Scholars support Kotti & Co
AN OFFER WE CAN’T DECLINE
In May 2012, the tenant’s initiative Kotti & Co managed to turn a summer street fair into a permanent protest camp at the southern Kottbusser Tor in Berlin Kreuzberg. Today Kotti & Co is based in a simple wood-pavilion they call Gecekondu. Equipped with a Samowar, wooden tables and benches, surrounded by banners and logos, cared for by families and friends, supported by neighbors and activists, the people from Kotti & Co are braving the heat and the rain 24 hours a day. Most importantly, they are successfully resisting political strategies that try to assimilate them or to tire them out – and they are voicing demands with a kind of force and commitment this city has not seen in a long time. The demands oppose the infinite raise in rent for privately owned subsidized housing declared in 2011. Instead, the tenants demand a fixed rate of 4 Euro per square meter for their apartments.
We are writing this article as scholars working on migration and racism from different disciplinary perspectives (European Ethnology, Urban Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Social Sciences, Sociology, and Cultural Studies); as interdisciplinary and independent researchers working on Germany as a migration society; and as neighbors at Kottbusser Tor who pay close attention to the history and present of migration to and in Berlin. From these vantage points, we took note of this protest right away and have come to admire it greatly.
We support Kotti & Co and their Gecekondu and we share their demands. It is worth stressing that our concern for these issues does not stem from a one-sided research interest. Granted, several students have already submitted final theses centering on Kotti & Co, colleagues have launched research projects, and many academics have become part of the protest and are discussing their experiences with Berlin’s housing market in their seminars. But Kotti & Co itself is also incorporating academic research as part of their campaign: they plan on organizing a conference on public housing this fall that promises to enable a Berlin-wide discussion about living, housing and rental structures in this city. We strongly believe that this conversation cannot succeed without envisioning and understanding Berlin as a city of migration.
Counter to the mainstream media portrayal of this protest along the lines of “Turks being expelled from Kreuzberg,” we interpret the resistance that is being articulated at Kottbusser Tor as reaching far beyond the protest of a particular group. In fact, not all people living at “Kotti” are people who migrated to Berlin from Turkey, most of whom have become Germans by now anyway. But this is not even the point. Rather, this protest addresses rental conditions for all of us, and the conditions of living and collective life in a society constituted by migration that are integral to this city. Which is precisely why this protest has a lot to say about Berlin’s future – in the best possible sense.
We are excited by the fact that this protest will also touch migration studies. Especially because this convergence signals an end to the kind of migration studies that seeks to identify an ‘ethnic minority’ whose special character and ‘willingness’ to integrate itself (read code for assimilation) is being probed and problematized. What insights can be gained from these old paradigms of ethnicity, cultural identity and integration/assimilation? Very few – the protest at Kotti makes this perfectly clear. We do not need yet another version of ‘research about immigrants’ in this city, what we need is a kind of research that has understood that this society is unthinkable without migration.
Urban History as a History of Migration
This protest produces an audible echo of the history of our migration society. This echo carries the sound of an integrative force modeling democratic public debate. Many of the protesters of Kotti & Co have lived in this so-called problematic Großraumsiedlung (“housing projects”). And many of those who live here were amongst the first people who in the 1960s started to turn Kreuzberg into the ‘multicultural’ neighborhood it is designated today. In the 1970s, Kreuzberg, as a neighborhood that stretched around the Berlin wall, was considered largely unattractive. The historic buildings were deteriorating, but immigrants who were often denied access to housing in other neighborhoods, centered their lives here. Alongside the squatter movement they fixed up apartments and made them inhabitable. Later, many of them started living in the newly built privately owned subsidized housing at Kottbusser Tor. This brought about networks and neighborhood communities that many of their families and friends feel at home in today. Over the years, these early generations of tenants witnessed and welcomed many changes in their Kiez (neighborhood), be it when students and ‘lefty’ communities moved here in the 1970s and 80s, or when international tenants and tourists arrived over the last few years. And even now, as city wide frustration over rent increases in Berlin grows, and as many jump to put the blame on tourists and artists moving to the neighborhood, the activists at Kottbusser Tor, instead of attacking these newcomers, are looking for inclusive answers. This inclusiveness is extremely promising. After all, these tenants are the real experts in ‘integration’; they were the ones who created the spaces and places in Kreuzberg many people would like to move to and live in today.
New Forms of Segregation?
Something is very wrong in this city when even the “Jobcenter” (unemployment office) cannot cover the rent for subsidized housing. Initial studies indicate that the tenants are developing their own analyses of this process. At Kotti and in many other parts of Kreuzberg people interpret the politics of privatization of public housing as an all too familiar message: We are not wanted here. Many tenants still remember the 1970s phrase “Ghetto Kreuzberg” that carried an easy racist equation: immigrants were to blame for the lack of living space and unemployment in Berlin. Others draw intuitive connections to the kind of discrimination that has been documented for the housing market: When you say your name on the phone – whether it is for a home in Charlottenburg or Kreuzberg – the apartment has already been rented. In fact, housing related discrimination is taking on ever-new shapes. In Kreuzberg’s Düttmannkiez for instance the tenants were suddenly told to take down all their satellite dishes. In a building in the Fanny-Hensel-Siedlung only the tenants with Turkish and Arab names received horrendous raises in rent. And these are only a few examples.
This also makes us wonder to what extent the Jobcenter’s demand that people decrease their rental costs or else move to Marzahn or Spandau is connected to the Senate’s claim that the population in Kreuzberg and at Kotti is in need of “better mixing”. If the issue really was de-segregation, surely the better-off neighborhoods in Dahlem and Zehlendorf could use some “better mixing”, too. As the latest statistics show, poor segments of the population are increasingly being displaced and pushed to the outskirts of the city. Due to Germany’s history of migration, these developments hit the migrant population disproportionately and with a special kind of force. We cannot afford to let this slide; we need to challenge these conditions.
For many people at Kotti, segregation aligns itself with painful memories: There’s the story that Kreuzberg was the only place where one could get an apartment in the 1960s and 70s; and then the 1975 Zuzugssperre (moving restriction based on nationality) that literally marked people’s passports with the message that this was a neighborhood they were not allowed to move to anymore. Despite the fact that such disciplinary measures are impertinent and that they have long been undermined by strategies of migration, their renewal has been considered at times. All of this is part of the tenants’ collective memory and it is being reactivated at this moment. Then and now it is nonsensical that the inhabitants in Kreuzberg cannot choose their place of living like most other Berliners and that they are not allowed to live and stay where they can feel safe and at home, which they cannot everywhere in this city.
Living in the City of Migration
In these times of crisis, when communities are in debt and will remain so on the long run; when young, well educated people from Southern Europe are making their way to this city in search of a future; when the suspension of the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance has undermined access to welfare for many citizens of the EU; when financial capital from all over the world is looking for investments in the form of real estate and land in this city; in these times Kotti & Co’s protest is visionary.
This protest is not just about the ostensibly special interest topic of “public housing” and it is not just about a few tenants of Kotti’s new privately owned public housing buildings. Instead, this protest addresses a fundamental topic that pertains to the entire city, and other cities in fact. Be it Kreuzberg, Neukölln or other neighborhoods, the issues at stake are rent increase, and investors who buy entire blocks to realize their next strategies for profit. All of this points to an ugly future. A future resembling cities like New York or London where the rent for minimal living space can take up more than half of people’s income, where people spend several hours a day on public transportation because they cannot afford an apartment in the city.
A Different Language of Protest
The protesters at Kotti & Co have begun to tackle these matters themselves, to gather the necessary information, to understand what is happening in this neighborhood and others. They are doing this by taking their protest to public places and by inviting us for tea at the Gecekondu. And they are doing this by staging ‘Lärmdemos’, noisy protests equipped with the sound of pots and pans, if necessary every Saturday. The atmosphere at the Kotti Gecekondu is one of openness; everyone is invited to the conversations, to participate, to contribute, and to envision their own forms of protest.
The protest of Kotti & Co invites Berlin to become a democratic city. A city that everyone can afford, that does not become a ghetto of the rich. An inner city where different people can live together and where the cost of living space remains reasonable. We will lose the kind of city that attracts us and so many tourists to our neighborhoods if we do not support what Kotti & Co has started here.
We are convinced: Only broad support and the multiplication of the democratic practices we see here will make it possible for Berlin to remain a livable place in these times of continuous crisis. The kind of Berlin that many people long for who want to live and let live differently can only survive if we re-invent democracy in this city. Democracy, after all, means this: living with the contradictions, the differences, and the potential for cooperation that characterize our coexistence.
The protest at Kotti teaches us to see our world through the eyes of others, as a society in movement, a society of migration. – A perspective that challenges and enriches our research at once.
That is Kotti & Co’s offer. And we don’t want to decline it.
Translated by Noemi Molitor, M.A. (Emory University, USA)
Berlin, September 2012
Dr. Manuela Bojadzijev (Humboldt Universität)
Dr. des. Birgit zur Nieden (Humboldt Universität)
Dr. Serhat Karakayali (Universität Halle)
Prof. Dr. Birgit Rommelspacher (Alice Salomon Fachhochschule)
Prof. Dr. Juliane Karakayali (Evangelische Hochschule Berlin)
Prof. Dr. Iman Attia (Alice Salomon Fachhochschule)
Prof. Dr. Micha Bodemann (University of Toronto)
Prof. Dr. Gökce Yurdakül (Humboldt Universität)
Dr. Mark Terkessidis (Freier Autor, Berlin)
Dr. Naika Foroutan (Humboldt Universität)
Gastprof. Dr. Isabell Lorey (Berlin, Universität Basel)
Prof. Dr. Regina Römhild (Humboldt Universität)
Dr. Antke Engel (Institut für Queer Theory, Berlin)
Prof. Dr. Werner Schiffauer (Europa-Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder)
Prof. Dr. Ina Kerner (Humboldt Universität)
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kaschuba (Humboldt Universität)
Prof. Dr. María do Mar Castro Varela (Alice Salomon Hochschule)
Prof. Dr. Nikita Dhawan (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)
 Gecekondu means “built overnight” and is a reference to houses built by migrants moving from rural areas to the outskirts of small and large cities in Turkey. If built between dusk and dawn, the government is not allowed to tear down these houses without engaging in legal proceedings in court.
The form of our protest:
Merhaba, Salam, and welcome!
At the end of May we set up our protest-house against high rents and displacement, our Gecekondu, at Kottbusser Tor in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Since then we have taken to the streets day and night to protest against the Senate’s politics. We‘ve had enough! Too many had to move away already, too many of us are absolutely desperate – because the rents are too high. Yet, the Senate isn’t doing anything on our behalf as tenants.
We’ve had enough and we are determined to fight these conditions; everyday more people are joining us. We are not individual cases. Many who used to say, “this won’t make a difference,” are now coming to the protest-camp, are taking on night shifts and are marching with us at our rallies. Our seemingly individual problems only remain “private” issues if we don’t come together! We can feel it – together we are strong and we can become even stronger. Experiencing this has been truly delightful.
Our Gecekondu is an open space. Here, we get to know each other (better) over a cup of tea or coffee and it is here where we exchange ideas. We organize events, movie nights and concerts. We provide information about our protest and about tenant rights, meet new people or simply enjoy Kotti at summer time.
Everyone who comes to the Gecekondu is welcome. It is a special place because we all feel responsible for making sure that everyone can feel comfortable and that this space is open and welcoming. Considering all our differences, the Gecekondu already represents a bit of lived Utopia – or as a matter of fact, ordinariness.
Empty phrases like “multi-kulti”, “integration” or “tolerance” don’t apply to us. Our community is about the ordinary encounters and conversations between a diverse group of people. We don’t just ‘tolerate’ each other, we are curious to get to know each other and we approach each other with respect.
We would like to express a big thank-you to all the people who have contributed to our struggle over the last weeks, who took on shifts at the Gecekondu, brought cake, made signs, offered activities for children, organized events, passed out flyers, donated, gave a concert, showed films, and brought their neighbors; to everyone who offered help, cleaned up, brought flowers, and came to the “Lärmdemos“ (noisy protests); and to everyone who simply keeps expressing their curiosity, interest and solidarity. Thank you – we could not have come this far without you!
We know this much: we represent a diversity of political stances, social opinions, assessments, histories and ways of life. We are tenants. More or less by chance, we share a roof over our heads and more – such as the trouble with the rent here at Kotti. We have an open heart and like to discuss with one another, and sometimes we don’t. In the beginning of our organizing we came together with respect, curious to get to know each other. Today, after over a year of Kotti&Co and many months at the Gecekondu at Kotti we know that we did the right thing. Many friendships were formed at Kotti&Co and conspicuous protest has grown out of it.
We did not choose this fight against rent increase. The fight came to us. We are neighbors that have to engage in politics because the policy makers are ignoring us. But through this political protest we created something beautiful together: a space that is open to anyone who comes here. This is not just a meeting point for neighbors: in these past weeks and months we have encountered the most diverse group of people from all over Berlin and elsewhere. The media sometime portray us as wanting to stay amongst ourselves, but you just have to step inside the Gecekondu and you will start meeting new people and having conversations with them.
Obviously, the Gecekondu is not a bubble – it reflects this society with all its lines of demarcation and irritation. ‘Parallel societies’ made up of Hartz VI (unemployment aid) and secure jobs; of higher education and secondary High School degrees; of German, Persian, Arabic, English and Turkish; of big, small, young and old… Everyday we live with a thousand contradictions, prejudices and boxes. Just like the ones that constitute this society today. We are living this mix anyway and meeting each other half-way. Not just because we have urgent political demands, but also because neighbors, because a city-district, a Kiez (neighborhood) should look exactly like this. And that is worth fighting for just as much as our tenant rights.
So what’s going on?
We have been way too silent for way too long. The problem of rent increase and high operating costs has existed for years now. Many of us were afraid of their landlords and of losing their apartments. Many people are having trouble with the ‘Jobcenter’ (unemployment office), others gave up before even starting to fight or after having had to fight alone for too long. But now we are coming together to tell each other about the terror that many landlords and the Jobcenter put us through. We swap tips and tricks, together we come up with many ideas of how to fight back that we could not have figured out alone.
In just a few weeks we were able to raise public awareness about displacement, rent increase, public housing and racism. The over 100 news articles, radio broadcasts, and TV-coverage from these past weeks got through to many people in this city and carried our message far beyond Berlin. Our website, www.kottiundco.net, has hundreds of visitors daily and gives hope and strength to countless people who are in similar situations. People who want to share their experiences and exchange ideas visit our Gecekondu. They matter. You matter. And your neighbor matters, too!
Things are moving: Following all the supporters and the hundreds of people who come out to our rallies, the BVV (borough assembly) Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg has told us know that they have our back (with exception of the Christian Democratic Union/CDU). The opposition supports our demands; and we are having initial conversation with the Senate – even though it took Senator Müller an entire month to respond to our open letter we are confident that the Senate cannot ignore us any longer. Business owners in Kreuzberg are expressing solidarity. Slowly but steadily Berlin based lobbies, interest groups, associations, and other organizations are reacting to the problem of displacement, to our protest.
What are our demands?
We here at Kotti (tenants of GSW & Hermes, privately owned subsidized public housing) are fighting for concrete goals: we demand an immediate rent-stop for all Großsiedlungen (“projects”), Wassertorplatz, Mariannenplatz Düttmann-Siedlung, Rollbergviertel, etc., and a maximum rate of 4,- Euro Nettokaltmiete (rent before operating costs) per square meter.
As you know: the rent is at a catastrophic height – not just in public housing. But in the case of public housing the government is directly involved. Even though private owners of public housing have received subsidies for years, a rent limit was never established. The GSW is overcharging their tenants for operating costs and even though this has already been a topic of discussion at the Urban Planning Committee twice the Senate has not stepped in. That is why we demand a maximum rate of 4,- Euro per square meter Nettokaltmiete until the government does something against the over-charge of operating costs by the GSW.
We are also reaching out to others in the city who, like us, are not willing to accept that Berlin is turning into an anti-social city before our eyes; and to those who have no interest in prestigious objects, but instead want the people who make up this city to continue to be able to shape the city we love.
We vote for the kind of social and sustainable city planning that deserves its name. We welcome the fact that the Senate is finally acknowledging the problem of rent increase. Unfortunately it seems that many politicians are just playing catch-up with the problems. Senator Müller had only one message to offer to the tenants of the 160.000 existing social housing apartments (and of the 28.000 for which subsidizing ended): “I am willing to accept cases of social hardships.” Thus we have to wonder, with how much arrogance and cynicism does the government treat its own city?
These days, it seems that it is the active inhabitants and tenants in this city who are coming up with new ideas, visions and models, and not the politicians. We salute these people with all our heart; and we would like to encourage you – if nothing else, through our protest – to keep fighting for your vision of Berlin as a city of respect, participation, and social and political rights.
Who we are…
We are Kreuzberg – and not just since yesterday. We! There really is no one term that can grasp us, no category. In fact, the following colloquial expressions reflect how helpless the German language is at the moment since it cannot even adequately describe us: “Germans”, “foreigners”, “guest workers”, “people with a migration history”, “Turkish-Germans”, etc., etc.
We are a community that the world of Sarrazin & Co has no space for. We are trainees, terirees, doctor’s assitants, nurses, engineers on unemployment; we are insurance sales people who studied sociology, we are metal workers who are writing their dissertation, marketers, designers who work in the cultural industry; we are the children of people who have worked hard all their lives after coming here through the recruitment agreements Germany upheld with Turkey and other nation-states form the 1950 to the 1970s. We are a little bit German, Turkish, Iranian, Circassian, Afghan or Kurdish – whatever that may mean. Some of us have names that the teachers at school don’t know what to do with or that prompt them to tell us that we are not suited for finishing school. We’ve had to fight racism and social exclusion all our lives, as well as Hartz VI and poverty among the elderly in this society. We are old, and we are young. We believe in Allah, God, or simply in a just society.
And today we are fighting for our right to stay. Why would people tell us to move to Marzahn or Spandau? It will take at least 50 years to introduce “intercultural competence” and alternative cultures back into the Mehrheitsgesellschaft (“majority population”) there, to democratize these neighborhoods, to find schools where our children don’t have to fight with Nazis, to build theatres, mosques, kindergardens and market places. We are staying in Kreuzberg. We will stay in the inner city. And we will remain mixed.
Senator Müller, governor Wowereit und their government will keep hearing from us. We can’t be tired out. Our existence is at stake. This city is at stake. This struggle is about a right to the city. It is about overpriced rents, about displacing us from our home. And it is about transforming our neighborhoods so that they can look like we, the inhabitants, envision them. We are demanding our rights. We are Kreuzberg. We are Berlin. We will stay central city.
How can you participate? What can you contribute?
- Write your own calls to action, emails, etc. and ask your communities and political circles to participate in the struggle against displacement, social ignorance, racist segregation, and for a city that belongs to the tenants.
- Support us by taking on shifts at the Gecekondu.
- Put up our flyers and posters at your own apartment buildings or at your work place.
- Organize events, concerts or activities for children at the Gecekondu.
- Come over and bring your friends out to the rallies.
- Come have tea with us at Kotti.
- Write letters to the editor – it’s easy to do (online and offline).
Kotti & Co, August 2012.
The tenant community at Kottbusser Tor.
 Gecekondu, Turkish: House built over night.
here to see > an english video clip on our current struggle here
please share : )
Dear tourists and english speaking friends!
this is a protest camp of a tenant group located at kottbusser tor / south.
as you might haved heard – rising rent and gentrification is a big problem for us living in berlin.
here you can read our demands. if you are curious – just stop by – have a tee and chat with us.
become part of our protest – “be berlin” as our goverment would say
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What are we doing here?
The “Kotti & Co” Statement on Protest at Kottbusser Tor
- We are protesting against the high rents at Kottbusser Tor!
- We are protesting against annual rent increases for social housing units.
- We are protesting the lack of a cap on social housing rents.
- We are protesting against the displacement of people who have been living here for decades.
- We are protesting against indifferent property managers (& house owner) Hermes and GSW and their unwillingness to negotiate.
- We are protesting against the Berlin Senate’s failure to act when it comes to rental and social housing policies. The city’s Housing Act as it stands now is not solving tenants’ problems!
- We are protesting against Berlin’s ludicrous social housing system that, for decades now, has distributed million of euros in public money to property owners. This was done even though a) the properties have long been paid off b) politicians in this city did not secure any regulatory measures to influence developments on the rental housing market.
We have no time to lose! We need solutions that will bring immediate results. Words of comfort and understanding can’t since it doesn’t help us pay the rent. We won’t allow the property managers and policy makers to wait out the problem! That’s why we’re protesting at Kotti.
We are not the only ones demanding a “right to live in the city.” Changes created by a city government that prioritises attracting investment are directly affecting the present and future lives of many Berliners. That’s why we are inviting all those who believe that their right to live in the city should not be determined by the marketplace to join in our protest.
We’re asking the governing parties SPD and CDU:
- To reintroduce a rent control at 4 Euro (basic net rent) per square metre for subsidised social housing!
- To reduce the economic rents of social housing, introduce clearly defined regulations, and eliminate the profit made from fictitious costs!
- To face the complex issue of Berlin’s social housing policy and not always point to state-owned housing or housing under construction. The issue at hand concerns current low-income tenants living in units that were built by private owners on behalf of Berlin’s city government!
- To make social housing public! Private owners have benefited long enough from subsidies and the properties in question have long been paid off. Reverse the mistakes of West Berlin’s subsidy policies that have only ever helped investors and property owners.
- To organise (in cooperation with the political parties in opposition) a conference on Berlin’s social housing for the fall of 2012. Invite experts on urban and housing politics, citizens’ and tenant initiatives, and academics, lawyers, and economists with the goal to develop a sustainable and tenant-friendly solution.
We’re asking property management companies:
- To fulfil their jobs of providing affordable housing given that they’ve been receiving state subsidies for years!
- To apologise for repeatedly ignoring our invitations (as well as those of the municipality and the senate) to address these issues!
- To follow the municipality’s resolution from March 28th 2012 and enter into a dialogue with tenants.
- To fulfil a landlord’s responsibilities to maintain buildings and flats.
- To work together to develop a concrete plan (with us and policy makers at the municipal and state level) that will reduce both rents and utility costs.
- To look for ways to restructure loans in order to lower fictitious costs!
We’re asking the opposition parties “The Greens,” “The Left Party,” and the “Pirates”:
- To provide long-term support for our demands in all of the committees.
- To help us assess, research and compile information.
- And above all, to develop a feasible plan that solves the city’s social housing issues.
We expect from the media and press:
- To cover the issues in a sensitive way. We’re not animals in a zoo. Requests for individual interviews will be carefully considered. It will depend on the sensitivity of the interviewer whether or not an interview will take place inside the apartments or not. There are more than enough requests for interviews that want to portray the “Turks in Kreuzberg.” We’re not a cliché. There is no “typical Turkish family,” despite what so many think. We are first and foremost tenants affected by the threat of displacement. It should be our decision if we want to speak about our Turkish, Tunisian, Circassian, German or Afghan backgrounds – and if we do, we will also address racism in Germany.
- To provide responsible and continuous coverage beyond the daily political business.
- To participate in the discussion of a liveable Berlin for everyone, with a special consideration for the issues relevant to Berlin’s tenants.
We’re asking the Job Centre Staff:
- To stop sending out requests to lower one’s costs of “accommodation” in social housing until solutions are found!
- To treat us respectfully and graciously!
- To carefully check over the landlord’s utility and operating costs.
We’re asking our new neighbours, high-income earners and tourists:
- To support our camp, help us during the night watch; bring chairs, colours, chalkstone, ideas and cake! Protest along with us!
We’re inviting artists and cultural producers:
- To support our campaigns, workshops, readings, concerts…
- To discuss with us how cultural and housing policies not dominated by the marketplace can look like – and still keep Berlin attractive for everyone.
We’re inviting other citizens’ initiatives, “neighbourhood” initiatives, tenants, and tenant organisers:
- To visit and help us keep the camp vibrant and strong. To help us come up with more political actions. To spread the word about our camp. Come participate!
What can you do to help us?
- Come and visit us and spend some time with us at the protest camp.
- Bring friends, family and colleagues with you and let them know about our political actions.
- Visit our daily 6 pm assemblies.
- Donate cakes to be sold (for our donation box).
- Give away our stickers, postcards and leaflets.
- Write commentaries in newspapers and on websites.
- Read updates on our blog:
or on Facebook: Kotti Undco