May 1, 2019 / 8:42 PM / 4 months ago

Berlin police scuffle with activists at gentrification protest

Protesters face the police during a left wing May Day demonstration in Berlin, Germany, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Mang

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin police scuffled on Wednesday with activists protesting against the gentrification of the German capital, where thousands demonstrated to highlight the city’s shortage of affordable housing.

Protesters focused on the eastern district of Friedrichshain, which has followed others in becoming a target for property developments that many people complain are squeezing them out of the housing market.

Protest organizers said they stopped counting the number of demonstrators at 10,000. A total of 5,500 police officers were on duty for the day. They detained some protesters but a police spokesman could not immediately say exactly how many.

“People on low and middle incomes can’t afford to rent a new home any more,” complained local resident Wolfgang Hardt.

Demonstrators chanted “the streets are ours” and “anti-capitalism”. Some, dressed in black and wearing masks, lit flares from apartment balconies.

For decades after unification in 1990, Berlin became a magnet for artists, musicians and students drawn by housing that was far cheaper than in other major European cities. Around 85 percent of Berliners rent their homes rather than own them.

But with an influx of some 40,000 people a year in the last decade, rents have more than doubled since 2008, according to a study by online housing portal immowelt.de. The city is no longer a bargain for newcomers, and many of its longer-term residents say they are struggling.

Among the properties that have been sold off to the private sector are many of the large landmark Communist-era housing projects built as showpieces under the former East Germany. Many have been acquired in recent years by Deutsche Wohnen, the city’s largest landlord with around 115,000 flats.

Last month, thousands of Berlin residents took to the streets to vent anger over surging rents and demand the expropriation of more than 200,000 apartments sold off to big private landlords, which they blame for changing the character of the city.

Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by James Dalgleish

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