Clothes off, cartoon masks and music on. The 10 or so young Berliners get naked in seconds, dancing around at an apartment viewing in an unusual form of protest at fast-rising rates in the once-divided city.
Bopping around in the buff in the living room of this apartment in the district of Friedrichshain in former communist east Berlin, the demonstrators quickly drew the ire of the estate agent conducting the viewing.
“Get out! I’m calling the police,” he screamed, trying in vain to grab one of the naked dancers as techno music boomed around the flat.
On this cold Berlin winter’s day, with the mercury well below zero, the “Hedonist International” has decided to bring its special brand of protest to this apartment, which they deem too expensive.
For a 63m2 (19 ping) space including “completely renovated with cherry-wood flooring throughout, high ceilings, and a top-of-the-range kitchen” according to the agent’s blurb, the asking price is 726. euros (US$945) per month, heating included.
Too much, says Nick, one of the main organizers of the protest, who spoke to Agence France-Presse under an assumed name.
“Rents have risen by 50 percent in this area in the last few years,” he said.
“I had to wait for six months to find an apartment. For people with families, it’s even harder,” the 28-year-old student said.
In certain trendy parts of Berlin, the demand for housing has simply exploded, with the district of Friedrichshain being a prime example.
Formerly a working-class bastion deep in East Berlin, Friedrichshain has undergone a rapid process of gentrification, transformed from a hang-out of squatters and punks to the hip pied-a-terre of buggy-pushing young couples.
“We started this summer,” said another demonstrator, who gave his name as “Luther Blissett” (a former professional soccer player).
He said the activists had taken inspiration from the French group “Black Thursday,” which organizes similar protests at ballooning prices in Paris.
“But our unique selling point is that we are naked,” he quipped.
In Berlin, rental prices are considerably lower than in other major European capitals such as London or Paris and much cheaper than in places like New York, Tokyo or Mumbai.
A building boom that took place after the fall of the Berlin Wall 21 years ago has left supply hugely outstripping demand and lower living standards in the former communist east also kept a lid on prices.
But all this is changing, said Empirica, a consultancy, with a 14-percent rise in rents the past year.
“It’s young and mobile households that are particularly affected,” said one of the firm’s experts, Reiner Braun.
“Students looking for a first-time place, young families searching for a larger apartment and those forced to move for professional reasons” are being hit by rising prices, Braun said.
Meanwhile, back in Friedrichshain, the agent has made good on his threat and two police vans and three cars, sirens wailing, screech to a halt outside the apartment.
A few minutes earlier, the hedonists redressed on the double and scarpered, hastily zipping up flies and reclipping bras.
“What we’re doing is not a crime,” Nick said. “These are public viewings and we are not entering the apartments by force.”
The agent, livid, refused to respond to questions. “No comment. No pictures. Out!” he said.
Another young man who came to view the apartment was also unimpressed with the protest.