The First Urban Renewal Program: “Clear-Cut Redevelopment” and Freeway Ring Road

Manteuffelstraße 40-41, 1981  

The cooperative started out at a time when the reconstruction of West Berlin was in full swing. Above all else. The reconstruction’s guiding principle was to build a car-friendly city.

A freeway interchange is planned at Oranienplatz to access the ring road around the city center leading to Treptow. This interchange would cut straight through the famous Kreuzberg neighborhood “SO 36”.
However, in August 1961, the Berlin Wall was built. Overnight, Kreuzberg is no longer geographically located in the center of Berlin but at its peripheries. Shopping streets like Köpenicker or Schlesische Straße become abandoned, customers from the eastern part of the city stay away, and stores close one after the other.

Now, in the middle of the Cold War, no one believes that the division of Berlin will soon be lifted. Nevertheless, according to the land-use plan of 1969, the Senate is determined to build the autobahn. The result: Landlords no longer invest in the buildings scheduled for demolition to make way for the autobahn. One of these soon-to-be demolished rows of buildings includes Block 103 between Oranienstraße, Mariannenstraße, Naunynstraße and Manteuffelstraße. They are left to decay, tenants are moving out, as the first streets are being demolished. The destruction of “SO36”, whose nickname derives from the historical postal code this southeastern neighborhood of Kreuzberg once had, seemed a done deal.

Yet, the neighborhoods between Kottbusser and Schlesisches Tor, like many other so-called “Gründerzeit” districts in the city, were not just endless canyons of tenement buildings, but also a playground for urban planning innovation. At the beginning of Berlin’s industrialization, with a massive population increase in the booming city, the objective was to build as much housing space as quickly and profitably as possible. Despite the scarcity of space, which mandated erecting buildings as close as possible to each other and therefore allowing neither light nor air into backyards. Backyards that only had to be large enough for a fire engine to turn around in. James Hobrecht, the city’s building councilor at the time, could be considered perhaps the first opponent of gentrification. He developed the tried-and-true Berlin mix: the interpenetration of milieus and the combination of living and working spaces on one property. Spacious front buildings with a mezzanine floor and cheaper apartments on the higher floors, rear buildings for working-class families, basement dwellings for the poorest, and possibly a factory building in the courtyard were ideally combined in one building complex.

Who could “close his eyes to the fact that the poorer class is deprived of many of the benefits that socially mixed housing affords,” he explained his architectural concept, which seems visionary considering today’s debates on education and integration policies: “In the tenements, the children from the basement apartments go to the free school through the same hallway as the children of the councilor or merchant, on their way to grammar school.”* But now, less than a hundred years later, this has to end, and clear-cut redevelopment is to make way for large-scale, homogeneous concrete housing estates.

* Quoted from: Der Tagesspiegel, August 20, 2011.
Karin Schneider for the Luisenstadt Homepage (November 2012)



SO 36 in the 1970s

American soldier on training mission in Skalitzer Strasse in Kreuzberg (1980), Foto: P. Glaser  

Gray facades, crumbling plaster, broken and hollowed out windows

On the abandoned streets of Kreuzberg the U.S. Army seems to conduct it’s very own house-to house combat. Berlin is now a city ruled by the four allied powers. There is great uncertainty about what will happen to the Kreuzberg neighborhood. Even though the autobahn plans here, in the remotest corner of West Berlin, have been abandoned, lacking a traffic link that would connect Kreuzberg to the rest of West Berlin, the buildings in the neighborhood remain unrepaired and have become more and more dilapidated.

The more residents move away, the more stores and craft businesses close their doors forever—a vicious circle that leaves behind the elderly. But there are also newcomers: people who cannot afford higher rents, who are unpopular with landlords, and who are willing to put up with a situation of uncertainty: migrants, especially Turks, and young people—students and hobos, hippies and rockers, punks, artists, and those pursuing alternative lifestyles. A subculture is forming that is diametrically opposed to the goals of the First Urban Renewal Program, which is about to unfold here. What those goals look like can already be seen around Kottbusser Tor, where the New Kreuzberg Center has been erected. The new Kreuzbergers, however, refuse to be pushed out; instead of living in expensive, anonymous housing silos, they demand the renovation of the old buildings in their neighborhood and furthermore demand participation in decision-making. Senate representatives, city planners, and real-estate speculators consider these demands to be absurd.

But then, in 1977, initiated by the Protestant parishes in SO 36, the “Strategies for Kreuzberg” were launched in cooperation with the Berlin Senate and the local district. Anyone and everyone was permitted to submit proposals for the renewal of the district to the project commission. The commission was made up of representatives from the Senate and the district, but the majority of its members were simple residents. Fifteen projects were selected from the more than one hundred proposals, which take into consideration social and urban development, cultural aspects, and political aspects in equal measures. Eventually, their implementation was financed by the Senate. The SO 36 citizens’ action committee, an association by the same name, and the SO 36 district committee were founded. In the latter, citizens, together with representatives of the city administration, will decide on various measures and fund distribution in the area affected for the next twelve years. One of the concepts developed is called “cautious urban renewal,”. This theme also becomes one of the focal points of the International Building Exhibition, which the Berlin Senate decided to organize in 1978 and which will eventually take place in 1984.

But none of these measures or decisions could change the vacancy rate or the acute housing shortage. Legal means, such as reporting vacant apartments to the State Housing Authorities or mediation attempts between housing associations and private homeowners and tenants, remain unsuccessful. So the tenants have no choice but to take matters in their own hands: In 1979, members of the “BI SO 36” occupy a vacant apartment for the first time, repair it and convince the Senate-owned housing association BeWoGe to again rent out this and other apartments. Soon after, other groups began squatting in a variety of buildings and remaining there long-term.

A few years earlier: on December 8, 1971, probably the first “squatting” to occur in the Federal Republic of Germany took place. The former nurses’ residence in Bethanien on Mariannenplatz has since been called Georg-von-Rauch-Haus and will still be self-managed forty years later. It is named after the “roving hash rebel”, Geirg von Rauch, who was shot dead by the police on December 4, 1971.

Karin Schneider for Luisenstadt Homepage ( November 2012).
Related link: The Georg von Rauch Haus




10 years of demands for repair, but nothing happens

The area around Kottbusser Tor has been a redevelopment zone for almost twenty years now, and the need for affordable housing is still as urgent as the patience to negotiate further in vain.

The successful squatting actions of the previous year are encouraging: in January, the first houses in Block 103 were squatted: Naunynstraße 77 and 79, and in March, Mariannenstraße 48. More precisely, they are squatted, so they could be renovated. In addition to the political act of appropriating existing commodities of living space, it is also important to demonstrate that these houses, which have been condemned for demolition, are still inhabitable. The time has come to realize: “It’s better to squat to repair than to destroy.”

Restoration Manteuffelstraße 40/41, 1982  

There is a great deal of sympathy and solidarity in the district; everyone is dissatisfied with the building policy of the Senate and the district, and complains about the filth, corruption, and speculation. The great effort with which electricity and water pipes are now being laid, windows installed, roofs and stoves repaired, and sanitary facilities renewed in the squatted buildings also increases the number of people who sympathize with the squatters and their housing policy that approaches change from the bottom to the top.

They can also count on the sympathizers when the so-called “Battle of Fraenkelufer” takes place on December 12, 1980. When the police tried to stop the occupation of Fraenkelufer 48, rumors spread that other houses were to be evicted that same evening. A massive police contingent meets squatter barricades to protect the occupied Admiralstraße 20. With batons and tear gas, the demonstrators are driven to the Kottbusser Tor, where windows are broken and a patrol car carelessly left behind is overturned. The result of the night was one seriously injured man hit by a patrol car, over 200 more injured, and 66 arrested, some of whom were initially sentenced to several months in prison, but all but one conviction was overturned on appeal.

December 12 was a turning point because the police violence that squatters, supporters, and sympathizers faced for the first time was perceived as disproportionate, and the fronts hardened. In the following days, too, there were demonstrations and confrontations; on December 20 alone, 15,000 people demonstrated in front of the remand prison in Moabit for the release of the imprisoned squatters.

Karin Schneider for the Luisenstadt Homepage (November 2012)


Clay, stones, colors

By mid-March 1981, most of the vacant houses in Block 103 were occupied or partially occupied: in addition to Mariannenstraße 48, numbers 40, 41, and 42 in Manteuffelstraße, 3 and 13 in Oranienstraße, and 77 and 79 in Naunynstraße.

At Manteuffelstraße 40/41, the “Bauhof” was founded: a collection and distribution center for building materials, where many donations in kind and money from private individuals and small handicraft businesses soon trickled in. Squatters can also borrow tools at the Bauhaus. The high volume of donations shows the degree of sympathy and support for the squatters in their neighborhood: Finally, the neighborhood is alive here again. This new atmosphere provided a harsh contrast to the times when the neighborhood experienced many so-called “hot demolitions” – in an attempt to burn down empty buildings, leaving the city no choice but to demolish the building completely. That’s over now, and vandalism is also on the decline; the residents of Altkreuzberg feel safer again, also regarding their own future in the district. Soon, a block association is founded, in which residents exchange views on issues of planning and renewal of the houses as well as develop resistance strategies to prevent “de-tenanting” and demolition or modernization of the buildings.

In the summer of 1981, 165 houses were squatted throughout Berlin, 86 of them in Kreuzberg. New squatters were no longer tolerated after the newly elected CDU Senate took office. Within a few months, the squatters have become the focal point and driving force of West Berlin’s left-wing alternative scene: “you just have to live in a squatted house, or at least know someone who lives there.” The moment where they entered a house to squat, this “quite unique situation,” is remembered by one squatter many years later: “… there was this moment, many had already participated in other occupations, when you were standing in front of this huge complex, everything empty, windows knocked out, the roof unroofed, 30 people like berserkers glazing factory windows, laying electricity, installing toilets, it was a huge adventure playground, removing walls, sleeping in a huge room like a camp, roaming the neighborhood during the day, scavenging demolition houses for usable material, demonstrations, squatters’ council. Then, at night, we get together around a campfire and tell each other heroic tales. Just behaving like the hunter-gatherers we still are …”.

Collection and awarding office for building materials, Bauhof 1981  
Collection and awarding office for building materials, Bauhof 1981  
Sleeping camp, Bauhof 1981  
Removing walls in the Bauhof, 1981  

The slogan “The houses to those who live in them” also includes the freedom to experiment with various forms of living together: “We don’t just occupy houses. We live together in communes and interact more with each other than tenants in conventional tenements,” states a passage in a paper drafted by the Kreuzberg squatters’ council. “We want to experience the context of life, here and now. We will keep fighting against demolition and associated demolition companies. We strike back in schools and workplaces against the terror of consumerism and any other form of oppression.”*

Soon the councils established models as to how the redevelopment of the squatted houses could be realized without the usual sponsors and with the co-determination of the residents intact. That makes the issue of whether to negotiate or not, and if so, how to negotiate, the hotly debated question from the outset of all the strategy discussions. The majority of the squatters want to prevent a split of the movement and strive for an overall solution, i.e., contracts for all tenants which would allow them to stay in the squatted buildings legally.
Negotiations are also made more difficult because of the demand that the prisoners of December 12, 1980, are to be released before any agreements are reached. Regardless of this, however, it soon becomes clear that a contract blueprint for all the houses cannot be realized. While some members then cease further negotiations, others strive for individual contracts or solutions for other houses—as in Block 103—, still others stick to their “Null Bock” attitude (can’t be bothered attitude) or their refusal to “cooperate with the system” anyway. The reactions are as varied as can be expected from a movement in which, by now, several thousand people of the most diverse political and cultural backgrounds have come together.

In the spring of 1981, the concept for Block 103, which the Dresdner Straße “Tenants’ Shop” had already drawn up in 1979, was taken up again and developed into the first block development plan with the participation of the residents and the „Old Building Working Group of the International Building Exhibition“ (IBA). The district office agrees, and the private redevelopment agency SAMOG withdraws. In September, the construction plan for the Kottbusser Tor redevelopment area is adopted in a closed-door meeting of the Berlin Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on urban renewal.

Subsequently, Werner Orlowsky, a cross bench activist, drug store owner on Dresdner Straße for twenty years, and co-founder of a coalition of local tradesmen to preserve the block structure and involved in the tenants’ store there, becomes a Kreuzberg City Councilor for the “Alternative Liste” and remains in office until 1989. In the summer of 1981, organizations, institutions, and celebrities took on the first sponsorships for individual houses. They create publicity by reporting on life in the occupied house; they try to prevent evictions through their presence, and they mediate between the squatters and state representatives.

* All quotes from Susanne Bücher, “From Squatter to Homeowner. Eine Fallstudie zum Wandel alternativer Lebensräume am Beispiel der Luisenstadt Genossenschaft Berlin-Kreuzberg”, a term paper in the context of the First State Examination for the Teaching Profession at High Schools, Greifswald 2005.
Karin Schneider for the Luisenstadt Homepage (November 2012).
Related link: Häuserkampf (Social Movement) Academic dictionaries and encyclopedias

Inner courtyard of Manteuffelstraße 40-41, 1981  
Manteuffelstraße 1981  
1982 – 1985

Autonomy and self-administration

STATTBAU press conference after notarial transfer of ownership of the land on October 11, 1983, Foto: P. Beck  

Twelve principles for cautious urban renewal are adopted

Based on the already developed “block plans” and the extensive surveys of residents, and in cooperation with them, the Old Building Working Group of the International Building Exhibition (IBA) develops the “12 Principles for Cautious Urban Renewal,” better known as the “12 Principles” for short. After much debate, they are approved by the Senator of the Berlin Building Board, Ulrich Rastemborski (CDU), in April 1982 and adopted as the new guiding principles for urban renewal by the Berlin House of Representatives on March 18, 1983. This sealed the end of clear-cut redevelopment, demolition, and new construction.

Autonomy and self-administration, central demands of the squatters, are now within reach for the new redevelopment model of cautious urban renewal in Block 103, the square between Oranienstraße, Mariannenstraße, Naunynstraße and Manteuffelstraße. Legal hurdles have also been cleared: Principle 11 requires new forms of support. In February 1982, STATTBAU, a redevelopment agency with resident participation, was founded.

On September 5, 1983, the time had finally come: after tough negotiations, STATTBAU, as the trustee responsible for the redevelopment, took over the twelve SAMOG properties in Block 103 and the occupied SAMOG building at Oranienstraße. 198 in Block 104. In 1988, they were joined by Naunynstraße 82 in 1988, by Oranienstraße 12 in 1991, and Mariannenstraße 47 and 49 in 1992. In addition to the district-related renovation of old buildings in close consultation with the residents, STATTBAU’s declared goal is to develop concepts for transferring the properties into the common ownership of those who live in them.

The takeover of their houses by STATTBAU is nevertheless only a stopgap solution for many squatters, who are pressured to act due to continuous evictions and see this model as the only way to save their houses. The redevelopment agency is seen by many foremost as a pacification instrument of the Senate, and the close cooperation with the IBA’s working group on old buildings is also often criticized, especially by the more radical scene. Accordingly, many have little interest in attending meetings.


Oranienstraße corner Manteuffelstraße 1983  
Manteuffelstraße 1983  
Police action 1983  

When the 13 squats were handed over to the administration of STATTBAU in 1982, each house community founded a house association, which provided a formal framework for their external representation. In addition, each house sends two representatives to the supervisory board. Thus, the occupants hold 50% of the mandates of this body, while 25% are held by the shareholders of “Leben im Stadtteil e. V”. (L.I.S.T. e. V.) and 25% by the tenants’ association, the employees, and the church communities. Residents have the opportunity to represent their interests at regular supervisory board meetings, and informal meetings are held every three weeks.

Two other alternative redevelopment agencies fail: “Netzbau”, founded in May 1982 with the aim of buying up the squatted houses for the state of Berlin and handing them over to the squatters with ground leases, dissolves six months later because the Senate is no longer accepted as a negotiating partner. In Maaßenstraße in Schöneberg, tenants had been evicted while negotiations were ongoing. “S.H.I.K”. (Selbstverwaltete Häuser in Kreuzberg), founded in June 1982 by various initiatives, church communities, and squatters, is denied recognition as a cooperative by the Association of Berlin Housing Cooperatives after a year of effort.

After the 1985 Berlin elections, the Kreuzberg district declared the expansion of cautious, resident-oriented, and socially compatible urban renewal, considering urban ecological requirements. As a pilot project, the district, IBA and residents developed the “ecological building blocks” in Block 103, which won an award in 1986/87 in the nationwide competition called “Citizens, it’s about your community, the inner development of our cities“ and became exemplary in ecological urban redevelopment.

Karin Schneider for the Luisenstadt Homepage (November 2012)

1986 – 1989

On April 25, 1986, Luisenstadt eG is founded

Founding meeting of the Luisenstadt Cooperative at Mariannenstrasse 48 on April 25, 1986  

Founding members are the formerly occupied houses Oranienstraße 13, Manteuffelstraße 40/41, 42, and 97, Naunynstraße 77, as well as the tenement house Oranienstraße. 5.

Because STATTBAU is only a redevelopment agency, a legal form must be created for the future into which the houses can be transferred. In a joint initiative, in which S.T.E.R.N., the successor company to Altbau-IBA, is also involved, the Luisenstadt eG is founded.
After completion of the redevelopment work by STATTBAU, the cooperative is to manage the twelve properties with around 250 residents and about 25 commercial units on a permanent leasehold basis and is therefore involved in STATTBAU’s decisions from the outset.

“In order to prevent the houses … from once again becoming objects of speculation (with corresponding rents), the residents of seven houses in blocks 101 and 103 so far have founded a self-managed legal form,” states the Luisenstadt press release on September 3, 1986.
Their goals are:
1. to take over the houses in hereditary lease from the state of Berlin.
(The houses remain in municipal ownership; the residents have the right of disposal; ownership is “neutralized.”)

2. self-administration and self-determination
(Cost savings through self-help in administration and maintenance).

3. securing socially acceptable rents.
(There is no rent increase with constant rent, and thus extensive independence from public subsidies such as housing subsidies.)

4. realization and supervision of ecological projects to improve the residential environment
(combined heat and power plants, solar collectors, service water recovery, greening of roofs and facades, etc.).

At the beginning of 1987, the “Federal Ministry of Regional Planning, Building and Urban Development” and the State of Berlin agreed to support the “ecological building blocks”. DM 4.5 million is made available for the experiment with combined heat and power, solar cells, a gray water system, and a vertical sump. Construction work begins; after completion, Luisenstadt eG is to be the operator.
In 1988, the new land use plan was adopted without building a freeway through SO 36.

Further links: S.T.E.R.N.


The Luisenstadt eG becomes a house owner

Manteuffelstraße 40/41 1991  

The Berlin Wall has fallen; Kreuzberg is once again in the geographical center of Berlin.

Property values rise, and with them the ground rent, i.e., the amount of rent for the eleven plots for which ground leases were concluded on December 16, 1991. Because these are concluded with 4.5% annual interest on the market value, a five-year adjustment, and a term of 66 years, Luisenstadt eG decides to buy the houses one by one.

And because the cooperative model sets a precedent, more houses in and around Block 103 are added to the cooperative in the years that follow. Many of the new cooperative members from these single-tenant houses have an immigrant background. In Eastern Berlin—especially in the boroughs of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, a new squatter movement made itself felt immediately after the fall of the Wall, but taking possession of individual apartments was already much practiced in GDR times.
Rigaer Straße. 77 in Friedrichshain was squatted in 1990, and in 1997 Luisenstadt eG bought that building as well.

In 1994, the state of Berlin was awarded the European Urban and Regional Award for its cautious urban renewal in Kreuzberg.



2000 until today

This is actually what a happy ending looks like: after many battles and long anxieties, good triumphs, and not only a significant number of houses but essentially the whole Kreuzberg neighborhood are saved. Cue the credits: But capitalism knows no respite: it’s not just people who can’t rest, money has to work all the time, too. After the dot-com bubble and the financial market crisis, international capital discovered Berlin, the exorbitantly growing new German capital, whose Senate squandered its safest assets—hundreds of thousands of rental apartments. And where can capital be invested in a crisis-proof manner and most profitably? In everything that people can’t do without—housing, for example. The consequences are well known: rising rents and an unprecedented housing shortage for people with low and medium incomes.

This makes our cooperative model, which has proven itself for more than a hundred years, all the more important. Cooperatives provide their members with secure housing. Luisenstadt eG has now been able to remove 21 houses from the market and speculation. Among the 21 houses, ten are managed by various house associations themselves, in the other twelve houses, the apartments are rented out individually.

Since the housing shortage is so severe, Luisenstadt eG has a special social responsibility to make its low-cost housing available to those who have the least chance to find housing on the so-called free market. A leasing advisory board is appointed for each rental, which sifts through the applications, prioritizes them, and presents them to the house meeting.

A particular success and encouraging example was the purchase of the house at Ohlauer Straße 36 in 2022, which succeeded because the former owner did not demand the speculatively driven market price, but was content with a purchase price that would afford the Luisenstadt eG to purchase the building, and this way socially acceptable rents could be ensured long-term. It was more important to the owner that his building end up in good hands and be purchased by Luisenstadt eG and therefore taken off the free market. His unusual willingness to forego the performanceless profits of real estate speculation brought media attention to the transaction.