21. July 2016–
Up for over one week now, unknown people have put posters up in Berlin’s popular areas of Kreuzberg and Neukölln, asking tourists to rethink booking a holiday apartment.
While it first reminded me of public protests from, for example, New York (NYT has more to that) in 2015, this one is different. Now addressed to tourists –instead of Airbnb or landlords– the posters have the following message:
"When you book an apartment, think about the rising prices for locals, an increase in touristification and people going through social displacement. For each holiday apartment a local tenant has to leave their home."
Berlin’s apartment problem
Berlin has a problem many other fast growing cities face as well: A lot of people want to move here, which makes it harder to get an apartment. Facing reality: the apartment hunt is a pain right now. On top of that, rents are being raised with a higher demand in the popular places – something that Londoners, New Yorkers, people in Munich or Hamburg know just as well. Though many may find Berlin’s rents still kind of low, a problem is that while living costs are rising, salaries are not.
Back to the vacation rentals: Berliner Zeitung (April 2016) quotes a survey that says Berlin has 14,393 vacation homes, that are rented out to visitors all year. In addition there are 9,600 accommodations such as separate rooms. In comparison, Berlin has 1.9 million apartments.
Perspectives on Airbnb – as a guest, a host, and a neighbour
As a former Airbnb intern (in 2012) and someone who has booked rooms in Barcelona, San Francisco and New York, and also as someone who rented out her own apartment when gone, my point of view changed partly when becoming an Airbnb neighbour.
It became somewhat annoying to see strangers passing through my Hinterhof (back yard) like in a hotel hall on an almost daily basis. Therefore, I did in fact welcome some stricter regulations.
Berlin still lets people rent their apartment every now and then or less than 50% of their space (though it’s debatable in how far that can be controlled.)
People have two years time to inform the city about renting their space and can get a vacation apartment license. New users can still register for one. As always in German law, there are many different add-ons and exceptions. Airbnb’s summary helps.
How do people feel about the campaign?
Asking my friends on Snapchat and Facebook, I hardly got any reactions – I assume because the topic is slowing getting old. Those who did respond, however, were in Airbnb’s favor. Knowing that I’m asking mostly in a startup and tech friendly environment, I checked the social media channels and there doesn’t seem to be much awareness. Looking at the hashtag that is used for it, 24 tweets with the hashtag #boycottairbnb relating to Berlin were found. One of them came from my request for an interview, three of them belonged to an account that seems to be the campaign’s account with a total of 40 followers. 25 images were found on Instagram. All this within ten days.
People I spoke to argued that they enjoy renting an apartment when traveling themselves and therefore feel hypocritical to argue against it. Others said that some rent out extra rooms to cover the rent. This is not a surprise given that there have always been private people who rented out their guest rooms when popular events were taking place and hotels were booked out.
Putting the blame on the vacation home platform is the easiest way to blame a city for an apartment problem, some say. However, asking tourists to stay away from it will not solve the actual problem.
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Images: Felicitas Hackmann