Postcard from... Berlin


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The Independent Online


It was almost a re-run of the squatting battles that once raged in 1980s West Berlin: a police helicopter hovered above the city's famously "Alternative" Kreuzberg district. Below, hundreds of angry protesters in anoraks and black balaclavas gathered outside an apartment block whose inhabitants were about to be forcibly evicted by riot police.

This time however, the flat dwellers were not anarchist squatters, but the family of Ali Gülbol, a Turkish immigrant who was born in the apartment 40 years ago. It was not 1980s Cold War Berlin but February 2013 in the reunited German capital. Mr Gülbol had been unable to pay the near 20 per cent rent rise demanded by his landlord. He had challenged the increase in the courts and lost.

Last week, he and his wife and three children were left with no choice but to move out, and move in with Mr Gülbol's parents.

For many investors both German and foreign, Berlin is attractive and potentially lucrative. They are snapping up property apace. Combine that with a population increase of 112,000 since 2008, add a dearth of new homes and the recipe for rocketing rents and house prices is complete.

Without drastic rent controls and a major house-building programme, the problem is likely to get worse. Many are asking whether this is the end of the "poor but sexy" city which attracts a wealth of artistic talent because of its low cost living. Berlin has always secretly envied rival London and Paris. Now it's becoming more like them.