Anti-Gentrification Activists In Berlin Chase Away BMW-Guggenheim Project

Not wanting to risk the wrath of unhappy neighbors, New York’s Guggenheim Foundation has decided against setting up a “mobile laboratory” in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. The lab, a joint project with BMW, is currently on a tour of major world capitals.

Kreuzberg is tipping toward trendy (libertinus)
Kreuzberg is tipping toward trendy (libertinus)


BERLIN -- After threats by extreme leftist groups, a planned research project by automobile manufacturer BMW and New York's Guggenheim Museum will not be going ahead in the Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab, previously located in New York, is a "mobile laboratory traveling around the world to inspire innovative ideas for city life," according to its website.

The opening of the lab in Berlin had been scheduled to take place on May 23, with Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit in attendance. Earlier this week, however, organizers announced that the lab will not in fact be making an appearance in Kreuzberg. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation made the decision after learning from police and local authorities of threats delivered against the project.

The announcement follows a public anti-lab demonstration held last week. Area residents and left-wing activists, concerned about rising housing costs, say the project is part of a trend towards gentrification of the neighborhood. Several individuals associated with the project who reside in the area received threats.

Bypassing Berlin?

An e-mail sent to Die Welt claiming to be from area residents, stated: "We don't want a BMW Guggenheim Lab or the planned complex of luxury apartments!" Berlin police are taking the threats seriously, but said in a statement they think acts of vandalism are more likely than are attacks against people.

The lab, on its tour of nine world cities, was supposed to be in Berlin until July. Die Welt has recently received information that the lab could be redirected to Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. But there's also a chance the lab will end up bypassing Berlin altogether.

Leftists in the Kreuzberg area have in the past repeatedly criticized projects by real estate investors and have attacked some of those built.

Franz Schulz, the area's Green party leader, criticized the recent threats and regretted the fact that the lab would not be setting up in his district. He said that the ideas factory would have provided an opportunity to brainstorm about Kreuzberg's urban development.

Read the full story in German by Joachim Fahrun and Sabine Flatau

Photo - Libertinus

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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