Google pulls plug on startup ‘incubator’ in Berlin after fierce opposition

Tech giant Google said it’s decided not to build a campus in Berlin after protesters there raised concerns about gentrification and the rising cost of rent.

Google said it will abandon plans to turn a Berlin facility into a campus for startups, an issue that generated substantial opposition from local residents. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Google said it will abandon plans to turn a Berlin facility into a campus for startups, an issue that generated substantial opposition from local residents. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

The company had planned to convert a former electrical substation in Kreuzberg into an incubator for startups. Local residents, though, fought the plan and physically occupied the 3,000-square-foot site for several hours last month.
“Google is not a good neighbor,” was the demonstration’s slogan.

The protesters also accused Google of evading taxes and mining users’ personal data. On Wednesday, the group celebrated Google’s decision with champagne at the site.

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“The many protests against the #GoogleCampus from the monthly noise demonstration to paint-bag attacks and the cast have had an effect: @GoogleDE gives up its start-up campus!” the group posted on its Twitter account.

Instead, the old substation will be used by Betterplace and Karuna, two German charities. Google will renovate the building, pay the rent for each charity and handle operating expenses until the lease ends in 2023 — at a cost of nearly $16.5 million.

“The area of Kreuzberg has a long tradition of culture, and following feedback from stakeholders and policymakers we have decided the location is just not the right place for a startup venue,” Google Germany spokesman Ralf Bremer said, The Telegraph reported.

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Berlin is balancing efforts to become a hub for startups and entrepreneurship and fending off concerns about rising rent and gentrification, which protesters worry could make the area too expensive for existing residents to live.

Rent in Berlin went up more than 20 percent over the last year — one of the largest increases in the world, a Knight-Frank survey said.

“Of course, we are living in Berlin ourselves, so we know what’s happening with the rents,” Bremer said.

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Google has campuses in London, Madrid and Warsaw, Poland. Google Germany has an office in Berlin that employs more than 100 people.

ByNicholas Sakelaris