Whether it's up in the air, in a construction container or on the water, Berliners are inventive when it comes to alternative - and affordable - living. People can learn from that, says columnist Gero Schliess.
It's not certain whether the bathroom-size apartment is a true Berliner invention. Just like the sandman or the pancake. Nonetheless, this smallest possible living space - usually a tiny one-room - is very popular in Berlin. It used to be reserved for chronically strapped students who are barely able to get a roof over their heads. But now it's becoming more and popular in other social classes.
Only house-squatting is nicer
Whether it's larger families or refugees, everyone is getting by with less space these days. And not because cuddling has suddenly become an ultimate discipline among Berliners. It's more that they must. The one-room apartment is the last exit before the journey leads them into communal accommodations or to a spot under the bridge.
People rent apartments in Berlin: 87 percent are rented out. Apartment ownership stands at 13 percent, on par with the national average. But the city tops the list for both rent spikes and the lack of available apartments. At the moment, 125,000 are lacking in the capitol. And the numbers get worse: five times the number of people move to Berlin than the number of apartments being built.
And what is the Berlin Senate doing about it? Good question! Next question. On the other hand, Berliners don't let themselves get down too easily. Thankfully. And they also have great ideas.
As an alternative to the one-room apartment, people have cultivated living on wheels. All by themselves, without any help from the government. Located in Pankow, in the north-eastern part of the city, is a small construction trailer village. You can buy a 10-square-meter (108-square-foot) brightly colored wagon for just 3,000 euros ($3,400).
Rent for the spot still has to be paid to the city, however. Some 100 people live here. For the kids, it's a non-stop party playground. But it's also a dream for the parents. Only house-squatting is better, they may admit in weaker moments when recalling the past.
Living in the Spree:public
A nice way to live, too, is as a pirate, such as in the Rummelsburger Bucht (cove). True, it's where well-situated Berliners relax on the weekend from their busy jobs. But that's not the pirates' problem. They have established a floating utopia there, the "Spree:publik," and it's the epitome of free living. It goes without saying that its members are vehemently against gentrification and exorbitant rents. They have linked up boats and rafts into a kind of dam in the middle of the cove. They may live there with great enthusiasm - but without a docking permit.
A Berlin Senate study found that the Rummelsburger Bucht would be a good spot for 1,200 new apartments - of course, in the higher price range. That would be the end of the "Spree:publik." But for now, the pirates have luck on their side: the "floating lofts" project was overturned before the first planks could even be nailed together.
Living up in the sky
Necessity is the mother of invention. But Berlin-based entrepreneur Kolja Stegemann was inventive even without necessity. He built himself a treehouse in the park area near the Zehlendorf district: 28 square meters up in the sky. It has a built-in kitchen and rainwater shower. There's no doorbell, but it does have a mailbox. It's meanwhile become a business model and can be rented. In this form, it's not really an option for gentrification victims, but what about a "treehouse light" model?
Organizers of the so-called "Wohnprojekttage" - seminars for learning about alternative ways of living in various German cities - only recently invited people to discuss self-organized living spaces in Berlin. Anyone who takes a glimpse at www.experimentdays.de will see: Berlin is a mecca for people who come up with creative ways of living. They live in mini-houses they have built themselves, in disused schools, or in abandoned industrial ruins.
It's high time that these diverse ideas for single living be turned into viable options for living for the many. Hey, you Berlin Senators, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get to work! Otherwise, it's time to sit in detention in the treehouse.
The "Berlin Morgenpost" paper recently reported that the Senate wants to build 32 new accommodations for refugees as "modules." They should stay intact for 50 years. Reading the fine print, I see that they are also supposed to be open for other users. Hopefully, that's not the only idea the Senate has for "alternative living."