Tech giant Google has made its foray into various industries in a bid to tap into natural talent and advancements, and other cities in Europe have noticed such a move with positive remarks – except Kreuzberg. The Berlin city of Kreuzberg has some things to say to Google’s plans on building a Google campus in the city, and they are not pretty.
Protesters outside Umspannwerk, the building where the supposed “Google campus” will be built upon, has become common sights for people living in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Placards and signages, particularly those with “F- Off, Google!” on them, have become a trademark of sorts for the movement. This is a sight not often seen in the rather supposed peaceful city of Kreuzberg. The negative reception to Google was the result of plans that apparently will have the search engine giant to build a new campus in the city.
It had come to a point where Kalabal!k, a local bookshop with anarchist leanings, to even hold what it calls “Anti-Google Cafe” bi-monthly sessions, and one activist group has started disseminating a newspaper titled “Shitstorm: Against Google, Displacement and Tech Dominance.”
The place in contention is the Umspannwerk, a former electrical substation that is now currently being rented as an event space. The Google campus opening was supposedly in September 2017, but was pushed back to autumn 2018. When the campus opens, it will serve as Google’s seventh campus around the world – joining the likes of Warsaw, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Tel Aviv, Madrid, and London. If successful, the Berlin campus will likely be a hub for educators, startup founders, and entrepreneurs as will also serve as a place for networking and educational events.
For all intents and purposes, Google already has a foothold in Berlin courtesy of a Mitte office. Google’s plans, however, were met with rather creative and immense activism, especially how the company’s foray into the city will also likely displace residents, artists, and local businesses with increasing gentrification and rent. After all, Google’s entry will likely mean a sign of other economic ventures as well.
Stefan Klein, one of the local activists in the area, said Google might be surprised with the opposition, but it’s to be expected. After his evening work, he and his colleagues go around town and offer advice to people with residency and housing concerns in their area. Gentrification may have happened in other cities, he said, but Kreuzberg will have to be convinced.
Meanwhile, Berlin is a likely choice for Google’s new campus thanks to its maturing tech scene. In fact, Berlin already has a partnership with Factory, a co-working space, and has plans of opening something called the Factory Gorlitzer Park. It even plans to host 10,000 members. This, alongside other ventures, are likely attracting other startup founders as well.
Concerns of Klein and other activists were not exaggerations, however. With the rise of immigration and other companies in the area, rent increased by as much as 70-percent from 2004 and 2016 alone. It’s also starting to be a source of concerns in other industries as well – such as displacement, gentrification, and even privatization of public spaces.
While local politicians are likely supportive of the “digitization” process of Berlin, it’s a cause of concern that startups do have short lifespans, and creatives may be “exploited.” Some politicians such as Ramona Pop cited support for the campus, adding that this will likely increase Kreuzberg’s startup scene. In terms of middle-ground, Florian Schmidt of the Die Grunen party has neither positive nor negative leanings on the matter, and is often sought as a “neutral” voice on the matter.
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