‘FuckOff Google’. The Kreuzberg way of welcoming the idea of a Google Campus in the Berlin Bezirk of Kreuzberg. After starting similar campuses in Tel Aviv, São Paulo, Seoul, London, Warsaw and Madrid without any resistance, the company missed out on the activist character of Berlin. Why Google might lose the battle of Berlin.
Google picks Kreuzberg to settle down
No less than 2.500 m2 of campus Google wants in the popular area of Kreuzberg. The company is already partner in the nearby ‘Factory’ (ambition of 10.000 startup-members) and a partnership in the Bernauer Straße, near Mauerpark. Google wants to ‘facilitate’ creative startups by offering working desks for €50,00 per month.
Kreuzberg is a popular area for students and young entrepreneurs. Ever since the devision of the city in east and west, this part of Kreuzberg has been place for alternative thinkers, squatters and students. Just across the Landwehrkanal, Neukölln starts, home to 310.000 inhabitants, of which the majority is of Turkish origin. Google hopes to attract many of the unemployed or low income entrepreneurs to their campus. The desired building for the campus is Umspannwerk in the Ohlauer Straße, a former electrical transformer station.
Berlin is no San Francisco
Google spokesmen seems surprised by the strong resistance in Berlin. They were so welcome in cities like Warsaw and London, why not in Berlin?
It seems Google has no idea of the specific social and cultural back ground of Berlin and in particular the selected area. Back in the years of the Berlin Wall West-Berlin was the only place in West-Germany to escape from military service. Many thousands of principal refusers and queer thinkers went to Berlin. They formed the foundation of the emerging club culture, that made the city extreme popular by youngsters form across Europe. In the specific part of Berlin, Kreuzberg36 (old postcode area), they found empty and run down houses. This part was half surrounded by the Berlin Wall and therefor not attractive as living area for citizens who could afford better places to live.
It is still the place for squatters, autonomous groups and political activists. To land just here, is considered as a provocation. Google should have known better. Settling in an area as Charlottenburg of Zehlendorf, Dahlem of Grünewald would not have met any protest.
Google means trouble. Why?
Protesters argue that the coming of Google to the area means an even faster rise in popularity and by that an even stronger effect of gentrification. Already the Landwehrkanal area is subject to gentrification. Despite of being situated between the troubled Görlitzer Park and the partly poor Bezirk of Neukölln, more and more housing with a canal view are sold to those with better incomes than those who lived there some years ago.
Opponents also reject Googles bad privacy reputation and its ambition to make cities to ‘smart cities’, meaning monopolizing its data for boosting its own profits and influence. The fear some sort of ‘überwachungsstadt’. In the light of Berlin’s history, a sensitive subject. It is feared Google is there to explore the many unemployed in the deprived area, and picking the cherries of the startups for its own purposes. Of course the city’s mayor Michael Muller (SPD) welcomes Google, contributing to the city’s profile of startup city. But opponents fear the unlimited uncontrollable power of this world company.
Will Google boost the startup scene?
Google will do no evil, so they make the world believe. But will they do good? Will they boost the startups? The answer is no! Google does not come to Berlin to help the city, as is doesn’t in any other city around the world. Berlin has already a strong startup community, doing quite well. Zalando, EyeEm, Wunderlist and many more.
With a growing influence of Google the expectation is justified that the company will monitor those who come for a €50,00 working desk closely. Those who might develop as an competitor can be easily dealt with. A startup with a concept that might help Google to grown even further will, no doubt, be ‘included’ into the Google family.
Berlin is emerging as one of the most important startup cities of Europe, just by its own. Startup places like Betahaus (also once Berlin startup) have far more value to the city of Berlin (committed to do well to Berlin) than companies like Google, always eager to swallow both competitors and potentials.
The worries of the opponents should be taken seriously.
Update October 24th 2018: Google abandons Berlin
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