Hermannplatz is not the most beautiful meeting point. The noise of the car forces you to raise your voice. Only the regulars of the currywurst stalls drink their canned beer without flinching. The square has the charm of the old railway station district, three subway lines intersect here underground. Many people changing trains take the opportunity to shop in Karstadt.
But many things are about to change here, to become more beautiful, with the power of millions of dazzling billionaire juggler René Benko and his group Signa. However, only the agile building of Senator Andreas Geisel (SPD) is happy. Residents protest, strongly supported by the construction councilor of the city of Kreuzberg, Florian Schmidt (Greens). On Monday they delivered 6,000 signatures against the plans of Signa, who orchestrated the internal dispute of the case in the Urban Planning Commission.
The center of the dispute is whether to continue with the course of social urban development marked in the last legislature. This provides for a broad participation of residents, as well as a greater participation of non-profit areas in social rentals, including in projects by private investors. The alternative: accelerate the creation of construction rights, trusting that each investment will bring jobs and wealth.
Andreas Geisel is responsible for the latter. In the run-up to the committee meeting, he created facts by drawing up a “project-related development plan” (2-65 VE) in favor of a Signa company. The conversion and the new building on the Karstadt property are of “significance for the entire city”. And Geisel – under great pressure in the committee – swore unity with a confession that would rather be attributed to him: “This Senate, this coalition wants investments in the city.” Therefore, “I maintain the letter of intent (with the investor) and we all maintain it.”
There was no sign of that in the committee. On the other hand. Ironically, AfD politician Laatsch put it in a nutshell. He asked what the Senate intended to do against “parties of the coalition” that “block the process (for the preparation of the construction plan; editor’s note)”. And the AfD man claimed: “SPD, CDU, FDP and AfD are for the project, so it has a majority.”
“Anyone who plays around here organizes failure”
It is impossible for the SPD to dare to join forces with the radical right to promote construction projects. But with their investor-friendly construction policy, the Social Democrats stand alone in coalition with the Left and the Greens. “Anyone who plays here (at Hermannplatz) organizes failure,” said leftist construction politician Katrin Gennburg. She will not “raise her hand for a development plan” that does not reveal any of the Senate’s own urban planning goals.
Signa projects “a location of offices in the body of a department store and therefore the maximum real estate exploitation”. Offers for “daily care” of neighborhood residents were threatening to be lost, similar to what Signa did with Kadewe. Such “wishes for luxury are definitely wrong at Hermannplatz”.
That coincides with the opinion of 6,000 Berliners who signed a protest letter against Geisel’s installation decision and handed it to parliamentarians. Signa is given “free rein for the monumental planning of her at Hermannplatz”, which initiates the “destruction of established neighborhoods and neighbourhoods” and also ignores the co-management of local residents.
Violated Participation Guidelines
The expert in green urban development, Susanna Kahlefeld, even sees the “guidelines for citizen participation” of the Senate itself as being violated. At Hermannplatz, Signa had “blackmailed a Disney process”. Participation must take place before the procedure to give it a direction compatible with civil society. But apparently the country is “afraid of its own citizens.” There is “agreement in the coalition that the projects must be shaped with broad participation” of Berliners. This is the only way to solve social problems, as well as those of climate resilience and transportation.
“Mass displacement processes” and “strong concerns about mass construction” brought other left and green MPs to the table. Geisel approves a new building, based on the largely destroyed foundation of the existing building, with a gross floor area of 82,000 square meters.
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Also noteworthy: “The Signa company is making great progress,” said a head of administration responsible for planning another construction project on Kurfürstendamm. At Hermannplatz, Geisel is apparently bowing to pressure: In two years, 2024, a Senate resolution for Signa should be available. Then the House of Representatives must approve the development plan.
It is unclear how this is going to succeed against the will of residents and their own coalition partners. Especially since one of the two districts responsible for the property strongly protested against the procedure: “I am neither a co-organizer nor a co-author of the master plan,” green city construction councilor Florian Schmidt tweeted, “which doesn’t mean we stay silent”.