Gray facades, crumbling plaster, broken and hollowed out windows
On the abandoned streets of Kreuzberg the U.S. Army seems to conduct it’s very own house-to house combat. Berlin is now a city ruled by the four allied powers. There is great uncertainty about what will happen to the Kreuzberg neighborhood. Even though the autobahn plans here, in the remotest corner of West Berlin, have been abandoned, lacking a traffic link that would connect Kreuzberg to the rest of West Berlin, the buildings in the neighborhood remain unrepaired and have become more and more dilapidated.
The more residents move away, the more stores and craft businesses close their doors forever—a vicious circle that leaves behind the elderly. But there are also newcomers: people who cannot afford higher rents, who are unpopular with landlords, and who are willing to put up with a situation of uncertainty: migrants, especially Turks, and young people—students and hobos, hippies and rockers, punks, artists, and those pursuing alternative lifestyles. A subculture is forming that is diametrically opposed to the goals of the First Urban Renewal Program, which is about to unfold here. What those goals look like can already be seen around Kottbusser Tor, where the New Kreuzberg Center has been erected. The new Kreuzbergers, however, refuse to be pushed out; instead of living in expensive, anonymous housing silos, they demand the renovation of the old buildings in their neighborhood and furthermore demand participation in decision-making. Senate representatives, city planners, and real-estate speculators consider these demands to be absurd.
But then, in 1977, initiated by the Protestant parishes in SO 36, the “Strategies for Kreuzberg” were launched in cooperation with the Berlin Senate and the local district. Anyone and everyone was permitted to submit proposals for the renewal of the district to the project commission. The commission was made up of representatives from the Senate and the district, but the majority of its members were simple residents. Fifteen projects were selected from the more than one hundred proposals, which take into consideration social and urban development, cultural aspects, and political aspects in equal measures. Eventually, their implementation was financed by the Senate. The SO 36 citizens’ action committee, an association by the same name, and the SO 36 district committee were founded. In the latter, citizens, together with representatives of the city administration, will decide on various measures and fund distribution in the area affected for the next twelve years. One of the concepts developed is called “cautious urban renewal,”. This theme also becomes one of the focal points of the International Building Exhibition, which the Berlin Senate decided to organize in 1978 and which will eventually take place in 1984.
But none of these measures or decisions could change the vacancy rate or the acute housing shortage. Legal means, such as reporting vacant apartments to the State Housing Authorities or mediation attempts between housing associations and private homeowners and tenants, remain unsuccessful. So the tenants have no choice but to take matters in their own hands: In 1979, members of the “BI SO 36” occupy a vacant apartment for the first time, repair it and convince the Senate-owned housing association BeWoGe to again rent out this and other apartments. Soon after, other groups began squatting in a variety of buildings and remaining there long-term.
A few years earlier: on December 8, 1971, probably the first “squatting” to occur in the Federal Republic of Germany took place. The former nurses’ residence in Bethanien on Mariannenplatz has since been called Georg-von-Rauch-Haus and will still be self-managed forty years later. It is named after the “roving hash rebel”, Geirg von Rauch, who was shot dead by the police on December 4, 1971.
Karin Schneider for Luisenstadt Homepage ( November 2012).
Related link: The Georg von Rauch Haus