Germans strip to protest sky-high rents
Protesters don masks and strip clothes at a flat viewing in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district.
Berlin--Clothes off, cartoon masks and music on. The 10 or so young Berliners get naked in seconds, dancing around at a flat viewing in an unusual form of protest at fast-rising rates in the once-divided city.
Bopping around in the buff in the living room of this apartment in the district of Friedrichshain in former communist east Berlin, the demonstrators quickly drew the ire of the estate agent conducting the viewing.
"Get out! I'm calling the police," he screamed, trying in vain to grab one of the naked dancers as techno music boomed around the flat.
On this cold Berlin winter's day, with the mercury well below zero, the "Hedonist International" has decided to bring its special brand of protest to this flat, which they deem too expensive.
Sixty-three metres square (678 square feet), "completely renovated with cherry-wood flooring throughout, highceilings, and a top-of-the-range kitchen" according to the agent's blurb, the asking price is 726.08 euros (945.40 dollars) per month, heating included.
Too much, says Nick, one of the main organisers of the protest, who spoke to AFP under an assumed name.
Protestors against increased housing costs demonstrate naked after invading a flat during a public viewing for rental property in the Friedrichshain area of Berlin
"Rents have risen by 50 percent in this area in the last few years," he said.
"I had to wait for six months to find an apartment. For people with families, it's even harder," said the 28-year-old student.
In certain trendy parts of Berlin, the demand for housing has simply exploded, with the district of Friedrichshain being a prime example.
Formerly a working-class bastion deep in East Berlin, Friedrichshain has undergone a rapid process of gentrification, transformed from a hang-out of squatters and punks to the hip pied-a-terre of buggy-pushing young couples.
"We started this summer," said another demonstrator, who gave his name as "Luther Blissett".
He said the activists had taken inspiration from the French group "Black Thursday" which organises similar protests at ballooning prices in Paris.
"But our unique selling point is that we are naked," he quipped.
In Berlin, rental prices are considerably lower than in other major European capitals such as London or Paris and much cheaper than in New York, Tokyo or Mumbai for example.
A building boom that took place after the fall of the Berlin Wall 21 years ago has left supply hugely outstripping demand and lower living standards in the former communist east also kept a lid on prices.
But all this is changing, said Empirica, a consultancy, with a 14-percent rise in rents the past year.
"It's young and mobile households that are particularly affected," said one of the firm's experts, Reiner Braun.
"Students looking for a first-time place, young families searching for a larger apartment and those forced to move for professional reasons" are being hit by rising prices, Braun said.
The group of demonstrators said it was inspired by the French collective "Jeudi noir" demonstrating with similar happenings against high rental prices in Paris
Meanwhile, back in Friedrichshain, the agent has made good on his threat and two police vans and three cars, sirens wailing, screech to a halt outside the apartment.
A few minutes earlier, the hedonists redressed at the double and scarpered, hastily zipping up flies and re-clipping bras.
"What we're doing is not a crime," said Nick. "These are public viewings and we are not entering the apartments by force."
The agent, livid, refused to respond to questions. "No comment. No pictures. Out!" he said.
Another young man who came to view the apartment was also unimpressed with the protest.
"I don't go to an apartment viewing to see cocks," he harrumphed.
For now, the protests have called a halt to their unique brand of demonstrating. Have they lost their motivation?
"Oh no," said Peter, one of the members.
"But it's winter now. It's getting a little bit chilly to be getting naked."
Yannick Pasquet / AFP / Expatica