent increases between contracts, according to Wild, have a significant effect on the renting market.

The Unsuccessful Effort by Berlin to Freeze Rents

Berlin has assumed a leadership role in experimenting with far-reaching housing rules, just as it has shown runaway housing prices in several large cities.

The present referendum, which is being pushed by the Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen movement, is the latest effort in Berlin to bring the housing market under control. It comes soon after the contentious overturning of Berlin's rent limit in April.

The rent limit, which went into effect in February 2020, froze prices in 90% of the city's apartments for five years while also lowering rents for many tenants. Because it was adopted at the state level and superseded federal housing law, it was declared illegal.

Before the rent limit, renters were usually on their own battles against overcharging and unlawful activities. Berlin already had a pretty strong set of tenant rights in place to curb increasing rents, but it was having trouble enforcing them. This procedure was reinforced and mechanized by the rent-cap.

Simon and Georgina resisted, knowing their rent was much more than it should have been when they moved there. They embarked on a year-long fight with the BMV to reduce their rent, which had been increased to an unlawfully high amount between contracts. Their rent was lowered by approximately 25% when the lengthy legal battle concluded.

Written By: Olivium's Editor


  • Hamann, U., & Türkmen, C. (2020). Communities of struggle: the making of a protest movement around housing, migration and racism beyond identity politics in Berlin. Territory, Politics, Governance, 8(4), 515-531.
  • Kadi, J., Vollmer, L., & Stein, S. (2021). Post-neoliberal housing policy? Disentangling recent reforms in New York, Berlin and Vienna. European Urban and Regional Studies, 09697764211003626.
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