Special Spaces

Order in the Borough

The decision of the district office of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Berlin from June 12, 2012 to BA-Vorlage Nr. lV_058 2012, („Umgang mit Neu- und Verlängerungsanträgen zu Sondernutzungen öffentlichen Straßenlandes im Zuständigkeitsbereich des Ordnungsamtes; Kriterien für die Erteilung von Sondernutzungserlaubnissen auf Gehwegen“/ „Dealing with new and renewal applications for exceptional uses of public street areas under the responsibility of the Office of Public Order (Ordnungsamt); criteria for the granting of exceptional use permits on sidewalks“) should be reviewed “in light of numerous complaints, the practice of granting permits for sidewalk restaurant seating, and with regard to pedestrians (1)“. As a result here and there a furnishing zone (sidewalk area between the curb and pedestrian zone) was returned to the public, but elsewhere generous sidewalk areas have been conceded solely to restaurants which have displaced other types of businesses. Large areas of public space such as wider sidewalk sections and furnishing zones are still being snatched away from residents and rented out to gastronomic facilities at ridiculously low rates.

„Permits for sidewalk restaurant seating serve not only the interests of the gastronomic establishments. Sidewalk restaurant seating in urban settings belongs to the cultural environment and is appreciated by residents and tourists alike. Due to the large number of visitors, local retailers and other commercial enterprises enjoy advantages. Ultimately, sidewalk restaurant seating is indispensable to the image of the city of Berlin (2).“

The privatization of public space supposedly represents a cultural enrichment and is appreciated by local residents, despite „numerous complaints”. The Office of Public Order in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg decides what makes a neighborhood livable. Nobody should even dare to question these indispensable „benefits“. Despite the previous „round tables“ in a local facility for senior citizens, no mandatory use or tourism plan has been coordinated with local residents.

Fact is also that sidewalk restaurants were previously never part of Wrangelkiez. Even in the Görlitzer Strasse, vis-à-vis Görlitzer Park, where there actually is space for outdoor seating, up until a few years ago there were no major „beer gardens“. In Wrangelstrasse one saw not more than a couple of chairs placed in front of a men’s club or pub on a hot summer day where a host gossiped with a few regulars.
The other day, a small café owner told me straight-faced that the expansive seating area in front of a mainly residential building – staked out with long rows of flower pots – is intended to cater to local residents. Alone, the adjacent vacation apartment on the ground floor connected with this café contradicts this absurd and mendacious self-assessment.

Marginalized Residents

„Reduced traffic areas may only be established in streets with a predominantly pedestrian function. In this respect, outdoor seating underscores the leisurely character. (3)“

The original intention of public space has now been twisted against residents in that the characteristic multifunctional use has been narrowly redefined into private commercial use. But, it gets better:

„Permit holders for sidewalk areas shall be granted simultaneously not only responsibility, but also de facto authority within the permit area. In this respect, the permit holder can prohibit children from bicycling or even playing within the permit area. The same applies to adult non-patrons whether inside or outside the establishment. The interior of the restaurant is indeed extended to include the permit area in front. (4)“

By means of granting domiciliary rights, public areas are fully privatized. Accordingly, these areas lose their neighborly and multifunctional character. These areas are not even „semi-public“. The social qualities of public space are subordinate to profit maximization and private control.

For children, the affects of the private appropriation of public space are devastating. Children, insofar as they are not accompanying their patronizing parents, suffer disadvantages due to a massive expansion of domiciliary rights in front of their apartment buildings; their playing out front is completely dependent on the goodwill of the new “landlord”. The bicycle of a preschooler could bring creative cocktails on the tables to a tipping point. A loud child’s game, a ball … any of these “mishaps“ could impinge on earnings of a restaurateur.

Likewise in Görlitzer Park, massive – legal and illegal – economic interests compromise the general residential character of public spaces. Residents may edge through remaining areas of public space between apartment buildings, crowds of feasting tourists and speeding cars, some sections of which are monitored by private video cameras, until they reach the park, where they are carefully accessed as potential customers for anything from ice cream to recreational drugs. In Görlitzer Park there remains only the children’s farm and a fenced off „barefoot” area, now misused as picnic grounds. The only commercial free area left is one’s own four walls… if the TV is off.

Tom Schade, member of the neighborhood initiative “WrangelkiezRat”, local resident for 25 years, spoke at the Berlin conference „Tourism in Residential Areas“: „Another possibility would be to apply the same rental rates to sidewalk areas as demanded for walled spaces, since pubs have a larger turnover outside than inside. Exceptional use permits, which cover the entire year, are far too cheap. Building owners now demand such high commercial rents, that restaurants and bars are „forced“ to earn revenues in front of their localities. (5)“

But again, compromises being sought on the basis of faits accomplis such as higher rents for the use of sidewalk space will hardly deter a restaurant or return public space to residents.

Blame the Tourist Game

„With more rubbish bins and toilets the borough government of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg plans to counter the negative effects of mass tourism in the neighborhood of Simon-Dach-Strasse. At a Green Party event, borough mayor Monika Herrmann recently announced an action plan. She defined tourism as a “marginalization motor“ (6).

The assessment that tourists would be causally responsible for the misery in Wrangelkiez is grotesque. Apparently, privately run vacation apartments and the borough’s massive exceptional use permits have no impact. The „(commercial) interests of restaurateurs“ are what attract “large numbers of visitors“. Where there’s one chair, there’s one seated patron; where there are hundreds of chairs, then there are a 100 people. If the borough mayor pompously promises to “cancel liquor licenses for pub proprietors who allow their guests to make noise out front after 11 pm“, then the insincerity of local politicians is apparent. Even with the discussions about applying §15 BauNVO in Wrangelkiez – recently applied in the Graefekiez neighborhood to stop further pub and restaurant permits – it’s much too late for Wrangelkiez. In fact, planning laws alone can’t prevent or correct „undesirable developments“ (7).

It should now be clear to any local initiative that the sell-out of public urban space constitutes an essential factor in the displacement process and for increases in commercial rents. And that these developments are practically the sole responsibility of local politicians. Additionally, the proliferation of vacation apartments puts pressure on residents and residential rents; both phenomena together lead to a reduction of shops for daily needs.

The street dances, the vast amounts of printed material with meager slogans and self presentations must not distract from real issues and their specific impacts. Instead of filling the „Map of Marginalization in SO36“ with advertising and tourist spots, named local vacation apartments and major losses in public space in front of the worst restaurants could be noted.

What if during “Bizim-Kiez” Wednesdays, an action called “This is our street !” during which as many outside tables as possible in the Falckensteinstrasse would be occupied by hundreds of people? If necessary, a glass of water can be ordered and sipped with relish for extended periods? T-shirts with a photo of our dedicated and populist popular borough mayor would accentuate the whole event with humor! Of course, the action would end at 11 pm. We wouldn’t want Frau Herrmann to have to be the party-pooper and be forced to take away liquor licenses; otherwise the neighborhood may possibly suffer serious damage to its image!

There are constructive approaches for residents to participate in the design of their neighborhoods, such as „Hannover creates space“.

„Among the respondents, public space has a high priority for their quality of life. Thus, the main motivation for participation in the town square program was in appreciation of their living and working environment. Driven to act in their spare time and participate in workshops, resulted from the respondents’ dissatisfaction with the design and usability, the traffic situation and the conditions of city squares. Prerequisite for this form of civic engagement is the political and administrative openness for the citizens‘ concerns and the prospect of influence. (8)“

William Wires, 18. August 2015

  1. Email vom Ordnungsamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, 17 Juni 2015. „Die gerichtliche Prüfung steht noch aus.“
  2. Email vom Ordnungsamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, 7. Aug. 2015
  3. Email vom Ordnungsamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, 17 Juni 2015
  4. Email vom Ordnungsamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, 17 Juni 2015
  5. „Erfahrungsaustausch“ Berliner Rathaus, Louise – Schroeder – Saal , 10178 Berlin, 10. April 2014.  http://www.lokal-leben.org/downloads/Erfahrungsaustausch_Veranstaltungsdokumentation.pdf
  6. Berliner Zeitung, 17. Juli 2015, http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/anwohner-brief-zur-simon-dach-strasse-an-monika-herrmann-gruene-sind-schuld-an-verdraengung-in-friedrichshain–nicht-touristen,10809148,31248480.html
  7. http://www.bizim-kiez.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Fehlentwicklung-Wrangelkiez.pdf
  8. „Das Stadtplatzprogramm „Hannover schafft Platz“ – Eine Zwischenbilanz“
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