Berlin’s reputation as one of Europe’s coolest yet cheapest cities has boosted tourism by 275 per cent in only two decades. But Germany’s capital is preparing to turn its back on budget-flight visitors with new rules which will outlaw cut-price private accommodation.
Legislation which comes into force on 1 January will make it illegal for the owners of Berlin’s estimated 12,000 private holiday apartments to rent them to tourists for short breaks. Those who fail to obey the rules risk being fined €50,000 (£41,700).
The new laws are both a response to Berlin’s lack of affordable flats for longer-term rentals and an attempt to answer complaints from residents about the influx of weekend visitors to what the director of Berlin’s tourist marketing agency has called “the capital of holiday lets”.
Residents have become incensed by what they claim are noisy, backpacking and unwelcome weekend visitors arriving on Ryanair and easyJet. They are among the record 10 million tourists who will have visited Berlin this year. “They party half the night, use the balconies to call up on their mobile phones all the time, and they dump their household waste and bottles in organic waste bins,” said Daniella Steltzer, a resident of the Charlottenburg district. “I want to live in a residential apartment block, not a cut-price self-catering guesthouse.”
Mrs Steltzer said the problem began three years ago when the owner of one of the small flats adjoining her back garden began renting his rooms to weekend tourists. Since then two more flats have been adapted for holiday lets. “My heart sinks on Fridays when the sound of suitcase wheels heralds new arrivals,” she said.
Berlin’s property owners’ association has criticised the new legislation as an unwarranted attack on free enterprise which will not ease the city’s shortage of longer-term residential accommodation. “The holiday flats amount for a ridiculously small proportion of Berlin’s total accommodation,” said its spokesman, Bernd Strehlow.
Opposition to holiday lets began two years ago when the Green Party held a meeting in an attempt to gauge the strength of feeling about the problem. Hundreds of residents complained they felt the presence of tourists made them feel as if they were “ living in a zoo”. Dirk Behrend, the Green MP who organised the gathering, denied he was attempting to build another Berlin Wall to keep tourists out of the city but said: “We want tourism to be properly organised and controlled.”
Concerns among activists on Berlin’s left-wing alternative scene that the city is being sold out to property speculators has fuelled opposition to holiday rents and led to a marked increase in hostility towards tourists. Ares Kalandides, a Greek-born city guide, recalled the shock he experienced while escorting Israeli journalists earlier this year.
“Suddenly a group of drunken twentysomething men and women started screaming at us,” Mr Kalandides said. “I was shocked, embarrassed and angry, but I’m afraid that’s almost normal in Berlin these days.”