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Inside Berlin’s Former Squats – The University Times

The Bane of the Brexiteers – The University Times

It was years in the past once I first visited Liebig 34, a constructing in Berlin that has been occupied because the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. I had simply moved to the town after graduating, and in my early nomadic days, I’d been crashing at a feminist houseshare once I made a pal, River. River confirmed me plenty of belongings you may look forward to finding in Berlin, when you knew the place to look: events within the woods, anarchist bars, bookshops that doubled as golf equipment. She’d typically present up at my doorstep, her large husky in tow, to ask me to legendary fetish membership Package Kat, or to anti-fascist events. River quickly obtained a room in Liebig 34, a collective touted as a protected area for the sorts of people that don’t often get protected areas.

Once you consider the phrase “squat”, Liebig 34 is the image that jumps to thoughts. 5 storeys up and lots of extra throughout, its facade is plastered with graffiti, overgrowth and banners declaring that the home goes nowhere. Inside is extra of the identical: metal doorways, dimly lit stairways, a barrage of trippy murals. When she was shifting in, I attempted to assist River tidy up her new room, however it was onerous to make a dent within the grunge of the place. Her room was massive, however the partitions and ceilings have been crumbling and will have completed with much more than a lick of paint. There was no central heating, although there was an unlimited ceramic range within the nook. Showers have been briefly provide, a lot in order that River would typically ask if she might come over and use mine.

For sure, it wasn’t a five-star lodge. However individuals don’t be a part of Liebig 34 for luxurious. The collective, which identifies as anarcha-queer-feminist, sees itself as a political venture the place individuals come collectively to flee the confines of capitalism. The challenge disavows patriarchal buildings, and all gender identities are welcomed – all, that’s, apart from cisgender males. The constructing is residence to over 40 individuals, however the Liebig 34 group extends far past this by way of its downstairs bar, a buzzing venue and a cradle of fringe tradition.


Okay, a present resident of Liebig 34, describes the home as “somewhere where I can be kinda left to do what I want. And just be treated as, like, a weirdo. Where weirdness is accepted”.

I misplaced contact with River after some time – anarchists may be troublesome individuals to maintain monitor of – however I by no means forgot my temporary visits to Liebig 34. There have been a lot of issues about life there that I appreciated: the liberty of it, with the ability to speak about radical concepts. However I feel what was most enjoyable about these first experiences of Liebig 34 was the glimpse it provided into Berlin’s various housing scene, an area the place new and other ways of dwelling, so totally different to what most of us are used to, are made potential.

* * *

On the night of November ninth, 1989, a historic press convention was broadcasted on tv units throughout East Berlin. What might, underneath different circumstances, have been a minor gaffe by German Socialist get together member Gunter Schabowski – like several good politician, he ad-libbed stay on TV relatively than admit uncertainty when requested about whether or not it was true that East Germans might now journey with out having to undergo a 3rd nation – turned out to be a momentous slip-up. Because of Schabowski’s miscommunication of orders, hundreds of individuals instantly flocked to the Berlin Wall. The wall, standing 12 ft excessive and stretching for 27 miles, guarded each few steps by towers and landmines, had been Europe’s biggest barrier to freedom, each materially and symbolically, for over 25 years. The roaring crowds that arrived on the metropolis’s East-West border that night time overpowered the guards. Within the days that adopted, the newly liberated individuals, armed with hammers and pickaxes, started tearing down the wall, brick by historic brick.

It’s troublesome to think about the impact that sudden, unbridled liberation may need on a inhabitants following many years of life beneath an oppressive surveillance state. The momentum that gathered on that fateful night time in November 1989 endured for weeks, months, even years, albeit in lots of varieties. In hindsight, it’s maybe no shock that years of repression bred a thriving counterculture in Berlin that’s matched by few locations throughout Europe immediately. When the Berlin Wall fell, giant sections of the East have been deserted, solely to be progressively reclaimed by what was termed the “DIY generation”.

The undertaking disavows patriarchal buildings, and all gender identities are welcomed – all, that’s, apart from cisgender males

Amid the chaos and desertion, squats sprang up throughout the East. Squatting tradition in Berlin predates the autumn of the wall, however the metropolis really turned a hotbed for squats after 1989. A lot of the squatting communities which have endured till right now have their origins on this period. Strolling via East Berlin, there’s an excellent probability you may catch sight of 1 – they’re not arduous to identify. However, regardless of the banner-laden facades, these homes are not technically “squats”. With regulation and order largely restored, occupied buildings have both been evicted or legalised. Now, they’re housing tasks. They principally have contracts with the federal government of Berlin, and whereas they often pay solely a comparatively small quantity to maintain the home, they aren’t utterly free to reside in. Regardless, “squat” tradition and all that it entails continues to be writ giant within the metropolis. Pushed by politics, idealism, or a little bit of each, these housing tasks assist to make Berlin what it’s in the present day.

* * *

An anti-fascist puppeteer, Okay will quickly rejoice their 26th-and-a-half birthday. Initially from Eire, Okay has been dwelling in Liebig 34 since final February. Each week, Okay levels a musical puppet present within the park. The rock-and-roll present stars the Animaux Household, publicans who personal “the only animal-run bar in the world”. The concept of the present, says Okay, is “to take back rock and roll to its rightful owners, which are the kids, the teenagers, the boppers”.

“Last week, it was great”, they inform me. “We were in the park, and a cart of children showed up, and by the end of the show, all the kids were dancing.”

Whereas they often pay solely a comparatively small quantity to maintain the home, they aren’t utterly free to reside in

Puppets are certainly one of many ways in which Okay raises the funds wanted to pay their method in the home. Sitting in a windowsill upstairs, having a smoke, a defunct phone dangling round their neck, Okay tells me slightly bit about how they ended up in Liebig 34.

“I was running away from home”, says Okay. “I was living a comfortable life in my homeland. But I needed to escape my identity in that homeland, and become a different person.” It’s a narrative that’s little question acquainted to many: “I’ve been a lot of places where I didn’t feel like I belonged. I was one of the weird outcasts.”

Like a whole lot of residents in Liebig 34, Okay isn’t snug with the gender requirements that society has laid out for them. “Here is the only place I feel sane and normal, places like this”, they are saying. “Because I just don’t have to deal with this massive list of assumptions that everyone’s making about me all of the time.” However, like many individuals in at the moment’s world, Okay is jaded by the gender dialog. They don’t need to speak about it, as a result of there’s not an entire lot left to say. “I just think it’s hilarious that we have two genders and everyone is into them.”

The world that Okay inhabits could seem mysterious and elusive, however Okay didn’t stumble in via any secret backdoors. They discovered their approach into the choice sphere via probably the most mainstream channel of all: Google. “I heard the word ‘anarchism’ and Googled ‘anarchism’. And then Googled ‘squats’.”

“So many middle-class entrants to alternative worlds don’t come about it by like, poverty or desperation or need or being excluded from society. There’s a whole group of people who do. But then, like, loads of people just Google it.”

Okay is an anti-fascist puppeteer dwelling in Liebig 34 in Berlin.

Ciannait Khan for The University Times

Liebig 34 is anarchist in ethos. However what does that imply in apply? It’s definitely not the cartoon model of anarchy, a well-worn cliche during which chaos reigns and cities burn to the bottom. However whereas there’s a basic sense of solidarity towards anti-capitalist causes, there’s additionally no singular department of anarchy that everybody in the home helps. Okay tells me – considerably facetiously – that they personally subscribe to “the Patti Smith of 1976 anarchism”. They clarify that Smith did an interview that yr in Stockholm, which is Okay’s favorite video on YouTube. “She just kinda like, waxes poetic on what she thinks”, says Okay. “She kinda says that once you put words or labels to anything, to any idea, it’s already dogmatic. So just like, forget even anarchism, because that’s just a word.”

The surroundings in Liebig 34 is laid again and open. Individuals file out and in of the kitchen whereas Okay makes me dinner – spinach and peanut spaghetti – of their shared kitchen. Roommates bounce into the dialog and chat away fortunately, brazenly providing meals or smokes.

It could be tempting to stereotype concerning the sorts of people that may stay in various housing tasks – hippies or punks, idealists or troublemakers – or to not take their concepts significantly. However Okay isn’t making any grandiose claims to having achieved some type of utopia. They don’t fake that life at Liebig 34 works completely, not by any means. “I wouldn’t argue its indisputable merits”, they are saying. “It’s got its problems, just like everything else.”

“It doesn’t work without serious problems or difficulties. But like, does it work? The house is still here. We’re still here. It functions, I guess. Which is all you can say about any system.”

As for spreading the message past the home, Okay has little interest in preaching. “I wouldn’t be able to take it seriously to say, this is how the world should be. Because I don’t know”, they are saying. “I just … I’ve just chosen what I think is the most plausible option for me, and this seems to be the best thing available.” They snigger. “That’s not a very ardent call to arms.”

* * *

North of Liebig 34 and its house neighbourhood of Friedrichshain is Prenzlauer Berg, by far probably the most upmarket district in Berlin’s former East. In distinction with grungy Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg is full of Parisian cafes and a younger – however markedly rich – inhabitants. On Kastanienallee is the town’s smallest cinema, Lichtblick-Kino, the place Dan Tsubari often picks documentaries to display.

Ten years in the past, when he was 17, Dan took a visit to Berlin from his house nation of Israel. Whereas right here, he visited Liebig 34 briefly with a pal. “They had this huge door made of metal with barbed wire in the staircase”, he says. “You really got into the eye of the storm.” However he beloved it instantly. “I liked the atmosphere there. The sharing.” It was solely a brief go to, however sufficient for him to be impressed.

It could be tempting to stereotype concerning the sorts of people that may reside in various housing tasks – hippies or punks, idealists or troublemakers – or to not take their concepts significantly

Since 2014, Dan has lived in Okay77, a communal home above and behind Lichtblick-Kino. “This is the mothership. Kind of the last hardcore project in Berlin”, says Dan. He provides me a tour of the home, which has been occupied since 1992. Since then, it’s been legalised by the federal government on the grounds of the contribution it makes to the town’s arts and tradition. Most residents of the home are artists in some capability, says Dan. In the intervening time, there are 20 adults and 11 youngsters.

Okay77 seems to be very totally different to Liebig 34. The rooftop, with its picket benches and multicoloured mild bulbs, seems out over trendy Prenzlauer Berg. Counter tops and cabinets are handcrafted – with so many artists round, they make all the things themselves. The kitchen is shared between the entire home, however there’s not a single dish neglected. Dan cuts me a slice of selfmade chocolate cake and takes me to take a seat on the balcony, which overlooks flowering gardens. It’s an undeniably lovely home, and it prices little or no in financial phrases to stay right here. The trade-off, I suppose, is the problem of sharing your life with not one household, not two, however many. Does Dan ever discover this communal dwelling robust? “No. I knew exactly what it is and exactly what to expect.”

What qualities does he assume individuals who reside right here want? “Chill. People need to fucking chill”, he says at first. Then he ponders extra: communication, endurance, and a splash of idealism.

“When I have problems, you just say it. We are not in high school”, says Dan. “Of course there is some minor politics.” However for him, it’s no totally different to dwelling in an strange houseshare, the place passive aggression is usually favoured over open communication.

“The reward for it is a house like this: I’m rich. I live in a border with Mitte and I have 25 rooms.” He’s acquired some extent. However, in fact, as he factors out, “it’s not just cheap or fun. It represents something”.

In contrast to Liebig 34, Okay77 doesn’t declare any specific political id. The home attracts inspiration from the work of artist Joseph Beuys, whose idea of “social sculpture” describes life itself as a type of artwork. As a group of artists, Okay77 follows in Beuys’s footsteps by championing artwork’s transformative potential. Nonetheless, the residents aren’t bonded by loyalty to any particular politics, although Dan says there’s nonetheless a pure filtering system that precludes “the type of people who are naturally individualists”.

“You cannot be a capitalist here, somebody who truly believes in neoliberal ways”, he says. “This give and take creates a community that in the end is much stronger than each and every one individual.” Dan asks me to think about if the constructing have been as an alternative made up of 20 separate flats as an alternative. “Everybody loses connection with each other, and that’s it. You’d lose a lot of beautiful stuff”, he says. “This is the hippy inside of me talking.”

The incontrovertible fact that youngsters develop up on this setting is tough, at first, to envisage. For most individuals, rising up means one household, one home. However even when pressed, Dan struggles to recall any issues he’s had sharing a house with youngsters who aren’t his personal. As for the youngsters, he reckons it’s a superb life for them: they get to be round buddies on a regular basis, they usually study helpful expertise, like communication, from the get-go. The home is almost 30 years previous, and a few individuals who have been born right here have already grown up and left. “I think once you grow up like that, you grow up wiser. You see how people solve problems and you get it”, says Dan.

Can Dan think about ever dwelling outdoors of right here, now that he’s seen what it’s like? “Some connection will always stay because it’s a personality thing”, he says. “It’s not something you can run away from.”

* * *

In fact, with Berlin’s costs rising and the subject of gentrification now trite, most of the homes are beneath menace. Lots of people don’t need to see homes like these of their costly neighbourhoods. “They don’t really like the idea”, says Dan.“When people come here and buy houses, they kind of buy the environment around the house too.” However, he says, “this house was here long before anyone that lives here bought any apartment. So it’s kind of a shame to see this shift in power towards money”.

For Okay in Liebig 34, they’re unsure what is going to occur when their contract involves an finish. They’ve been elevating funds in the direction of the trigger over the previous few months, although no one appears to know precisely what is going to occur. Sitting in on their weekly “plenum”, or home assembly, I watch as many newcomers put themselves ahead to turn into a part of the collective. They clarify a bit about themselves and why they’re right here, and in the event that they’ve had expertise in communal dwelling earlier than.

You can’t be a capitalist right here, anyone who really believes in neoliberal methods

One lady has come for a good friend, who’s about to turn out to be homeless. The pal, the lady explains, has had a tough time, notably with males, and is occupied with turning into a part of a group the place she would really feel protected. The members of Liebig 34 are considerably sympathetic to the ladies’s plight, however they’re not sure. It’s not the appropriate time to simply accept anyone who’s therapeutic, they clarify, as a result of quickly they’ll need to struggle to remain right here. What the home wants proper now, they are saying, is fighters.

However whereas homes like Liebig 34 and Okay77 face challenges, I’m reluctant to consider that tasks like this are a dying breed. Nowadays, a shift in the direction of a extra communal way of life appears in some ways inevitable. Housing crises predominate throughout Europe – in Dublin itself, rents are sky excessive – and there’s merely not sufficient room within the metropolis for everybody to stay.

“We have architects sometimes coming around, to take a tour to see how communal living is working”, says Dan. “There is a movement towards sharing more. You can see it also in car sharing, that was unheard of 10 years ago. Or bike sharing. Or Airbnb – but that’s the devil, don’t ever sleep in one!”

On a worldwide degree, environmental pressures imply that dwelling as we do now might not all the time take advantage of sense. If we need to scale back our impression, sharing looks like a great way to do it. “This is making much better use of the land if you think about it, in the really grand scheme of things”, says Dan.

“People don’t instinctively protect what is not theirs”, he says. However dwelling in a collectively owned home may make it simpler to reimagine what “mine” means. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico, it’s my world. It’s everyone’s.”