Kreuzberg’s beloved Kisch & Co bookshop is being threatened with eviction, the victim of a shady real estate company based in Luxembourg financed by one of Sweden’s richest families. How did we get here? Peter Laudenbach spoke with the operator Thorsten Willenbrock, who’s run the store for more than two decades.
Why did Kisch & Co. lose a valid rental contract?
We have been running the bookshop in Oranienstraße for 24 years, but the building was sold a few years ago. The new owner obviously has very ambitious ideas about the rent. The rent we can pay and that we offered the owner to continue our lease does not meet his expectations. So the lease, which expired on 31 May 2020, was not extended.
Were you able to come to an agreement directly with the owner?
No. The owner is Victoria Immo Properties V S.a r.l. in Luxembourg. We did not negotiate with any of their employees at any time, but only with their legal representatives – first with the property management, then with a lawyer commissioned by them. We did not receive an offer for a longer-term lease.
Were the landlord’s legal representatives willing to compromise?
We received two offers. The first included three rent-free months, from March to May, if in return we promised to move out on time by 31 May. We did not accept. The second offer was to extend the lease for seven months until 31 December 2020 at a reduced rent. However, the contract contained completely unacceptable clauses that would have meant the silent and certain end of our bookshop.
What were these clauses?
The clauses demanded that we, in consultation with Victoria Immo Properties V S.a r.l., speak positively about them in a YouTube video as well as to Berlin journalists and politicians who had campaigned for us or reported on our conflict with the landlord.
This is a remarkable demand, to put it politely. The landlord who chose not to renew our lease expects us to praise him publicly and to claim to journalists that we have no problem with him. A confidentiality clause stipulated that we were not allowed to comment publicly on the conclusion and contents of the contract. Of course, we did not sign this contract.
What do you think of this grotesque demand by your landlord?
It shows the impudence and arrogance with which anonymous real estate funds from tax havens act. Because that is apparently what Victoria Immo Properties V S.a r.l. is about. We need a transparency register that names the beneficial owners who are hiding behind such funds.
Who is behind Victoria Immo Properties V S.a r.l.?
It was not easy to find out. According to the extract from the land register, the building owner is Victoria Immo Properties V S.a r.l. Three lawyers are listed as the beneficial owners of this fund, two of whom work for the law firm Marxer & Partner in Luxembourg. According to research by Christoph Trautvetter of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, one or more members of the Rausing family are behind the whole construction.
What do you know about this family?
They are the heirs of the founder of the Tetra Pak group, one of the richest families in Sweden. As far as I know, they are billionaires.
Do you think the rents that the investor expects are realistic?
At no point was the rent desired by the new owners mentioned to us. We know from other tenants in our building, an architect’s office, that the owners were asking €38 per square metre for the unrenovated rooms with the most basic furnishings. These are rents higher than those in much more attractive locations and for better-equipped rooms.
The clauses demanded that we speak positively about the landlord in a YouTube video.
As far as I know, the purchase price for the whole building was €35.5 million. So the pressure on returns is high if this purchase price is to be recouped at some point. With the required rent level, we have to assume that all current tenants will have to leave the building. Commercial rents of €38 per square metre can only be achieved by renting to start-ups or co-working spaces.
Is the purchase motivated by the tourist gentrification of Kreuzberg, or simply speculation?
I don’t know if the owners are pursuing a specific plan. According to experts, they simply paid far too much for the building. More serious than the tourist gentrification of Kreuzberg, which would “only” have affected our premises, is the possible displacement in the rest of the building. I’m no expert, but I can’t imagine that the new owners will be able to recoup the purchase price through rents, especially not in times of corona.