After a storm of community resistance, the tech giant has reversed its plans to build a new campus in the city’s trendy Kreuzberg district.
Did Berlin really just say no to one of the most powerful technology firms in the world? Last week, Google announced that it would not be opening a 32,000-square-foot campus in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood, backing down from the plan after widespread local protests and even a lukewarm attitude from officialdom. In an era where American cities have been contorting themselves to host Amazon’s HQ2, the resistance to Google’s overture might seem incredible, especially as Berlin’s economy is not one of strongest among Germany’s major cities.
Zoom in a little closer, however, and a more complex picture emerges. The fight over Google’s Berlin campus was not about rejecting a tech leviathan as such. It was about preserving the integrity of a specific neighborhood—one in which Google would have struggled to fit.
Had Google chosen an office block in one of the Berlin business districts that are already home to many corporate HQs, or pledged to build a campus out on the city fringe, they would have probably been welcomed with open arms. The forceful local backlash, which involved two years of counter-campaigning (including a brief site occupation) from a memorably titled activist coalition called Fuck Off Google, came about partly because they chose a neighborhood that was already under considerable stress. Kreuzberg, the western Berlin location picked by Google, has both an especially distinct recent past and a pretty fragile present status quo.