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“150 New Businesses in 2 Years”

CASE STUDY: Neukölln, Berlin, Germany

An interview with Stefanie Raab architect and owner of Coopolis. In this case study Raab will tell you something about Neukölln, a district of West Berlin. West Berlin was during the Cold War desolated, but came attractive for residents when the government offered men the opportunity to move there if they wanted to avoid enlisting in the army. But when the wall fell the number of inhabitants didn’t grow and the neighborhood was filled with empty space. Raab lives in the northern part of Neukölln and saw the potential of the empty ground floor shops. But a challenge was to convince local entrepreneurs to invest in the poor neighborhood. By explaining it’s solutions and secrets the reader gets insight in the improvement of Neukölln through a course of time.

“In our shop vacancy projects, we are committed to new forms of cooperation between owners and space seekers to develop the site as needed for a stabile and sustainable future.”

Click here to read and download this article

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“Lese Cafe” in the Nogatstraße 30, Neukölln, Berlin by Stefanie Raab (2009)
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“Kaffeebar” in the Siegfriedstraße, Neukölln, Berlin by Stefanie Raab (2012)
Cover image: “Weinladen & Weinseminare” in the  Jonasstraße, Neukölln, Berlin by Stefanie Raab (2012)
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A walk though Kreuzberg | Berlin at eye level

After dividing into smaller groups, to tackle this city more efficiently, we met up with Cordelia Polinna from Think Berlin. We stopped at Suppengroen for a quick, delicious vegetarian lunch, and then headed to the Spreefeld project.

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The Spree is a very interesting collaborative project, essentially a cooperative building for mixed uses. They have dedicated their ground level as public and semi-public space, and all the residents help fund the ground floor–both the building and programming.  Maybe on our next trip to Berlin, we’ll see the finished product!

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Our next stop was the Markthalle. This old market hall, built in the 1890s, was left abandoned and finally restored a couple years ago. An initiative among the locals kept the market just that way: local. Now it is filled with produce stands and local vendors, like bakers and chefs. They also hold weekend events and it’s a very lively atmosphere.

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Continuing on our walking tour, our next stop was the Karl-Marx-Strasse in the heart of Neukolln. We were going to see the Klunkerkranich project, but we first had to find the shopping mall. Klunker was at the top of it.

How could we miss it? It was quite massive, and terribly out of place on this rather local commercial street. Cordelia explained to us that the street has always been problematic for commercial uses: lots of vacancy, no charm, lots of traffic. The super-sized mall was supposed to be a miracle solution and would bring new people into the area. It didn’t. Moreover, one of the greatest resources, especially for the surrounding lower-income community, was hidden away on the 3rd floor of the mall: the public library. You can barely see the vertically-oriented sign that reads “Bibliotheck” in small letters. Not surprisingly, the library is largely underused.

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Despite the downsides, the real treat was the top floor of this massive mall. You exit the elevator, thinking you’re still in a parking garage, walk around the corner and up the ramp, and then you reach the small paradise of the Klunkerkranich and Farbfelder projects. A community project completed by a group of about 500 people and about €100.000, it is an urban farm, music venue, and cafe/bar. We spoke with the founder, a young guy wearing baggy pants,  a hoodie, and long dreads. He was very casual about the project–“we just asked the mall, who asked the parking garage company, who asked the real estate company and then got together about 500 people and built it.” The main challenge has been the contract with the real estate company.  A one-year contract makes it a difficult decision to invest in things like proper irrigation for the farm. But they are taking things one step at a time.

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A walk through Mitte | Berlin at eye level

Along with AIR Foundation and the City of Rotterdam, we lead a group of 40 urban planners, architects, and real estate professionals to Berlin. We were on a mission to see the city’s best examples of temporary use, cooperatives, collaborations, and revitalization projects. Of course we were also interested in the plinths, and the city at eye level.

Our first full day started with a tour by Dutch local, Vincent Kompier. He lead us through Mitte and over to the Department of Urban Planning. We saw a great diversity of streetscape: construction zones, quiet semi-public courtyards, large historic open spaces, formal gathering areas, various commercials scales, and river front residential.

From our first observations and first walk through the city, it was very clear that Berliners prioritize community, art, and the city’s history in the way they produce their cityscape. Each is demonstrated in their own, Berlin way, and they overlap as well.

Mitte is the center of Berlin, but also a diverse and bohemian neighborhood. Lively, organic, bursting with energy. It can also be quiet and reserved. These dichotomous themes were visible throughout the whole study trip.

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