From campfire to multi-million project

Visitors enjoy the spot along the Spree, where once offices had to be build.

Holzmarkt along the river Spree is a remarkable project. Started as the famous Berlin beachclub ‘Bar 25‘ it transformed at the opposite side of the Spree to ‘Kater Holzig‘, recently closed. Back on the spot of ‘Bar25’ an alternative ‘village’ is under construction by the name of ‘Holzmarkt’. An article inspired by a information meeting for investors and a conversation with co-ininiator Christoph Klenzendorf.

Berlin-Holzmarkt: redeveloping with a different perspective
It was a september evening that I was invited to attent a meeting for those interested in becoming a ‘Genosse’ (shareholder in this case) of the project Holzmarkt. In a construction shed on the grounds of the future Holzmarkt, some 15 interested persons came to listen to the stories of the initiators. People with expertise in alternative city development. Their very successful venue BAR25 had to close in 2009 due to plans of the owner of the land, a Berlin based waste collector, to build new offices. The crew of BAR25 crossed the river Spree to open their even more successful KATER HOLZIG. A hard to find run down building full of graffiti became the hotspot for 48 hour lasting parties, film festivals, theatre, company gatherings and one of the most exclusive restaurants in Kreuzberg.

When the crisis landed along the Spree
Two years after BAR25 had to close down, to make way for glass and concrete, the empty stretch of land   was still without any building activity. Plans for offices had been cancelled. And with some cash KATER HOLZIG persuaded the landowner to sell this piece of ground.
Giving way to this development, Berlin cancelled its original plans to put offices in place in order to attract media firms. The city came to realize that the city image of ‘Arm aber sexy’ (poor but sexy), for the first part (arm) was due to mismanagement by the city itself, and for the second part (sexy) was owed to the many volunteers working to improve the many empty places and buildings.
With the financial help of a Swiss pension-fund the grounds where acquired. The ‘Genossenschaft Holzmarkt’ doesn’t bear the risks of this buy, as they lease the property for 75 years from the owner, the Swiss pension-fund. The Swiss owner feels sympathy for the HOLZMARKT ideals, but is independent from whether HOLZMARKT is successful. The land is a long term investment, the adventure on the ground is the business of HOLZMARKT. The grounds of KATER HOLZIG counted 6.000 square meters; those of HOLZMARKT an impressive 18.000 square meters.

One of the first buildings (2015) at Holzmarkt.

Nice plans
The project is on its way a year now (2013). The first results can be seen. There are plans for a club, urban agriculture, a day-nursery (‘Kita’), a guest house (hotel), 13 soundstudio’s of Native Instruments and some 80 small commercial space of 60 square meters each (for creative entrepreneurs and artists). The guest house is realized by an external party. All permits will be granted within one month. The mayor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Frau Herman, is a big fan of the project and supports where she can.
‘The civil servants have a tough job’, says one of the founders of HOLZMARKT, ‘they have to deal with the rules. They think along with us and make proposals how we can make it work.’
The ‘Genossenschaft HOLZMARKT decides which functions are allowed in the project and by doing so what is being build. These buildings are hired to parties willing to use it conform the outlined concepts. The tenants have to make their place profitable. HOLZMARKT only supports them with advice and practical help, but not with money.

Participants donate €25,000.00
One can become a ‘Genosse’ by donating €25,000.00. A lot of money. But a group can form a formal entity as well and bring in that amount. In this case the amount is brought in by many. Regardless the number of ‘shares’ or amount of donated money, every investor becomes 1 vote in the controlling ‘board’. So if 10 persons bring in €25,000.00, they together still have 1 vote. Bringing in €100,000.00, even then 1 vote. This legal construction prevents to many votes from small investors, that make the decision making difficult. It also prevents bigger investors from becoming to powerful.
An invester is not allowed to bring in borrowed money. The calculations of the project are conservative. Buildings are amortized over a 50-years periode. Thus, no speculation on a possible rise in real estate value.
The term of notice as ‘Genosse’ is 4 years. Unless you sell your share to someone else. This rules out a blackmail by someone who owns many shares.
The whole HOLZMARKT project requires a €14 million investment.

How this is organized
A coordinating body decides over subjects concerning the area management. This body controls the day to day business of the HOLZMARKT, such as activities and events being organized in the area.
Decision making concerning building and infra structure will be done by a special project planning department staffed with 15 people. Answering a question from the audience present at this information evening, a staff member ensures that all buildings are being insured.
The area is split into 4 economic sections to spread the risks. Building only starts when the financial means are available. De most important parts of the project should be ready in 2 years time (by 2015).
The building of the ‘Gasthaus’ (hotel) starts by 2015. Most of the project should be ready by 2017, if a project like this will be even ‘finished’. The buildings will last voor decades, but the functions in them possibly just 10 years.

No plans, but ideas
The initiators have ‘no plans, but ideas’. Christoph Klenzendorf, is one of them. He thinks will be able to realize his ideas here along the Spree. ‘We want to preserve places like this. Berlin owes its populair image to places like HOLZMARKT. Some tend to forget this. We want the banks of the river Spree to remain accessible for the public, facilitated by a public track along the Spree. This is what Berlin needs; that is why some many come. This should be possible in any city, don’t you think?’
I agree fully and wish Christoph and his ‘Genossen’ all the luck and success.

More about the HOLZMARKT-concept (pdf).

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