Berlin’s punk-rock district charges into battle against Google

Berlin’s punk-rock district charges into battle against Google

Global cities from Seoul to Tel Aviv have welcomed Google with open arms, but in the bohemian Berlin district of Kreuzberg the Silicon Valley giant has found itself on the frontlines of gentrification trench warfare.

Its new Berlin hub now in the making — 3,000 square metres (32,000 square feet) hosting offices, a cafe and a coworking space in a once-derelict industrial building — is set to be the latest outpost of California startup culture in Europe.

But a campaign dubbed “Fuck Off Google” has begun organising monthly demonstrations at the site of the company’s future “campus”, set to open later this year.

The blunt slogan has been daubed atop the layers of posters and graffiti that cover all available public wall space in artsy, multicultural and left-leaning Kreuzberg and adorns the bridges along its tree-shaded canal.

“It’s extremely violent and arrogant of this mega-corporation, whose business model is based on mass surveillance and which speculates like crazy, to set up shop here,” fumed a hacker and protest leader who asked to be identified only by his alias Larry Pageblank.

With hip Berlin drawing ever more people, and apartment prices steadily rising, “gentrification is gathering pace and loads of people are already being thrown out” of once working-class Kreuzberg, he charged.

‘Battery farm for ideas’

In fact, Berlin is no stranger to tech culture, and many IT newcomers lure programmers with offers of free beers, snacks or massages at the office and hierarchy-free leadership structures.

The city’s “Silicon Allee” (Silicon Avenue) companies now make it one of Europe’s top destinations for investment into startups, beating London and Paris to the post last year with 3.1 billion euros ($3.6 billion) in capital raised.

Google already operates a co-working space, the so-called “Factory” in the affluent hipster neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, while home-grown incubator Rocket Internet shepherds a flock of startups towards hoped-for greatness.

One of Berlin’s biggest successes, online fashion retailer Zalando, last year reported revenues of 4.5 billion euros less than a decade after its 2008 founding.