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House occupation and grassroots anarchism

BERLIN / The 70s came back in Berlin in many ways, but with the opposite sign: Today's fight against brutal urban redevelopment and demolition of war-ruined residential buildings has today turned into a fight against gentrification and housing speculation.


Anarchist groups played a crucial role in urban development at that time and make it useful in today's situation: For approx. one year ago, activists occupied two residential houses in Reichenbergerstrasse in Kreuzberg in the wake of a demonstration against increased rents and gentrification where approx. 20 000 protesters participated. A total of nine houses Berlin was occupied that day. Parallel to the housing shortage, sympathies in the Berlin population rise for occupation of uninhabited houses and apartments. Last summer, clashes between feminist and skeptical anarchists and the police flared up again in the occupied house at 34 Liebigstrasse in Friedrichshain. From 1970 until today, more than 630 houses have been occupied. 200 of these have been legalized / approved by the city senate as a book collective. To understand today's situation, you have to look back in time:

Left radical autonomous

The 70's West Berlin was surrounded by the wall, so the housing demand was great. The city government decided that large parts of the old and partly dilapidated building stock should be demolished and replaced with modern residential blocks (which can be seen, for example, at the Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg). Until the demolition was to take place, dilapidated apartments and houses were rented out reasonably to students, artists and migrant workers from Turkey and Greece, among others. Also, the left-radical scene gathered in the district of Kreuzberg because of the above reasons.

New forms of cohabitation were tried out: Neighborhoods, collectives and other initiatives made the district colorful. The student movement, resistance to the Vietnam war and capitalism criticism characterized West Berlin's youth. One of the protagonists from the left scene was the anarcho-rocker Rio Reiser (group Ton, Steine, Scherben). His song "Might kaputt was euch kaputtmacht" (destroy what ruins you) became legendary.

The left-radical scene gathered in the district of Kreuzberg.

The "battle" (eviction of house occupants) at Fraenkelufer in Kreuzberg in 1980 is termed the birth of the left-wing autonomous activist movement in Berlin. Over 200 people were injured, 66 were arrested. The conflict between state power and anarchists culminated in 1981: Eighteen-year-old Klaus-Jürgen Rattay was overtaken by a bus and died following protests against the eviction of eight occupants from eight houses in the Schöneberg district. Rattay's death led to a change of government policy on the occupations. Instead of eviction and prosecution, from now on they chose to negotiate with the activists. In 1984, two thirds of the occupations were legalized, one third terminated and residents evicted by the police.

Photo: Hans-Georg Kohler

Fall of the wall

After some quieter years got squatting new wind in the sails. The fall of the Wall triggered the second occupation wave. Unresolved legal conditions and many older empty houses in the eastern part of the city led the lion's share of the left-wing radical scene to East Berlin. In 1990, 120 houses were occupied in the eastern part of the city, including Liebig Strasse 14 and Rigaer Strasse 94, both in the Friedrichshain district. The area gradually developed into the stronghold of the left-wing radicals, who are now widely known throughout Europe. At the expulsion of activists in 1990 in Mainzer Strasse under Socialist Mayor Walter Momper, several media reported on civil war-like conditions. The situation improved after the Christian Democrats (CDU) came to power.

The student movement, resistance to the Vietnam war and capitalism criticism characterized West Berlin's youth.

Occupants of Rigaer Strasse 94 signed a lease in 1992 with the homeowner and the municipal housing organization. In 1999, several occupied houses in Rigaer and Liebig Strasse were purchased by Lila GbR who wanted to build new houses with an ecological housing concept. The residents sat down to counter. Some apartments were cleared by police, but it was not long before they were occupied again. In 2011, the case was dealt with legally and led to eviction. The following year, 48 police officers were injured in a demonstration regarding the anniversary of the eviction. The battle is still ongoing.

The protests and house occupations of the 70s and 80s resulted in large parts of the old settlement in Kreuzberg being preserved to this day.

survey: Solidarity and self-management

Hans-Georg Kohler
Hans-Georg Kohler
Kohler is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid. Artist.

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