Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Another Referendum to Expropriate Berlin’s Biggest Landlords

Two years ago, 59.1 percent of Berliners voted to socialize real estate companies. But nothing has happened. Now another referendum has been launched.

Nathaniel Flakin

October 6, 2023
Facebook Twitter Share
Photo: Wolfgang Kumm

Originally published in Neues Deutschland

In Germany, trust in democracy is eroding. A study this summer showed that only every second person had faith in the current system. Pundits are debating what has gone wrong.

I have a theory: Two years ago, a huge majority of Berliners voted to expropriate big landlords. 59.1 percent called for the “socialization” of gargantuan realty companies like Deutsche Wohnen and Vonovia. Yet Berlin’s next two governments, who had each gotten far less votes than the referendum, have done everything they could to sabotage the people’s choice. Both Franziska Giffey of the SPD and Kai Wegener of the CDU oppose expropriation on principle, so they’ve come up with one delaying tactic after another.

Does this feel like a democracy? Or some kind of third-rate autocracy, where votes are only respected if the people in power agree?

Now, yellow and purple posters have reappeared all over the city. On the second anniversary of the vote, on September 26, the campaign “Deutsche Wohnen & Co enteignen” (DWE) announced that they will be launching a second referendum. We will need to collect 20,000 and then 170,000 signatures once again. (It was fun!) Last time, we voted on a proposal that the government formulate a law for expropriation. Now, the campaign is going to write such a law themselves. “Alles muss man selber machen!” (You have to do everything yourself.)

Why didn’t they just write their own law to begin with? Because a few years ago, no one knew what expropriation according to Article 15 of Germany’s Basic Law would look like. Now, lawyers and activists have been studying the problem, and DWE is collecting 100,000 Euros to hire a law firm to draft the text.

Wegner’s government claims it is working on an Expropriation Framework Law, which would set the parameters for a future law on expropriation – the Constitutional Court could then check if this passed muster. The obvious problem, as a legal expert explained to “nd”, is that such a law would not actually do anything. No one would have standing to sue until a real estate company’s property is moved into public ownership. As a German idiom puts it: “No plaintiff, no judge.”

This is just another cynical move against democracy. We have already been through the farce of Giffey’s “Expert Commission”, which took a year to report that yes, Article 15 of Germany’s Basic Law really does allow for property to “be transferred into public ownership” if it’s “for the public good.” I could have told them that with a quick Google search. Berlin expropriates buildings all the time – but so far, it’s only to build the Autobahns that the CDU and the SPD love so much. Why should expropriation be unthinkable to to lower rents?

More than two years ago, I wrote about a long-abandoned building on my block that was finally getting renovated. The project is controlled by Henning Conle, a billionaire heir who takes his profits from reality speculation to make massive illegal contributions to the AfD. Construction work is ongoing, but tenants have started moving in. I have been living on this block for a decade, and my rent is about 8.50 Euros per square meter. These new apartments are going for almost 22 Euros – an increase of two-and-a-half times in ten years.

No wonder people are open for radical solutions. Berlin’s housing market is controlled by the vampire squids of financial speculators, and more than a few actual gangsters. Just look how the owners of Habersaathstraße 40-48 hired violent thugs to trash the apartments of renters they wanted out – despite a court order.

Expropriation would be a step towards real democracy – the vast majority of Berliners are renters, and we would gain some control over our housing. Ultimately, though, signatures will not be enough. We will need occupations of empty apartments as well as rent strikes to shift the balance of power. Direct action is what democracy looks like. It’s time to get active with DWE and their English-speaking group, Right to the City.

Facebook Twitter Share

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.



Tombstones in Germany defaced with Swasticas.

“Stop Thief!” The German State Attacks Migrants to Distract from Its Own Antisemitism

German politicians claim that antisemitism is an “imported problem.” Even a cursory look at the facts, however, shows that anti-Jewish hatred is not caused by pro-Palestinian protests. No, the source is German capitalism.

Nathaniel Flakin

November 21, 2023

Competing Rallies at Berlin’s Free University

On successive Fridays, there was a pro-Palestinian and a pro-Israeli rally at the Free University. One was dominated by international students, including many Jews and Palestinians, calling for solidarity — the other was dominated by German politicians spewing racism. Guess which was which.

Nathaniel Flakin

November 13, 2023

In Berlin, Jews and Palestinians Are Demonstrating Together

This Saturday, Jewish and Palestinian groups are organizing a demonstration against the war.

Nathaniel Flakin

November 4, 2023

Germany’s Die Linke Splits: Social Chauvinists vs Government Socialists

Sahra Wagenknecht is splitting from Die Linke and forming a new party. Her "left conservatism" is bad for immigrants but bad for German workers too.

Nathaniel Flakin

October 28, 2023


Haverford College student Kinnan Abdalhamid and Brown University students Tahseen Ahmed and Hisham Awartani, Palestinian college students who were shot in Burlington, Vermont.

Haverford Faculty for Justice in Palestine Releases Statement Supporting Pro-Palestinian Students

Haverford College Faculty for Justice in Palestine have published a statement following the shooting of three Palestinian students in Burlington, Vermont.

A Pause in Genocide Is Not Enough: Jewish Voice for Peace Shuts Down the Manhattan Bridge

Amid a pause in Israel’s offensive on Gaza, Jewish Voice for Peace is showing that the movement for Palestine will continue. Civil disobedience must lead to broad protests which bring all sectors of the movement together.

Samuel Karlin

November 26, 2023
Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdel Hamid, and Tahseen Ahmed wearing Keffiyes. They were shot in Burlington, Vermont, USA.

The Three Palestinians Shot in Burlington Are Victims of Rising Islamophobia

Three Palestinian men were shot in Burlington Vermont while walking down the street. The campaign against Palestine has dehumanized all Palestinians and left them more vulnerable to these types of attacks.

Enid Brain

November 26, 2023
A rally with people holding signs and a banner reading "Full funding"

Student Workers Stand Up for CUNY and Palestine

Attacks on CUNY and CUNY activists are an attack on all working people and students. Workers and students united can fight back.  

Olivia Wood

November 25, 2023