Last Saturday I went to East Berlin’s Tierpark. I might have been the only person in the park not accompanied by a small child. So let me clear up an apparent misconception among Berliners: If you’re up close to a manatee – 500kg of blubber, bobbing under the surface of the water, stuffing a full head of lettuce into its mouth – why should you have to be under six years old to find that awesome?
The Tierpark is superior to its West Berlin sibling, the Zoo, because it has so much space. How did the rulers of the German Democratic Republic find such a huge plot for the animal park? Simple. During the land reforms in East Germany after 1945, the Soviets expropriated the Schlosspark Friedrichsfelde.
This Enteignung meant that a clan of blue-blooded aristorcrats lost their private garden. In exchange, about 90 million people have been able to enjoy the Tierpark. Expropriation is such a wonderfully elegant programme. (It’s hard to fathom that the Federal Republic of Germany has actually worked to return land to aristocratic houses, making them the largest owners of forests in the country today.)
Let’s turn to a totally different problem: How can Germany provide housing for refugees fleeing war and oppression? Berlin has no lack of properties that are sitting empty while speculators try to turn them into luxury condos. A part of the SEZ sports complex in Friedrichshain has been confiscated by the city, and now the district government of Kreuzberg is trying to seize empty apartments at Riehmers Hofgarten in Yorckstraße – apartments that have been unused for years. (We’ve already reported how realty speculators in Kreuzberg kick people out of their apartments in order to create… empty lofts.)
But the weird thing is that the government is confiscating these buildings – and then paying rent to the owners. Why not just take them? Is anyone in Berlin going to complain if a few of these Miethaie lose their monopoly houses? Why not just enteignen? That would certainly be cheaper than putting refugees in the care of dubious investors.
And why should we stop the expropriations there? Take Volkswagen. The Wolfsburg auto maker has been systematically deceiving the public in order to maximise profits. (This isn’t a question of hippy and/or egghead bureaucrats from the government whining about a particle that never bothered anyone – the nitrous oxide VW has been hurling at us is deadly stuff!)
Volkswagen is currently owned by the Piech and the Porsche families – two oligarchic houses that came to riches in Germany via their close relationship to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. So why not just take away the riches of these Nazi profiteers? Then we could democratise the world’s biggest car maker. The people themselves could decide if they want climate-killing cars, or, instead, free and round-the-clock public transport.
Expropriation – “the simple thing, so hard to achieve”. It makes me think of Franz-Josef Degenhardt’s Monopoly, a ballad about the constant degradations of working class life in West Berlin. For Degenhardt, expropriation of the rich was the obvious answer. “But the right solution for this problem / we’re supposed to forget it / we’re supposed to forget it / because the right solution for this problem, is for a few, but only a very few, not comfortable.”
So sure, I understand expropriation would be uncomfortable for a few aristocrats, like the businessman Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg (that’s his real name). But just imagine how many Tierparks and houses for refugees we could have if we expropriated just that one guy.