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Google Cancels Plans for Berlin Campus Over Local Protests

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In a surprising victory, local protesters won a battle against the US tech giant, which wanted to revamp a local building into a technology campus.

The residents of Kreuzberg, a part of Berlin, have succeeded in repelling Google from developing a campus in their neighborhood.

Google had planned to convert an old electric company building in Kreuzberg into an incubator for tech start-ups, The New York Times reported Friday. Yet on Wednesday, the company's German spokesman Ralf Bremer announced that the 3,000 square-meter space would be given, free of charge, to non-profit humanitarian associations.

The company has taken upon itself the burden of paying rent for the two non-profits until 2023, when its lease ends, Bremer said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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As Bremer made the announcement, he did not cite the protests as a reason for the company's change of heart. In an interview for Berliner Zeitung, he argued that Google does not allow local protests to dictate its actions.

According to Bremer, the company made the decision after discussions with many stakeholders, including community groups and local politicians.

This marked the end of a two-year struggle by Kreuzberg citizens, called the "F**k Off Google" campaign. Some of them protested over the "evil" corporate practices of Alphabet — Google's parent company — such as tax evasion and unethical use of people's personal data. Others were concerned that redevelopment of the premises would make local rent costs skyrocket.

​The rent fears were not ungrounded: a recent study carried out by real estate consultancy Knight Fox discovered that property prices were rising faster in Berlin than anywhere else in the world; they jumped 20.5 percent between 2016 and 2017. In Kreuzberg over the same period, the rise was 71 percent, a Guardian report says.

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Kreuzberg has long been one of the most affordable areas of Berlin, making it a haven for students, immigrants, artists and activists, a hub of culture, nightlife and left-wing politics, according to NYT. However, as more wealthy people have moved in, social tensions about gentrification have followed in their wake.

​"They push out the people who were here before," a local 60-year old vinyl record store owner said. "You can't find any more cool places — instead you get hipster cafes that roast their own beans."

In the meantime, some in Kreuzberg's local government were saddened by Alphabet's decision.

Sebastian Czaja, the leader of the pro-business Free Democratic Party faction of Berlin's government, told Berliner Zeitung that this decision will send a discouraging message to other companies and investors.

"Even if the new use of the venue is welcome, the message to all future companies and investors is fatal: Do not come to Berlin, certainly not to Kreuzberg," he said in a statement.

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