Berlin Hausbesetzungen

Squats or Hausbesetzungen have, particularly since the fall of the Wall, become an ever present and controversial feature of Berlin life. Although squatting in Berlin can be most clearly traced to Cold War Kreuzberg, during its politically active heyday, in modern Berlin most squats are based in the old East – Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg […]

Squats or Hausbesetzungen have, particularly since the fall of the Wall, become an ever present and controversial feature of Berlin life. Although squatting in Berlin can be most clearly traced to Cold War Kreuzberg, during its politically active heyday, in modern Berlin most squats are based in the old East – Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg in particular. The fall of the Wall and the ensuing influx of East Berliners to the West resulted in an abundance of abandoned buildings in the East. People who were unwilling or indeed unable to pay rent pounced and the squatting scene forever imposed itself on Berlin’s collective consciousness. Eighteen years on, those squats that have survived exist, at first glance, as anarchic communes run by the people for the people. For one reason or another, however, these squats have become almost universally institutionalised. They operate as venues, bars, cinemas and art galleries as much or even more so than they do as places of free residence. The squats, like much of Berlin’s alternative scene, are friendly and welcoming despite their often abrasive feel. Whilst they are hardly money making organisations, they aim to generate enough revenue to continue existence. With the of exception of Tacheles, located on Oranienburger Sraße, which is the most prominent and amous of all Berlin squats, they are relatively difficult to locate – even if you are looking.

Squat events are sometimes advertised but by no means universally and certainly not in the traditional sense. Köpi, one of the most famous and radically left wing squats, located on Köpenicker Strasse 137, exists as a perfect example of the peculiar and often turbulent existence of squats in Berlin. Köpi was first occupied by squatters in 1990, during the heyday of squatting culture, but as early as 1991 became a legal property subject to a lease, owned by the state. Today the venue continues to be extremely popular – hosting hardcore punk events on a nightly basis over two floors, it offers cheap alcohol from two separate bars. Food, vinyls, CDs and T-shirts, as well as anti-fascist paraphernalia are also available from various stands inside. Usually an entrance fee of around €4 is charged. By day, the squat doubles up as a cinema and shows a range of left wing films. The squat celebrated 18 rent free years earlier in 2008.

However, almost exactly a year before this celebration the squat had been rather dubiously sold to an investor for reportedly half of the market value. Although reports were circulated new owner intended to demolish the building, originally a series of apartments, there was no official word from his camp. With the scheduled handover approaching, Köpi lawyers fought and won a remarkable victory against the new owners, being granted a lease on the first and ground floors (as well as one full wing of the building) for the next thirty years. The surrounding area and associated trailer park continues to be occupied by Köpi squatters without strict permission. The Berlin squat scene, although vibrant and quite unique  given the historical backdrop, is often misunderstood. The German authorities and state are far less lenient towards squatters than many perceive. As a Köpi squatter confirmed to us, new squats in Berlin usually only last a matter of hours before the police raid the premises and evict the squatters. In Neue Bahnhof in 1999, for example, a newly formed squat lasted a mere 6 hours. In 2005, a Yorckstrasse squat was raided by police and around 70 squatters were removed after their lease on the building expired. The squat scene, as rebellious and brilliant as it remains, functions within the framework of capitalism – whilst this is probably undesirable to the squatters, there is little alternative. Despite this institutionalisation, even the aforementioned Tacheles, a world famous squat, is facing a potentially short future. Artists at the squat are less than optimistic about reaching an agreement that replicates the success Köpi achieved. In addition to Köpi and Tacheles, squats exist throughout Berlin. The locally famed Labyrinth (Mainzer Strasse 7) nearest to Hermannplatz U-Bahn is one of the most impressive West Berlin squats still in existance, opening every Thursday and Saturday night. Squats on Rigaer Strasse 94, and XB Liebig in Friedrichshain are also well worth a visit. Schwarser Kanal is one of Berlin’s many gay and lesbian squats. The squats continue to survive and quite often thrive through this turbulence and uncertainty. They remain a rock in Berlin’s hugely diverse and vibrant alternative scene, highlighting the remarkable possibilities of life in Berlin.

Team CTR Berlin winter

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