This post was written by Sara Özogul.
The RAW Compound (‘RAW Gelände’ in German) was established as an industrial site with the name Royal Prussian Railway Workshop Berlin II (‘Königlich Preußische Eisenbahnwerkstatt Berlin II‘) in 1867, during a time when Berlin prospered into a major economic hub and experienced significant population growth (RAW Berlin, n.d.). After the dissolution of German monarchy, the railway workshop was renamed the Reichsbahn Repair Shop (‘Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk‘) in 1918 (ibid.), leading to today’s iconic abbreviation of RAW.
From the period following German reunification until 1995, the majority of the RAW Compound remained dormant. In 1999, a group of individuals within the art and culture sphere established the RAW-Tempel e.V. association, initiating the temporary utilization of the compound (RAW Berlin, n.d.). Today, the RAW Compound serves as a prominent center for culture, arts, and clubbing. It often features as one of Berlin’s major landmarks in popular travel guides like the Lonely Planet. However, this status does not protect the RAW Compound from change: the area is undergoing significant transformation, which is regarded as a quintessential representation of the tension between commerce and culture in Germany’s capital city (Tip Berlin, 2022).
A closer examination of this transformation reveals the complex governance of land use in the RAW Compound, characterized by interactions, negotiations, and conflicting viewpoints among investors, Berlin’s district government, club proprietors, arts and cultural institutions, and adjacent residents. The RAW Compound illustrates governance processes applicable to numerous contemporary urban settings, in which investors exert noteworthy leverage over choices that define the course of revitalizing former industrial sites. Furthermore, it underscores the importance of understanding the dynamics between urban planning, governance, and property market activities.
The RAW Compound’s changing investor landscape
Investor landscapes consist of property investors and their features (like organizational and financial structures), along with their behaviors related to location and strategy (Tasan-Kok et al. 2021). These strategies are partly influenced by broader economic and regulatory factors (ibid.). Examining the RAW Compound from the perspective of its investor landscape sheds light on these factors.
In 2001, the owner of the RAW Compound Vivico Real Estate GmbH, made the decision to develop the area. According to online information, Vivico Real Estate GmbH was a real estate company owned by the German Federal Railway Asset Management Authority (94.99%) and the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs (5.01%) with the aim to maximize profits while privatizing publicly-owned real estate (Rocket Reach, n.d.). In 2007, the company – originally established by the German federal government – was acquired by CA Immo, a real estate company headquartered in Vienna and specialized in the development and management of offices. Starting from 2011, Vivico began operating under the name CA Immo Deutschland GmbH (CA Immo, 2011). CA Immo Deutschland GmbH, as indicated on its website, specializes in both the management of current properties and the creation and execution of new real estate projects, encompassing even entire city districts (CA Immo, n.d.).
Vivico Real Estate GmbH engaged in lengthy negotiations with district politicians about a development plan for the site. When a plan was approved in 2004, however, Vivico decided to sell the site instead of developing it. In 2007, the RAW Compound was acquired by the Icelandic-German investor group Real Estate Development Berlin GmbH (R.E.D.) for four million euros (Raw Kultur n.d.). R.E.D. planned large-scale housing constructions but negotiations with the district failed after strong resistance of surrounding residents and current tenants of the Compound (ibid.). Furthermore, issues within the investor group caused a division between German and Icelandic investors (ibid.). Both groups sold off a significant portion of their properties, resulting in a more fragmented ownership of the compound.
In 2015, the German real estate company Kurth became owner of 52,000 square meters of the RAW Compound (RAW Berlin, n.d.). Kurth Immobilien is a family-owned company that transitioned from being an architectural firm to specializing in industrial construction (Kurt Immobilien, n.d.). Eventually, the company shifted its focus to project development across a range of real estate categories within its own portfolio (ibid.).
Another section of the RAW Compound, roughly 17,000 square meters in size, is under the ownership of International Campus AG (Berliner Woche, 2018). The company, which acquired the land in 2015, specializes in investment, development, and operation of student housing and furnished living spaces (International Campus, n.d.). During the same period, the rise of investors focusing on build-to-rent student student accommodation was a notable trend internationally, for instance in London and Amsterdam (Brill and Özogul, 2021). Since 2018, Canadian asset management firm Brookfield is the majority shareholder of International Campus AG (International Campus, n.d.).
The smallest portion of the RAW Compound, measuring 3000 square meters, was temporarily owned by the German real estate management company Sewan Verwaltungs GmbH (Tip Berlin, 2022). However, based on recent online information, it appears that Sewan Verwaltungs GmbH permanently closed, and newer sources only mention two owners of the compound: Kurth and International Campus (Entwicklungsstadt, 2023).
Land use plans, negotiations, and conflicts
The changes in RAW’s investor landscape and ownership patterns are influenced not only by national political choices and overall property market trends but also by local political dynamics, negotiation procedures, and opposition to development proposals. Local residents living nearby the RAW Compound, for example, have been advocating for change for quite some time, expressing concerns about nuisance and criminal activities. The situation escalated further after private investors took over the Compound from Vivico Real Estate GmbH in 2007 but failed to initiate any development or improvement efforts. This absence of progress led to an increase in complaints from residents, visitors, and tenants (RAW Berlin, n.d.). Despite differing opinions on the exact nature of redevelopment, there is a general consensus that change is imperative.
Initially, International Campus AG‘s intention was to concentrate on its specialty: student accommodation (Entwicklungsstadt, 2023). However, the district government strongly opposes any housing development in the area, based on concerns that adding residents to the RAW Compound would intensify pre-existing conflicts within the neighborhood (Berliner Woche, 2018; Bezirksamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, 2018). The district organized three participatory workshops on the future of the RAW Compound in 2018, where it was decided that no apartments should be created on the entire RAW site (Raw Ost, n.d.). Instead, a focus was placed on a mix of offices, art studios and cultural buildings (Entwicklungsstadt, 2023).
The largest owner and investor in the RAW Compound Kurth praised the “8-year dialogue and a participatory planning process” (RAW Berlin, n.d.). Moreover, it’s reported that both Kurth and International Campus view the outcomes of these conversations as indications of their readiness to find common ground (Berliner Woche, 2019). On the other hand, there are other parties who are not content with the outcomes of these discussions. For instance, the Berlin tenant association Berliner Mietergemeinschaft e.V., which provides guidance and assistance to its members on all matters related to tenancy laws, expressed astonishment about the ultimate plan for the RAW site, which received approval from the district government (Berliner Mietergemeinschaft, 2019). Their criticism centers around the extensive construction of offices, and residents’ concern that the office development from the nearby Mercedes-Benz Area will spill over to the RAW Compound, aggravating gentrification in the neighborhood (ibid.). Furthermore, there was outrage about the fact that the approved plan provided for the demolition of most of the existing RAW Compound (Tagesspiegel 2019), while the majority of individuals voiced their support for a cautious and thoughtful redevelopment of the area during the participatory process (Berliner Mietergemeinschaft, 2019).
Additionally, insights have emerged regarding negotiations between the district and the investors. For instance, International Campus proposed constructing a public swimming pool on the site but with the condition that a sufficiently large area be developed in return (Morgenpost, 2019). According to a 2019 article in the newspaper Morgenpost, a representative from International Campus, stated, “If we offer a lot of public-interest-oriented uses, we need supplementary funding, such as through offering office spaces” (ibid.). And in 2022, German newspaper taz published an article titled “Development of the RAW Compound: Challenging Bargain with the Investor.” In the article, it is described how investor Kurth intends to establish offices on the compound, despite the nearby Mercedes Benz Platz already being occupied with office spaces, seeking compensation in exchange for not displacing well-established residents who manage pubs, clubs, and cultural establishments (Taz, 2022).
A tale of governance
The history of the RAW Compound, its evolving investor landscape, and the intricacies of land use negotiations collectively illustrate the complex interplay between economic, political, and social forces that shape urban development. Therefore, adopting a governance perspective is fundamentally important.
The RAW Compound case highlights that urban development, including the formulation of plans that dictate changes in land use, is inherently rooted in negotiations. While participatory processes aim to foster inclusivity, the dominant stakeholders at the negotiation table often consist of local politicians and international-scale investors. The latter bring with them the dynamics of the global property market, influencing the regeneration of local industrial sites. This underscores the necessity for urban planners and local policymakers to possess adept negotiation skills and a profound understanding of real estate investor behavior, enabling them to navigate this landscape effectively.
The processes related to the RAW Compound extend beyond the conventional procedures outlined in gentrification literature. Gentrification typically involves the displacement of lower-income residents by wealthier ones in neighborhoods. However, the situation surrounding the RAW Compound and its vicinity presents a more nuanced scenario. While the displacement of current RAW businesses is indeed a factor, the reality exists in shades of gray. Many operators within the RAW Compound embrace the concepts of redevelopment and regeneration, just not in the exact manner proposed.
Interestingly, serving a public interest and the preservation of the unique character and ambiance of the RAW Compound emerged as a central theme of all governance actors. These are discourses even employed by the investors involved in the site. The task for urban planning now involves the development of innovative instruments and regulatory approaches to harness these discourses and transform them into tangible social value for neighboring residents and cultural institutions, to address the complex governance issues related to land use in the RAW Compound.