Vacation apartments feel the squeeze in Berlin | Scene in Berlin | DW | 21.06.2013
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Scene in Berlin

Vacation apartments feel the squeeze in Berlin

Tourism is booming in Berlin and rents have skyrocketed. To appease anti-gentrification protesters, the city has introduced a ban on the rental of private apartments to visitors. It's not fair, says DW's Leah McDonnell.

Oy vey. That's all I can say when it comes one ludicrous law recently passed in Berlin: a ban on vacation apartment rentals. As of this year, in specific districts, private persons are forbidden from renting out their properties as short-term vacation apartments.

Why not just shoot yourself in the foot Berlin? All this wailing and whining about our ailing economy: not enough industry and commerce, too many eternally unemployed persons, not enough individual start-ups…

Ok, I'm a vacation apartment owner myself. I somehow managed to scrape together enough money to buy a property a few years back when the apartment prices were so low in some areas they were practically giving them away.

In my experience, visitors want to experience a real Berliner "Schnauze," its unique cultural mix, and get caught up in the endemic rogue naughtiness of the Berlin mindset - something the pristine Waldorf Astoria or the legendary Hotel Adlon can't provide.

Living in the 'hood, tourists don't read about Berlin's local color in the Lonely Planet - they discover it for themselves.

In recent years Berlin has become the "it-girl" among national and international travelers and one reason the tourism has grown so rapidly and seamlessly here is the vast availability of vacation apartments. They enable tourists to not just "visit" the city, but to become part of it, to merge with its social structure and rhythm.

Last week, as I was checking in a family from Turkey for a lovely stay in our fair city, I realized I've already met half the world with my little business. Car mechanic interns from Spain, a young Swiss guy working in IT, a group of French city-planners, Israeli music-makers, Germans from the boondocks of Saxony, American professors - the list goes on.

Paying the price in boom times

In short, vacation flats have made Berlin more attractive and accessible to a greater diversity of visitors than ever before. On websites advertising "Ferienwohnungen" in Berlin you find apartments to satisfy every taste and price range, from the crème de la crème of posh penthouses in Mitte to a basic flat in Kreuzberg with a toilet in the stairwell closet.

The anti-vacation flats lobby claims the business is driving up rents. True, rents have risen lately but it's because more folks are moving here - something I see as a good thing.

An elderly woman looks out of the window of a graffiti covered Berlin apartment. Photo: Wolfram Steinberg.

Who needs a luxury hotel? Vacation apartments allow visitors to experience the real Berlin

I think this lashing-out against vacation apartments is Berliners trying to hold onto the past - when everything was dirt cheap, and the city was a kind of sanctuary for alternatives and people who never wanted to grow up.

Instead of accepting the fact that there is a price to pay for life in the big city getting bigger, Berlin is reverting to sabotaging its own economic and cultural growth by aborting the vacation apartment industry's organic development.

Some anti-vacation flat propagandists say that tourists staying in their neighborhoods party all night and disturb the community. Many tourists do of course party - but they do it in the slew of clubs, discos and lounges Berlin is famous for. Why bother coming to a city notorious for the best nightlife in Europe, to hang-out in your own four-walls?

I might remind these nay-saying Berliners to take a look at who is blasting Schlager music, Beyonce or Billy Joel at three in the morning so loud it drowns out the garbage trucks? My guess is it's NOT my guests, the small-town German couple, the American professor or the French city planners…

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