Berlin’s gentrification is not welcomed by everybody. Especially for young people – artists, students, actually, many of those who “made” Berlin trendy fifteen or twenty years ago – the city is losing its cachet, Berlin property is becoming more and more scarce and increasingly expensive, and the young hipsters are being replaced by professional couples with small children.
But what if I told you that there is a place where some groups of youngsters put their very limited savings together but manage to buy an entire house to live in? Or old empty period buildings, increasingly populated by young artists, still abound? A city which has not suffered major demolition during the war, meaning that it still has a large stock of period buildings, many of which are still empty can be bought for a song? A city which used to be buzzing with trade fairs and industry, and was Germany’s wealthiest around 1870?
Welcome to Leipzig. A city of around 550,000 inhabitants, Germany’s twelfth largest, just over an hour away from Berlin by train (and Leipzig has just been featured in CNN‘s travel section as one of the most attractive day trip options from Berlin). Leipzig is now one of Germany’s poorest cities, after suffering the consequences of the two world wars, and the related exodus of many of its inhabitants.
In the late 19th century, this was very different. Leipzig was a vibrant trade centre, which triggered a construction boom until the beginning of the First World War. Even under communist rule, Leipzig was an industrial production centre, but factories were forced to close after reunification, and many of its inhabitants deserted the city.
But there are signs of a clear renaissance. Very untypically, the population is growing, helped by a positive birth rate and immigration, among others young people looking for “the new Berlin”. Major companies such as Amazon or BMW have a major presence in the city, and Leipzig also boasts a strong and growing biotechnology and medical research industry (with, for instance, one of the best heart centres in the world). The Handelshochschule Leipzig (Leipzig Graduate School of Management) is also one of Germany’s best business schools.
Still, many period buildings are empty, unemployment is still above the German average, and crime is high in some parts of the city. But Leipzig now benefits from numerous tailwinds.
A further regeneration effort comes from the association HausHalten, which aims at maintaining Leipzig’s empty period buildings by bringing life back into them. They will collaborate with the building’s owner to invest in basic refurbishment and maintenance measures, and then rent out the building to groups of artists, entrepreneurs and students who will live there for a very low rent (around 1 euro per sqm, which compares to c. 5 to 6 euros for fully refurbished living space). In exchange, those tenants will also make their own contribution to the building, by, for instance, painting walls, renovating floors, and reviving the building and the area.
Investors are paying attention. Many empty buildings have been bought, and some of them refurbished in the recent past. Construction activity is strong. According to some predictions, the city will start experiencing a scarcity of living space in 7-8 years if population growth continues at its current pace. This prediction may be too conservative, as it was with Berlin property as well.
After all, the dynamics are similar.
And for much more on Leipzig, why not watch the video below (in German)? It provides an excellent overview of Leipzig then and now.
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