Bonn It is not looking good at Viktoriakarree, a small plaza in Bonn city center that sits between the university and the town hall. Graffiti is smeared on vacant storefronts, making an unpleasant sight for pedestrians. The owner of the property is the investor Signa and it has come under criticism.
At seven in the morning, when the city awakens, the Viktoriakarree is still in a deep sleep. Only on Rathausgasse is it already busy. A delivery vehicle brings a package to Seluk Yardirgi’s kiosk and seems to rush away. In the morning light, the graffiti-smeared facades look even shabbier than usual. Not a nice place to be. Like most people who have a business in this little part of the city, Yardirgi wonders why the commercial spaces at ground level have not yet been rented out again.
Investor also owns Karstadt and Kaufhof
His calls to the owner of the property go unanswered and even his e-mails don’t get a reply. The buildings with the vacant storefronts are owned by Signa, an investment company held by René Benko, the Austrian businessman who owns Karstadt and now Kaufhof as well with the recent merger.
Signa wanted to build a shopping center in this town plaza but it obviously hasn’t happened. The plaza is an area situated between Rathausgasse on the one side and Franziskanerstraße on the other. While the situation remains at a standstill, Rathausgasse has become increasingly neglected. According to the city, Signa made the vacated properties available to house refugee families, and eleven families have been temporarily housed there.
A group called Bürgerwerkstatt used one of the vacated commercial areas at ground level to meet and try to develop a new concept for the Viktoriakarree plaza. Some might recall that the area was in the news when protestors occupied the space on the upper floors for months until police cleared the building. Graffiti was then cleared away - only to return a few weeks later.
Some against shopping center
Jannika Dauben sells lovely floral arrangements from her shop “Die Blüte” while looking out onto the ugly neglected area every day. She likes the relaxed mood and the special flair of the area and was against a shopping center. Still, something has to change. When she makes her way home after work, she feels uncomfortable. "In the evening, unfortunately, more and more shady characters are meeting up on Rathausgasse," she observed.
Antje Moecke has been managing the Haase Travel Bureau on Stockenstraße, which is nearby, for more than 30 years now and she says all is fine there. There are many small shops bringing life to the street and with the opening of the café „Brews Lee“, it’s looking “young and dynamic.” Those commercial spaces have been rented out by Signa. The young people running the businesses keep the street clean, while Rathausgasse looks scraggly. “It’s such a shame because so many tourists come to the town hall. The city must be ashamed of it.”
On the outdoor terrace of the Café Blau, which is housed in the former foyer of the Viktoriakarree (closed since 2010), students sit and drink coffee. The autumn sun warms up the area and the chairs and benches outside fill up quickly. At the restaurant next door “Iss Dich glücklich” ( "Eat yourself happy"), the staff have their hands full. "We are glad that there is no shopping mall here," says Frieda (21). "The whole charm of the district would have been destroyed." She is a regular at Café Blau. "The disarray in the square, the colorful mix of shops and cafes and pubs, I think it’s really cool."
“Klingeling” is the name of a local bike shop in the area, it has been there for eleven years. As chair of the Viktoriakarree Business Association, owner Johannes Roth and Axel Bergfeld, the owner of a health food store on Stockenstraße, initiated a citizens’ petition against the Signa plans. “We are still waiting for what will happen after the results of the Bürgerwerkstatt but we have not heard anything yet,” he said. He adds that the situation is intolerable and he wants to initiate a meeting of the business association to discuss what should be done next.
(Orig. text: Lisa Inhoffen / Translation: ck)