Are Berlin’s Days as a Culture Capital Numbered?

Berlin Culture Secretary Tim Renner Photo: via Facebook

Berlin’s new cultural affairs secretary, Tim Renner is worried that the city’s fast-moving economic development might force artists and other culture-creators out of the city by 2030, he told the Berliner Zeitung.

As part of his entree into the role, Renner says that he sat down with key members of his new team to envision Berlin’s cultural landscape in 15 years. “The greatest danger that showed up…was that the culture could be completely gone from the city,” he says, “that the very thing, which actually brought about the [economic] recovery of Berlin and spurred migration to Berlin would be pushed to the margins.”

Since the fall of the wall, and particularly in the last 10-15 years, culture has exploded in the city thanks to an abundance of space and, in turn, cheap studio and apartment rents, even in the very center of town. That real estate has exploded in value in recent years, leading to an increasingly speculative market and the migration of artists, musicians, designers, and others to the city’s further reaches.

To a great extent, Renner suggests that those real estate developers have missed the point of why individuals are willing to pay increasingly high rents and sale prices within the city. “We must make it clear that people don’t flock to Berlin because of a secure job at [a major industrial firm like] Daimler and Bosch,” he says.

Rather, the wealth of culture and the possibility to create draws people to the city, he suggests. And, as a long-serving music industry exec, Renner knows well the economic benefits generated for the city by its cultural producers. “What are the areas in which Berlin is growing?” he asks. “Cultural and creative industries. And tourism. And why the tourists come? Because of the city’s culture!”

He fears that, if Berliners (or as it’s more likely, outside investors) lose sight of this long-term selling-point for the city, the international community will depart. If rents become comparable to more economically prosperous capitals such as New York or London, the comparative advantage of life in Berlin could disappear.

How to square the need for continued economic development—something to which Renner later clarified on social media that he believes culture does and must play a role in—with maintaining open space for culture-producers remains an immense challenge.

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