At least he’s honest: Berlin’s mayor rejects democracy

A big majority of Berliners voted to socialize big corporate landlords. Kai Wegner’s response: Nein


It’s rare that the mayor of our fine city makes the international news. When he does, it’s usually an embarrassment, like when he accused an Israeli filmmaker of antisemitism, right before he embraced Elon Musk who repeatedly makes headlines with accusations of antisemitism. Kai Wegner would be well-qualified to lead a right-wing Stammtisch in some small town, but he seems out of place representing our cosmopolitan city.

Yet Wegner, the master of empty smiles and racist clichés, has suddenly experienced a burst of honesty when he declared: »As long as I’m mayor, big housing companies will not be expropriated in this city.« This is new.

It’s been almost three years since a huge majority of Berliners voted to socialize big corporate landlords. This was incredibly popular: 1,035,950 voted for Enteignung – the number would have been even higher if over 20 percent of Berliners were not excluded from voting. Wegner is far less popular – his CDU got just 428,228 votes, concentrated in the suburbs.

In a democracy, politicians would implement the voters’ decision. Yet Berlin’s politicians didn’t feel like it. Instead, they carried out a years-long, completely unconvincing theater: Both Wegner and his social democratic deputy Franziska Giffey assured us they would turn the people’s will into law – they just needed more time!

First, they created an »expert commission« to investigate whether Germany’s Basic Law allows expropriations. (You can check that yourself in a few seconds, with no expertise required.) Then, they said an »expropriation framework law« was required as a precursor to an »expropriation law«. This was not true – and they have since admitted they weren’t working on the framework law either. Endless delaying tactics.

So Wegner deserves some praise for ending this charade. He’s had the courage to say indirectly: Fuck the will of the Berliners.

Meanwhile, Berlin’s landlords continue to run amok. In just the last year, rents in the city shot up by almost 19 percent. Many real estate companies refuse to do even the most basic maintenance, leading to dystopian scenes in housing projects. As »nd« reported, at the Weiße Siedlung in Neukölln, there weren’t even reairs after a fire!

Wegner’s government has instead been buying back apartments at inflated prices. They just gave €700 million to Vonovia for 4,500 units. These are often units that the city privatized two decades ago at fire sale prices. Investors let the properties rot – and are now selling them back for several times more than they paid.

The dealings between Berlin’s politicians and reality speculators are so legendary that it has a long-established name: Berliner Filz. I often wonder if Wegner and his predecessors are sincere in their racist fear-mongering about »clan criminality« – for them, this is probably just a convenient distraction from the mismanagement of the public coffers.

When there is money to be made, Berlin’s rulers toss democracy to the wayside. This was already the case with the referendum on the development of Tempelhofer Feld.

What worries me is that people can feel like »democracy« gives them nothing but a housing crisis and so they turn to the »alternative« presented by the Far Right. The irony, of course, is that the AfD has close ties to billionaire speculators, and wants to make things even worse for renters.

Real democracy would mean putting Berlin’s housing under public control. Real democracy is when masses of people go onto the streets in defense of their interests, like at the upcoming demonstration against »rent insanity« on June 1.

The English-speaking housing campaign Right to the City are not putting their heads down. They told me they’ve had a lot of successes recently contesting rent increases. Their advice: »Organize! Know your rights! Sue your landlord«. The campaign to expropriate big landlords is currently organizing a signature campaign to get an expropriation law passed directly.

Wegner, by the way, is still in favor of expropriations in order to build an inner-city freeway through Friedrichshain. As if he only rejects expropriations if the goal is affordable rents.

This article is a mirror of Nathaniel’s Red Flag column for Neues Deutschland. Reproduced with permission