Dirk Keitel knows almost all of 190 people who live in the gray, high-rise building in the middle of Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. The 51-year-old has been the superintendent here for five years and lives in one of the apartments himself. Almost half of the 116 apartments in this former old people’s home are filled with tenants, a mixture of senior citizens, artists and punks. For the past six months, the remainder of the one-room units house refugees and asylum seekers.
The building from the 1960s, called the Heinrich-Plett-Haus, was acquired in 2012 by charitable associations VITA and Jugendwohnen im Kiez. “When the refugee emergency arose at the end of 2013, we wanted to get involved,” said Roland Schirmer, deputy director of VITA.
Since June 2014, empty apartments have been offered to refugees. The long-term tenants have remained. “Today the building is a potpourri,” Mr. Schirmer said.
One of the apartments is home to Azziza Hossaini and Salsaal Ezatullah, who fled Afghanistan a year ago with their ten-month-old daughter. The Taliban had threatened Mr. Ezatullah and his family, who was employed by a company that worked with the American military. They have been living for six months at Heinrich-Plett-Haus. “It’s more pleasant here than in the initial reception centers,” he said.
Even though all three of them live in a single room, with a cooking niche and bathroom, at least they are independent. Mr. Ezatullah hopes to find work as a physics teacher in Germany. He already had three years’ professional experience in Afghanistan.