Organizing for expropriation

How a tenants campaign convinced Berliners to vote for expropriating big landlords

Lisa Vollmer and Daniel Gutiérrez

Published in Issue 4.2 // The Long Read

Keywords: Socialization, democratization, Berlin, tenant movement, organizing


On 26 September 2021, 59% of Berliners eligible to vote decided in a referendum for the expropriation of big landlords and to socialize approximately 250.000 housing units. This article looks at how the campaign Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co was able to do so. The article begins by introducing conceptualizations of social movement impacts. It then expands on these conceptualizations with a thick description of the emergence and the organizational structure of the expropriation campaign, including the material basis of the campaign, the dire situation of Berlin’s tenants, the organizational ecology of the tenant movement out of which the campaign grew, the political terrain and public discourse the campaign had to navigate, and at the organizational process of the campaign itself. Drawing on such thick description, we revisit and add nuance to the conceptualizations of social movement impact in social movement studies, and highlight the complex interplay between different factors and their effect on different stages of the political process.

Lisa Vollmer is a researcher and lecturer at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany. Her research focuses on housing and social movements. She is co-editor of “suburban. zeitschrift für kritische stadtforschung” and active in Berlin’s housing movement, since 2022 in the Tasforce Climate Justice and Socialization of the DWE campaign.

Daniel Gutiérrez is a movement research and training officer at European Alternatives. He finished his doctoral studies at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, where he studied working-class organization. He has been involved in a number of social struggles over his life, and was involved in the DWE campaign over 2021.

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