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Contractor Christoph Gröner : "We do business despite politics"
On Thursday night, activists of the left-wing extremist scene damaged 21 cars on Rigaer Strasse. The alleged perpetrators have also targeted the activities of the CG Group, which is also building in Rigaer Strasse, on several occasions. We spoke to contractor Christoph Gröner (CEO of the CG Group) about the socio-cultural and political environment that investors find in Berlin.
At an information event held by your company on your building project on Rigaer Strasse, you can read on YouTube: “Christoph Gröner carries gentrification with him like clouds the rain.” Does such a statement offend you?
Such a statement cannot offend me, because it is just terribly wrong and also thoughtless. Gentrification means that you force people out of a neighborhood, out of a certain apartment. For example, a family pays eight euros in rent so far and then comes the investor. And just by investing in it - for example in thermal insulation - the apartment becomes more expensive and the father of a family has to move out with his family because he can no longer pay the new rent. This is gentrification. If it is claimed in the forums that my company is gentrifying, then they are misjudging the word and the actual situation. Everything that we build on in Berlin is either fallow or previously completely unused real estate. In other words, we fill in empty spaces that simply could not be used up to now
“Kiezscheppern against the CG Group and other luxury investors” is the name of an action with which residents on Rigaer Straße want to make it clear on the Internet that they are vigorously defending themselves against their threatened repression. Should you be carrying a gun?
Well, I don't and shouldn't be carrying a gun. To my reassurance, the BKA and the LKA tell me that the left-wing scene is still predominantly of the opinion that the person should not be attacked directly. But the scene claims to release the things I use - whether cars, my apartment, offices and construction sites - as targets for attacks. To that extent, I am at risk because we could possibly be affected by such objectives. So attacks with stones, color are okay from their point of view, just like attacks on police officers and security personnel.
How is your family reacting? You have four children.
I have children between the ages of 26 and eight, and those are children who are also out and about in Berlin's Kiez. And they certainly don't always agree with me. You might have to pick up one or the other child from a squatting. But in the worst case, the children have no understanding for violence because they also experience that conversation, discussion and argument are the basic requirements for human interaction and social recipes for success. And the so-called Kiez clatter is the epitome of a “zero tolerance” line, of not wanting to listen. One does not want to submit to a joint development, an approval of the district. It's not about achieving anything. You want to show that you don't take the police, the district or the entrepreneur seriously. Our company has now become a target, a welcome point of attack. We noticed chaos carted in from outside, but we have not yet found any neighbors who are making noise on cooking pots. In contrast, we found neighbors on Rigaer Strasse who spoke to us and exchanged ideas with us.
- CG group
The CG Group was founded in Leipzig in 1995. The company is currently planning - among other things - the conversion of two office towers into residential towers. It's about the Steglitzer spinning top and about the former Post office in Kreuzberg. According to the company, the core business is Rental housing for institutional investors (pension funds, insurance companies). The CG Group has 300 employees and offices in Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Frankfurt, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Hamburg.
And yet, in a statement for the Tagesspiegel, the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg District Office accuses you of failing to keep promises made on your construction project in Rigaer Straße. In addition, referring to BVV committee meetings, there was talk of “irritations regarding the general trustworthiness of the CG Group”. How do you respond - with a lawsuit?
It is very interesting that the CG Group is being admonished to reconsider its “illegal behavior” in the demolition of the two houses along the street on Rigaer Straße. We have a valid, legally binding demolition or building permit for the demolition. The demolition took place according to the building announcement opposite the district, exactly those parts of the building that we were allowed to tear down after discussions with the district's monument protectionists were demolished. In addition, a wall painting was salvaged for 40,000 euros; the measures were carried out in full agreement with the responsible authorities. The "irritations about our trustworthiness" are attributed to a wrong decision deliberately brought about by the district assembly. When this misleading decision is brought about, one can no longer speak of ignorance, the politically responsible failed here. My reaction was simple: I reached out to the district directly to correct it and received confirmation that it was an unfortunate misinterpretation. We have fulfilled all points in the B-plan process, we work cooperatively with the district and our general trustworthiness in business life is not in doubt.
Everyone wants to buy real estate in Berlin. Based on your previous experience and current expectations, would you advise investors and private investors to implement such plans under the auspices of a red-red-green government? Or would you say: hands off?
I do not feel called to give advice to other investors. But I can present to you those of the board of directors and the management of CG Gruppe AG as well as my personal position: We do business, despite politics. We do not allow ourselves to be irritated by such political circumstances and certainly not to be influenced in our actions. We work on the basis of the constitutional state that we have recognized and which is resilient to this day, even if it is in part endangered by the conduct of individual political actors or is not easily recognizable.
So you won't be impressed. But politics gives you guidelines: Until now, investors in Berlin were obliged to adhere to a rate of 25 percent for rent and occupancy-related living space in residential construction projects. In future, this quota should be 30 percent and no longer relate to the number of residential units, but to the floor space for residential use. Are you planning to renovate the former post office on Halleschen Ufer with 30 percent or 25 percent?
My company is very convinced of the cooperative building land model. Our concerns are more about the large building projects that can be built freely according to Paragraph 34 without having to make a contribution to affordable housing. The load is then rolled out on all development plan procedures. We think that's unfortunate.
So do you voluntarily build 30 percent?
From the first day on the Halleschen Ufer we admitted 30 percent of our actions. This applies to both the number of apartments and the area. We do not differentiate here. We have no problem with that!
Has the project at the Postbank Tower been completed or are you still talking to Degewo about further units that you are building for the company at this location?
We have long since reached a consensus with the district, the structures and areas have been jointly determined. We have met all the requirements by identifying several buildings there in coordination with the district that are intended for the takeover of Degewo. This is done at a binding and agreed price. These things will be finally agreed when we have the "open position" and the implementation contract can be signed with the municipalities. So at a time when we have something resilient. Right now we don't know what's going to be approved, so what's coming? Is it apples, lemons or oranges ...
... So you need something in the land registry ...
Correct. An area, a cubature, a plan that has the prospect of approval. We can't sell anything until we know what we're selling. To date, we have not received the permit, which means that the disclosure has not yet been carried out. The way is that we come from the installation decision in the objectifiable building permit procedure, then the sale of specific areas can be agreed, we cannot backwards back something that we do not yet know what it looks like.
Will the CG Group work elsewhere for Degewo? For example, as part of the Steglitzer Kreisel complex?
In general, we do not consider high-rise buildings to be particularly effective when it comes to creating social housing structures. We check a lot with the Degewo, but have also checked various options with the Gewobag.
So don't build cheap apartments in the Steglitz roundabout.
At the Steglitz roundabout, we are moving within the framework of an existing development plan. We don't see how expensive living space here could cross-subsidize cheap living in the plinth area, because the plinth area is very commercially oriented.
What if you were asked to build inexpensive apartments there?
Then we would be able to defend ourselves against it. We operate within the valid development plan.
How did you find the Steglitz roundabout after it was handed over by the State of Berlin? Was everything swept clean and to your satisfaction?
We are in a perfectly normal process: we bought an object that had to be cleaned of contamination. By and large, this has succeeded. We are in the process of checking whether the values have been fully complied with. If they are not yet complied with, it may be necessary to rework. We are firmly convinced that the State of Berlin will meet its contractual obligations.
That sounds like additional demands.
I am sure that we will see the contractually compliant status this month. We are in the process of coordinating with the State of Berlin and are confident that the State of Berlin will soon have the status stipulated in the contracts so that we can take over the property. We are in contact with the Senator for Finance and he is extremely trustworthy.
Reinhart Bünger conducted the interview.
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