Gentrification and the “Berlin Spirit” #FilouBleibt

I live in the middle of a bubbling pool of gentrification. Some of its effects are worrying; some, I’ll admit, are welcome. But this latest move feels personal.

Local news station RBB interviewing attendees about the #FilouBleibt protest.

Filou, the little bakery opposite our apartment, is being forced to close. According to the building’s owners, the bakery no longer fits in with “the concept of the neighbourhood.” Apparently, the London-based owners know more than I do about the “concept” of my neighbourhood, where I’ve lived for eight years.

If this little corner of the world is not for people who like good-quality, fresh bread seven days a week, then who the hell is it for? And who decides? We all need our daily bread. Closing the bakery is a threat. It’s a signal of intent towards the people who rely on it. It says, “You’re next.”

The bakery has been run by a family for the past 15 years. News of its closure comes suspiciously soon after the completion of a brand new building next door, owned by the same people. Filou’s new neighbour is a hip restaurant and apartment complex with a vertical garden spanning one side of the structure.

The new building with a vertical garden, next door to Filou.

According to another article, the owners said the bakery is not in the “Berlin Spirit”, noting that the property could bring them four times the current rent. I’m not sure if the owners have ever lived in Berlin but they seem to be confusing its “spirit” with its potential profit margins.

The Berlin spirit I know is founded on resistance and solidarity. On this grey, Sunday morning, a protest has gathered in front of the bakery to oppose the closure. In subzero conditions, people from across the community address the crowd, who respond with chants and hoots of support, bashing saucepans with wooden spoons.

The #FilouBleibt protest sprawls across the doorway of the bakery’s new neighbour, a hip restaurant.

The message is clear. The people here value small businesses and what they mean for the well-being of an area and its residents. We like to make decisions for ourselves about what goods and services we have access to. We will not be manipulated, nor ousted.

A resolution submitted to the District Ordnance Office (the Bezirksverordnetenversammlung or BVV) expresses its support for Filou as “an important part of the local supply infrastructure and meeting place for neighbours”. The closure, it says, threatens not only the family but also the quality of life of many local residents.

The document describes the situation as part of ongoing erosion of the famous “Kreuzbergmischung”, a unique cultural diversity for which the area has long been known and loved: “A functional mixture which stands not only for urbanity, but also for urban quality of life.” It also notes the importance of local infrastructure and availability of everyday goods. “In order to maintain life with short supply routes and neighbourly coexistence, the neighbourhood’s various structures must remain”.

Newness is refreshing. It’s nice to see enterprises popping up, from the lovely Greek-owned coffee house round the corner to the cute ice-cream parlour down the road. But why can’t these new small businesses coexist with older ones? If we take away the roots, how will the sprouts survive?

Diversity is part of what makes this place so valuable. If the owners understood that, maybe they’d realise the long-term benefit of letting Filou stay open, allowing it to thrive literally side-by-side with one of the area’s most visible signs of change.

We can’t live on fancy flat whites and raspberry sorbet alone. We need our daily bread.

“If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake.”