Berlin Stories

Ruth Elkins' corner of the German capital is afflicted by 'modernisation' ? but she still cannot shop on a Sunday
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The Independent Online

A domestic crisis has hit my ex-Communist corner of Berlin. The apartment building in the central-eastern district of Mitte where I live has been bought by a private property company and is about to be – what they call in German saniert – modernised.

A domestic crisis has hit my ex-Communist corner of Berlin. The apartment building in the central-eastern district of Mitte where I live has been bought by a private property company and is about to be – what they call in German saniert – modernised.

It's a usual occurrence these days in Berlin, where since the German government moved here in 1999, property speculators have been buying up apartments like they're oil reserves. They tart up the floorboards, put in central heating and a fitted kitchen and paint the façades "Tuscan Orange" or "Primrose Yellow". They might plonk a glass-fronted penthouse on the top. And then, once the residents have got fed up with the constant drilling and flee, they raise the rents.

I admit the prospect of having a warm flat in a city where winter temperatures nudge -20C is very attractive. But it's obvious that this modernisation is not intended to benefit the current residents.

So I'm leaving gentrified Mitte. Finding a new place shouldn't prove a problem though – according to some estimates as much as 13 per cent of housing in Berlin is empty and since the city is still broke, rents are low.

It might be a capital, but weekend shopping in Berlin is still hopelessly provincial with shops shutting by 4 pm on Saturdays. But this is due to change from June as the Bundestag – braving the wrath of the trade unions – has passed a law allowing shops to stay open till 8pm on Saturdays. However, if you think this will open the floodgates for Sunday shopping, think again.

Sunday shopping is allowed only three or four times a year, despite its manifest popularity. When the mall at Potsdamer Platz opened last Sunday it was packed and one youth gushed: "I want to be able to shop every Sunday." But the sales assistant putting bras on hangers in H&M told me: "Our union won't allow it."

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