A Berlin Family's Eviction Sparks Violent Protest
Violent protests broke out in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood on Thursday after a Turkish family was forced to leave their apartment for refusing to pay higher rent. Cars were set ablaze and demonstrators scuffled with police. The long simmering conflict reveals continued tension over the city's rising rents.
By the time police escorted the Gülbol family out of their apartment, shortly before 9 a.m. on Valentine's Day, protestors had been gathering on the streets for hours. People from around Germany turned out in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood to show their support for the Turkish family and to try to hinder their eviction.
About 500 people turned out to protest during the day -- one which ended with 15 cars burned out, four more overturned and the windows of a nearby bank shattered by stones. About 400 police came out to contain the demonstrators occasionally using pepper spray to keep the crowds at bay. A helicopter circled the area to get an overview of the chaos as it moved southeast into the Neukölln neighborhood. By the end of the day 10 police personnel were injured and 10 demonstrators arrested.
It was a day almost six years in the making. The Gülbol family moved into the 122-square-meter (1,313-square-foot) apartment in 1999. The 41-year-old Ali Gülbol says that at the time he had a verbal agreement with his landlords not to raise the rent. He didn't need the deal in writing because his own landlords told him that, "they always did that in Kreuzberg," Gülbol, a painter, told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
But six years later the landlords were forced to sell the building to a new owner, who in 2007 raised the rent by almost hundred euros to €715 ($956) a month. Gülbol refused to pay the higher rate, citing his verbal agreement and pointing to €20,000 in renovations he had put into the apartment.
Gülbol took the matter to court. The case wound its way through the system reaching ever higher courts, but in the end the family lost and Berlin courts ordered them to pay 40 months worth of rent increases. Gülbol says that he paid, but it turned out to be too late. He told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that neither his lawyer nor the court told him that he had to pay the amount within two months.
The Gülbol family's new landlords said that the late rent payment was grounds for eviction and in August 2012 the Berlin court agreed. On Thursday they were forced to leave.
No Longer Taboo
The case mobilized left leaning groups from around the country who oppose the impact that higher rents around the country are having on low income families. In Berlin the issue is particularly pronounced . Residential real estate prices shot up 32 percent since 2007, as the city attracts ever more people. The city's rock bottom rent prices are now as much a part of history as the wall that once divided it.
Still, rents in the city remain relatively affordable compared to other European capitals, but rapidly climbing prices have pushed long-time Berlin families out of their homes and away from the city center.
The protests against the Gülbol case "make it clear that this is about a show of power against all people who are no longer prepared to idly put up with driving people with low incomes out of their neighborhood," Halina Wawzyniak, a Left Party politician who represents the Kreuzberg neighborhood, told daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung.
Though the Gülbol family wasn't able to stay in their apartment, the protest proved a point, said Sara Walther from the Bündnis Gegen Zwangsräumung -- or Alliance Against Forced Evictions -- to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "Forced evictions are not taboo anymore in society," she told the paper. Even though she says that she has nothing against wealthier new people moving to the neighborhood, one should not "systematically throw old renters out of their apartments."