Google Had Plans for a Trendy Campus in Berlin. Amid Vandalism and Protests Over Gentrification, It’s Changed Its Mind

October 25, 2018, 10:34 AM UTC

In the two years since Google (GOOGL) announced it’d be opening one of its Campuses in Berlin’s gritty Kreuzberg district, its potential neighbors were less than thrilled.

The Alphabet subsidiary was the target of ongoing protests in Berlin, many of them autonomous actions under the umbrella of “F-ck Off Google.” The reasons for objection were wide-ranging, including concerns about data privacy, human rights and gentrification.

Yesterday, Google’s German team said it was giving the planned startup Campus space in a former electric station in Kreuzberg to two nonprofits: Betterplace and Karuna. And Google is picking up the tab for the ongoing renovation and maintenance of the space, estimated at €14.5 million.

Google maintains it wasn’t forced out. “We don’t allow ourselves to be dictated to by protests,” Ralf Bremer told the Berliner Zeitung. After discussions with local social organizations, Google had decided that using the building for community purposes was “the best solution for Kreuzberg.”

Google will maintain its corporate office in Berlin, which is home to dozens of employees, but won’t pursue another Campus. Google operates Campuses, which serve as incubators, coworking and community spaces, in six other cities: London, Madrid, São Paulo, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Warsaw.

Berlin’s reputation as a cool (and cheap) place to be is attracting a lot of startups. It’s no coincidence that Berlin also has the fastest-rising housing costs in the world. Property consultancy Frank Knight reported earlier this year that real estate prices in Berlin leapt 20.5% in 2017. In Kreuzberg over the same period, the increase was 71%, The Guardian reports.

The Google Campus saga could give pause to entrepreneurs thinking of trading in Silicon Valley for Silicon Allee. The backlash isn’t unusual in Berlin, a city with a long history of people-powered politics and leftist activism. More than 14,000 Berliners demonstrated in April against Mietwahnsinn — “rent insanity.” The erstwhile Google Campus as well as Factory, an incubator in the next neighborhood, have been the focus of repeated vandalism.

Berlin residents and officials are trying everything in their power to prevent Berlin from following the path of San Francisco. Airbnb was initially threatened with an all-out ban in Berlin, but officials eventually compromised with strict limits and permits. Uber was also initially banned in Berlin, and now is only allowed to offer taxi hailing with its app.

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