Future Perfect Of Mayors and Gorillas

Photo (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0): Daniel Delang

One city, two segments, neatly separated according to rich and poor. Gentrification, terminated leases, luxury renovations: Goldgrund Realty makes it possible!

Living in a German metropolitan area, one can get dizzy thinking about the rates at which rent and real estate prices are rising. Even more dizzying is the fact that many residents can no longer afford to live in the city, especially when they need to move. What is worse, the so-called bottom-tier of society keeps on growing, which means more and more people are affected by a deepening gulf of class segregation. To put it more simply: The city is becoming more monolithic; rent levels sort people by social class; the less wealthy no longer have access to the city centres.

Cheerfully fighting fire with fire

It’s easy to understand that emotions run high when residents are ousted in an expensive city like Munich. Filmmaker Christian Ganzer, event organiser Till Hofmann and journalist Alex Rühle, all long-time residents of Munich, have equally had enough. And they thought: instead of going out on yet another protest with lame card-board posters, they should cheerfully fight fire with fire. So they founded the Goldgrund Realty Organisation, a “prime international building company”. For a few weeks, they disguised the Truk Tschechtarow Gallery, which is part of Till Hofmann’s comedy club Lach- und Schießgesellschaft, as a real estate office. They printed a flyer advertising residential developments on the public square Münchner Freiheit (Munich Freedom), the ultimate landmark of Schwabing, a quarter plagued by gentrification. In smooth, cynical realtor jargon, the future “Arche de Munich” was hailed as a “fairy-tale property for financial high-performers”, promising its investors: “In times of social coldness, we offer a warm and safe sanctuary – so you can enjoy your very own Münchner Freiheit”. The lower classes of society would also benefit, by getting to do the housekeeping: “Each one of our fine objects will generate new jobs.”

Goldgrund dropped 5,000 flyers in Schwabing’s mailboxes, inviting residents to a meeting promising “Schnäppchen und Häppchen” – bargains and refreshments. Munich’s outraged residents came flocking to the event – and were offered neither deals for lofts, nor snacks, but rather a conference on the question “Who owns the city? The investors or us?” Ganzer, Hofmann and Rühle simply put the spotlight on the grievance by mimicking it. That was the first project by Goldgrund Realty. Their second stunt took things even further – into practical reality.

So much for ‘beyond repair’

Claiming that they were beyond restoration, the city of Munich planned to demolish three residential buildings near the Glockenbachwerkstatt, one of those rare centres in Munich where smart social practices can unfold without restraints, from soccer to child care. Based on recent trends in Munich, it was obvious that these buildings would be replaced by luxurious new constructions, apartments out of the current residents’ financial reach, raising the average rent in the quarter even further. That was the hour of the world’s first guerrilla renovation. A team of Goldgrund activists, skilled craftsmen and parents from the Glockenbachwerkstatt delivered a renovated residential unit that, while not luxurious, was brought up to a decent standard, at documented material expenses of 3,200 euros. So much for ‘beyond repair’.

The guerrilla renovation was publicised in a video that also featured celebrity supporters such as soccer star Mehmet Scholl and stand-up comedian Dieter Hildebrandt in gorilla suits, wielding paint brushes to the music of brass band Moop Mama. The clip was viewed 80,000 times within half a day, prompting then-mayor Christian Ude to take a tour of the apartment himself. Ude was amazed that the place even featured a hardwood floor – well, you would expect nothing less than prime standard from Goldgrund. The happy end to this story: The municipal administration changed its plans and the building at Müllerstraße 6 was renovated. In the meantime, the neighbouring buildings Müllerstraße 2 and 4 have also been saved. The city also decided to assign these buildings to a cooperative that the Goldgrund initiators had launched in 2014 under the name Bellevue di Monaco eG. After the renovation, the co-op plans to operate a housing unit for about 40 refugees, complete with seminar rooms for counselling and support services.

Splendid atmosphere, fuming mayor

Goldgrund has set out to diversify its efforts: In October 2013, under the slogan “All we can do is speculate”, the prime realtor organised a city tour of locations that had been gentrified or whose leases had been terminated. The final destination was a lavish, beautiful 19th-century house across from the Bavarian State Chancellery that had a single tenant left in its over 850 square metres of living space. The city-owned house has been slated for renovation since 2002, all but one lease had been terminated by 2011, yet the lack of passion on the part of the administration made it hard to envision this building ever being restored to liveable conditions.

Goldgrund turned the empty floors of the house into a venue: Stand-up comedian Gerhard Polt performed there, well-known Munich institutions such as the boxing section of sports club 1860 München or the Atomic Café moved in, as excessive rents and overdue renovations had forced them to give up their old locations. The atmosphere was splendid when the venue drew hundreds of visitors as well as the police, which was quick to show up (as this was, after all, an illegal takeover of city property). Of course, it also generated the next Goldgrund video featuring lots of local celebrities. The city’s policy of leaving buildings abandoned was publicly slapped in the face once more – which in turn enraged the mayor, who tracked down the city officials on whose watch the 19th-century building had been so badly neglected. This house is now also scheduled for renovation.

The most lasting success of this campaign is the fact that then-mayor Ude, along with the SPD and Green Party, mandated that all municipal institutions and offices must now report all vacant buildings. If a building is vacant for more than 6 months, the space is released for interim use. And it is now illegal to terminate leases for properties without a complete renovation concept.

Which goes to show: When outrage, social intelligence and smart communication come together, a lot can be done – even where there are stoic claims that nothing can be done. Let’s see where else things can get done in the future. Today, there is a Goldgrund Academy offering classes in the art of bluffing as well as “yoga in close quarters” … and we expect that this firm’s portfolio contains quite a bit of ideas for the future.