[EN] Squatting And Urban Renewal: The Interaction of the Squatters’ Movement And the Strategies Of Urban Restructuring In Berlin

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

Squatting And Urban Renewal: The Interaction of the Squatters’ Movement And the Strategies Of Urban Restructuring In Berlin

* This is a reprint of the article published in Holm and Kuhn (2010,
‘Squatting and Urban Renewal: The Interaction of Squatter Movements
and Strategies of Urban Restructuring in Berlin’ in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35 (3), 2011, pp. 644-658.

Andrej Holm and Armin Kuhn

Squats have been a feature of the development of many cities in
developed capitalist societies. Existing studies mostly concentrate on
investigating the political and legal conditions for squats (Bodenschatz
et al., 1983), probing the motives and forms of squatter movements
(Pruijt, 2004) or reassessing their character as a new social movement
(Grottian and Nelles, 1983; Koopmans, 1995). These approaches
trace cycles of squatter movements back to changed legal conditions
and social inequalities, especially in the housing provision, as well as
to socio-political and subcultural turning points. They therefore reveal
important factors that determine the development of squatter move-
ments, but we believe that it was first and foremost the broader urban
political context that determined if and how squatter movements arose.
We take Berlin as an example to show that the dynamics of squatter
movements are closely connected to changing strategies associated with
urban renewal, and that in each case they emerge from the crisis of
the previous urban-renewal regime. We begin by looking at Pruijt’s ty-
pology of squats (Pruijt, 2004) and research that shows how aspects
of movements were integrated into neoliberal urban policies (Rucht,
1997; Schmid, 1998; Mayer, 2002) to analyse the specific relationship
between squatter movements and urban-renewal policies in Berlin. In
the following section, after contextualizing the Berlin squats within
the campaigns that were waged by the social movements of the time,
we discuss the background of Berlin’s urban politics, and in the next
two sections consider the two high points in housing conflict that took
place at the beginning of the 1980s and around 1990, respectively. We
focus on the influence of squats on urban restructuring policies. In ad-
dition, we provide a typology of the urban-renewal regimes operating
in Berlin in the penultimate section. Against this background, we argue
in the concluding section that in each case the Berlin squatter move-
ments developed at moments of transition between various models of
urban renewal, and that they contributed in greatly varying degrees to
these processes of transformation. While the squats at the beginning of
the 1980s contributed decisively to the implementation of a policy of
‘cautious urban renewal’, the squats of the 1990s constituted an alien
element in neoliberal redevelopment policy in East Berlin.

Urban policy and the social movement
context of the first Berlin squats

The TUNIX Conference, organized in Berlin in 1978, brought to
an end a cycle of social movements in the Federal Republic that had
begun with the student riots of 1967-68. The ‘red decade’, as histo-
rian Gerd Koenen termed the years from 1967 to 1977, had not only
laid the foundations for new social movements against atomic power,
war and militarization, but also for the sexual-equality movement. It
paved the way for sectarian experiments involving the setting up of new
revolutionary parties and for the increasing radicalization that led up
to the armed resistance of the Red Army Faction and the Movement
2 June. A turning point came when sections of the movement reacted
to the ‘German Autumn’ of 1977 and the level of government repres-
sion at the time by withdrawing from mainstream society and setting
up specific alternative projects. Berlin came to be the centre of this
rapidly growing alternative movement. In 1979 the alternative scene
that grew around pub collectives, bicycle workshops, district newspa-
pers and printing houses reached an estimated membership of 100,000
people (Scheer and Espert, 1982: 19) and provided many of those ac-
tive in the movement with a form of economic security beyond that
provided by capitalist wage labour. The issue of suitable living space
quickly became of central importance for these projects, and squats
seemed to be a way of appropriating such space. In addition, squatting
fitted the political approach of the alternative movement: its interven-
tion in urban restructuring, preoccupation with the problems posed
by apartments standing empty, the housing shortage, property specula-
tion and displacement – all these issues constituted an opportunity for
the movement to go beyond its own needs and personal concerns, and
thereby escape the potential pitfalls of a politics of representation.
While the alternative movement was growing rapidly, Berlin’s urban
politics slipped into a veritable crisis. The housing shortage – in 1980
alone some 80,000 people were registered as seeking apartments – was
not simply the result of established territorial boundaries preventing
the ‘frontier town’ from expanding in size. It was more a case of the
public programme of redevelopment favouring the speculative strategy
of keeping apartments vacant. According to Senate statistics, 27,000
apartments were uninhabited in 1978 (Bodenschatz et al., 1983: 301).
House owners and housing associations deliberately allowed houses to
become derelict with the expectation that they would be able to demol-
ish and re-build or fundamentally modernize them using government
funding, and eventually charge correspondingly higher rents.

The ruling Social Democratic Party in Berlin pursued an uncom-
promising policy of ‘redevelopment by eviction’ in the inner-city dis-
tricts. Described as a ‘feudal, bureaucratic way of disposing of people’
(Eichstädt-Bohlig, cited in Nitsche, 1981: 210), this policy, and the as-
sociated displacement of the low-income population along with a large
number of commercial operations, provoked widespread resistance in
the 1970s. In Kreuzberg, in particular, tenants’ committees, citizens’
action groups and other urban political groups protested for many years
against the restructuring of the area around the Kottbusser Gate. Their
influence was, however, extremely limited, and their participation in
town-planning decisions was at best symbolic (Laurisch, 1981: 26). For
the most part, resistance and squatting campaigns continued to pro-
duce no results.

A crisis of legitimation in urban housing policy was finally reached
in December 1980, when a corruption scandal involving building
contractor Dietrich Garski cast doubt upon the Senate’s policies and
exposed the murky amalgamation of the Senate’s policies with build-
ing contractors, redevelopment agencies and housing associations. The
resignation of the Senate a few weeks later heralded the ‘miry end of
an era’ (Matthies, 2006). The relative power vacuum that lasted right
up to the victory of CDU (Christian Democratic Union) candidates in
the elections of May 1981 paved the way for the explosive expansion of
squatter movements in the months that followed.

Rehab squatting and ‘Revolt 81’

The fall of the Senate in January 1981 was preceded by a sweeping
‘radicalization’ of the movement (Koopmans, 1995:171). The housing
wars to which this led can be divided into three phases: emergence, ex-
pansion/differentiation and downfall. The first phase had already begun
as early as February 1979, when the citizens’ initiative ‘SO 36’ con-
sidered ‘everything produced by the constitutional state’ as exhausted,
and organized the first ‘rehab squats’ (Aust and Rosenbladt, 1981: 36).
The squatters’ practice of occupying houses and immediately starting to
renovate them was meant, on the one hand, to point out the longstand-
ing deterioration and emptiness of the apartments, and on the other
hand, to create acceptance of this method of civil disobedience. The
public and political success of these first squats had further repercus-
sions: until December 1980, 21 houses had been occupied by squatters
in Berlin. As early as March 1980 a ‘squatters’ council’ was set up to act
as the point of contact and negotiation in dealings with state authori-
ties. The district and the Senate’s initial response was a willingness to
negotiate with these first rehab squatters, although the authorities were
inconsistent in their political strategy.

The actual starting point of ‘Revolt 81’, the beginning of the second
phase of the squatting movement, was 12 December 1980 (Michel and
Spengler, 1981). On this date, an illegal eviction carried out by police
in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg provoked a street riot that lasted until
the morning of the following day. In the months that followed, new
houses were occupied by squatters on an almost daily basis, peaking in
the summer of 1981 at around 165 houses (Koopmans, 1995: 174).
The overwhelming majority of these apartment buildings were situated
in the districts of Kreuzberg (approx. 80) and Schöneberg. Massive dem-
onstrations, street riots and direct action, combined with the associated
erratic expansion of Berlin’s squatter movement, was part of a Europe-
wide revolution that began in Zurich in May 1980. The Zurich opera
house riots were the prelude to a two-year phase of severe disputes sur-
rounding an Autonomous Youth Centre owing to a shortage of spaces
for alternative youth cultures. Within the context of a Europe-wide cri-
sis in the Fordist model of economic growth and rising unemployment,
the slogan ‘Zurich is burning’ served as inspiration for an entire genera-
tion of mostly disaffected youth. A widespread lack of perspective and
conservative roll-back against the authoritarian break-up of 1968 con-
stituted the foundation on which the revolt spread like wildfire, initially
in the Federal Republic of Germany (Freiburg im Breisgau, Hamburg,
Berlin, Bremen and Hannover), then on to Amsterdam and later to
Britain (Katsiaficas, 1997: 107ff; Schultze and Gross, 1997: 35).

The 1980 revolt enabled a new political generation to enter the stage,
something which was not attributable to the alternative movement. Very
little reliable data concerning the social composition of Berlin’s squatter
movement are available. An article published in the weekly newspaper
Die Zeit on 12 August 1983 states that 65% were men, 35% under the
age of 21, 40% between the ages of 21 and 25, 36% school children
or students, 26% in employment, and 38% unemployed or without a
recognized job (Pökatzky, 1983: 9). These figures coincide with analyses
that identified two large groups within the squatter movement from the
outset (AG Grauwacke, 2008: 45): on the one hand, the ‘alternatives’,
most of them middle-class students or academics; and on the other hand,
a group of people who were ‘marginalized’, either willingly or unwillingly,
most of them under the age of 21 and with a proletarian background.
This heterogeneity in social structure is also reflected in the diversity of
political beliefs and squat-related goals. The movement developed with-
in a few months and was arguably aware of its heterogeneity but never
quite wanted to refer to itself in such terms. For a different view of the
movement, it is helpful to consult the typology developed by Hans Pruijt
(2004), which categorized different types of squats according to their
respective motives and goals. Pruijt differentiates between deprivation-
based squatting, squatting as an alternative housing strategy, entrepre-
neurial, conservational and political squatting (ibid.: 37).

At first, the diverse interests did not conflict with each other. On the
contrary: the dynamic of the rehab squatter movement was based first
and foremost on the ‘radical’ forces that made use of the political power
vacuum to occupy a substantial number of houses in the shortest possible
time, thereby ensuring a level of conflict potential that largely prevented
immediate evictions. Such strategies were focused on confrontation, and
benefited at the same time from public acceptance and support, which
resulted from the long ‘work of fermentation’ by citizens’ action groups
and tenants’ representative offices and their strategy, which was largely
aimed at negotiation and mediation. Soon, however, the conflict between
a political course of confrontation, on the one hand, and the strategic
pursuit of alternative urban political goals on the other, came to the fore.
By the time the issue of legalization of houses arose, conflicts between ‘ne-
gotiators’ and ‘non-negotiators’ could no longer be covered up: the fac-
tion that could be attributed to the alternative movement wanted to hold
on to the houses and was increasingly prepared to put this interest before
an earlier consensus – no negotiation until ‘political’ prisoners were re-
leased, and an ‘overall solution’ for all squatted houses. The contingent of
‘non-negotiators’ began to differentiate themselves from the alternative
movement by referring to themselves as ‘autonomists’ (cf. Schwarzmeier,
2001: 50ff), and accused negotiators of giving up the political struggle
and of resorting to the mere preservation of their own spaces.
The strategies that the government pursued were aimed at dealing
with this conflict, focusing on the squats and the ‘crisis’ they triggered.
The SPD (Social Democratic Party)-led transitional Senate under the
leadership of Hans-Jochen Vogel, which came into office in February
1981, wanted to convert the squats ‘into legally ordered conditions that
were also in complete harmony with civil law’.Evictions would only
be possible if specific criminal charges were made – trespassing alone
was not enough – and if prerequisites for immediate renovation were in
place (cf. Bodenschatz et al., 1983: 322).

After the elections in May 1981, the CDU-led Senate under Federal
President Richard von Weizsäcker reversed the relationship between se-
lective integration and suppression. Any efforts made towards integrat-
ing the ‘peaceful’ squatters were repeatedly thwarted by the Minister for
the Interior, Heinrich Lummer, a committed advocate of the hardline
faction in the department of public prosecution and the police authori-
ties, who had already counteracted the moderate course pursued by
the SPD-led Senate. Lummer divided the squatters into ‘those ready to
negotiate’ and ‘criminals’. He proclaimed a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to
new squats, and launched a large-scale offensive against demonstrations
and similar protest actions. House searches conducted on the pretext
of tolerating no ‘lawless spaces for criminals’, were often used either
to damage the houses in such a way that they became uninhabitable,
or simply to evict their occupants with immediate effect. The wave
of repression (cf. Brand, 1988: 204ff) that began with the CDU-led
Senate’s entry into office reached its sad climax on 22 September 1981,
when Klaus-Jürgen Rattay, an 18-year-old squatter, fleeing from baton-
wielding police, was knocked down and killed by a Berlin Transport
Authority bus as he crossed the street. This was the turning point that
led into the third phase and to the downfall of the squatter movement.
After the summer of 1981, the movement’s ‘vanguard in Berlin rapidly
crumbled away’ (Bacia et al., 1981: 127). It was a sign of their ‘ag-
gressive helplessness’ that TUWAT, an ‘extravaganza’ staged in August
1981, brought together up to 3,000 people from the whole of Germany
(Mulhak, 1983: 242). Even the ‘alternative’ squatters ‘believed that the
chance of houses being legalized had been diminished by the new CDU-
led government’ (ibid.). In the following ‘psycho winter’ there was a
temporary absence of repression and consequently absences of unity,
and the squats that housed autonomist ‘non-negotiators’ were ground
down by deferred internal conflicts (AG Grauwacke, 2008: 65ff). The
urban policy initiative in the squatter environment felt that the work
they had been doing over many years was now in jeopardy. At the same
time other conflicts came to the fore, such as mobilization against the
NATO Double Track Decision, the West Runway at Frankfurt Airport
and the Brokdorf nuclear power plant.

While the squatters ‘had lost the initiative’, urban political groups
began to ‘incorporate the squatter movement into their ideas and poli-
cies for housing’ (Bodenschatz et al., 1983: 324). Prominent patrons
from churches, colleges, the arts and culture scene and the unions who
had moved into squatters’ houses for their own protection, declared
shortly after Rattay’s death that they intended to ‘prevent the rehab
squatters’ just cause from disappearing in a fog of violence conjured
up by the Senate’ (EA, 1981: 86). In negotiations with the Kreuzbeug
district authority and the Senate they instigated a moratorium on evic-
tions that lasted until Easter 1982 (Bodenschatz et al., 1983: 322). At
the same time, squatters from across the spectrum of the alternative
movement, in collaboration with urban political campaigners, began to
establish supporter associations that would act as models for legaliza-
tion beyond the scope of individual houses. Attempts to legalize houses
more extensively were, however, repeatedly thwarted by the strategy of
escalation pursued by the Minister for the Interior, who ordered evic-
tions on the slightest pretext, often in the middle of negotiations (ibid.:
325). This ‘type of pre-concerted’ interplay (Pökatzky, 1983) between
the negotiating table and evictions characterized the entire ‘legaliza-
tion’ process right up to the final evictions in the autumn of 1984.
Koopmans (1995: 178) totals up the figures: of 165 squatted houses,
105 were finally ‘contractually pacified’ by rental or purchase agree-
ments, and the occupants of 60 were evicted.

The legalizations were only a partial success: by the end of 1984 the
squatter movement was finally crushed, or rather, ‘pacified’. Only a few
legalized houses enjoyed financial support under the ‘self-help hous-
ing’ programme launched in 1982. In spite of everything, spaces for
collective and alternative lifestyles remained a marginal phenomenon.
At the same time, the legalization of houses established the division of
the movement, making it easier to criminalize the autonomist ‘non-
negotiators’. The latter were all the easier to criminalize because ‘sec-
tions of the squatter movement’, by virtue of their militant actionism
and subjectivist misconception of autonomy, gave up ‘every right to
turn their own ideas into the reality of other social spheres’, and isolated
themselves in the process (Geronimo, 1990: 96). The legalization of
houses ultimately signified the end of any political dimension to the
squats beyond the scope of housing policy.

The housing policy incentives that remained had a particular in-
fluence on the International Building Exhibition set up in 1979, and
undoubtedly constituted a success for the squatter movements. As a
publicly financed and commercially organized institution in the 1980s,
the exhibition became a new centre of power for urban building (Bernt,
2003: 46). Its old-building section was a ‘reservoir for departmental
policies opposed to the demolition policy’ and became the driving
force behind the ‘twelve principles of cautious urban renewal’ that as-
similated the core demands of tenants’ groups, urban political groups
and rehab squatters. Although these principles were never laid down
by law, they had a significant impact, even beyond Berlin (ibid.: 52).
But not even these successes remained untarnished. One effect of de-
centralization and the expansion of opportunities to participate in local
decision-making processes was that even the conflicts had to be dealt
with locally. ‘While the legal parameters were preserved, decision mak-
ing was moved down a level, to the centres of conflict, and activists were
integrated into a consensus-seeking process with the aim of gaining
more acceptance and identification with decisions in the neighbour-
hood’ (ibid.: 56). Even the survival of hard-won achievements in hous-
ing policy, rooted above all in the work of the International Building
Exhibition, seemed to depend on the successful outcome of these at-
tempts to find a compromise. As Karl Homuth (1984: 37ff) put it in
an early study, ‘cautious urban renewal replaced the violent character,
bureaucratic paternalism and inscrutability of these plans with careful,
step-by-step processes that were easier to comprehend and more so-
cially adjusted’, yet this would not come into full effect for several years.

Squats in East Berlin at the beginning of the 1990s

The squats in East Berlin at the beginning of the 1990s can only be
viewed within the context of the explosive social changes that took place
during the turnaround (Wende) and reunification. The political power
vacuum of the Wende period, and the massive loss of authority on the
part of the police and municipality facilitated the large-scale occupa-
tion of vacant old buildings in the inner city. In addition, the GDR’s
housing policy, oriented towards new buildings, was creating the main
basis of urban buildings for the squats. After years of reconstruction
in Berlin, a city scarred by the destruction of war, the housing prob-
lem was to be solved by erecting industrially manufactured apartment
buildings that were for the most part developed in large estates at the
outer city limits in the form of new towns or districts. As a result of
this one-sided orientation, the inner-city areas, consisting of old hous-
ing that had been ideologically devalued as the legacy of capitalist ur-
ban development, were neglected in town planning and were showing
signs of structural decay (Hoscislawski, 1991; Hannemann, 2000). The
outcome of this real-socialist practice of disinvestment was not only
poor refurbishment of apartments in the old housing areas but also
a vacancy rate of up to 20% in particular districts. A total of 25,000
old apartments were vacant, most of them in the inner-city districts
(SenBauWohn, 1990). Accordingly, squats during the Wende period
concentrated on housing stock in the inner-city districts of East Berlin
that dated back to the Gründerzeit (a time of rapid industrial expansion
in Germany around 1900).

In total, around 120 houses were occupied by squatters in the inner-
city districts of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, and sporadically
around the district of Lichtenberg. Based on an analysis of the usually fort-
nightly (but weekly at times of intensive mobilization) Squatters’ News,
issues of the video magazine AK Kraak, as well as interviews with those
who were active at the time and personal recollections of the period, the
dynamics of squatting in East Berlin can be divided into three distinct
phases. These can be distinguished according to both the character of the
squats and their main geographical focal points.

The first phase of squats encompassed the period from December
1989 to April 1990. The majority of the 70 or so houses occupied
by squatters during these months were in Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg.
In comparison to earlier squatted apartments – ‘schwarz wohnen’ (‘re-
siding illicitly’) had a long tradition in the GDR – the character of
squatted houses clearly changed in the winter of 1989 to 1990. Houses
were occupied openly and assertively. Banners, secured windows and
barricade-like doorways soon made these houses sites for an anarchis-
tic, libertarian experiment against everything that was petit-bourgeois,
against Nazis (who had already begun to organize themselves in very
large numbers in the final years of the GDR) and against every form
of rule. The squatters during this first phase were mostly East German
youth, who were largely already acquainted with one another from
various subcultures and political scenes. They were then joined by the
first West German and international ‘fanatics’ and artists, who by and
large were integrated in a friendly way into the new squat. In particular,
the squat called the ‘art department store’ in the Oranienburger Strasse
(Tacheles) and the squat at 5 Schönhauser Allee, which served as the
headquarters of the art and culture project called WYDOX, focused
on creating spaces that would primarily help squatters achieve self-re-
alization. Their function as a place of residence was merely secondary
(see Galenza and Havemeister, 2005). They were, in turn, joined by
individual squats made up of citizens’ action groups, who focused on
preventing the planned demolitions of entire old housing blocks in the
districts of Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. Most of these houses were legal-
ized relatively quickly into cooperatives and ‘cautiously’ renovated by
means of financial incentives.

In his typology of squats, Pruijt (2004) identifies a heterogeneous
mix of different strategies during this first phase of squatting at the be-
ginning of the 1990s. In addition to squats that focused on squatting as
an alternative housing strategy, some squats quickly became established
as centres for exhibitions and other events (entrepreneurial squatting),
while other squats had the goal of actively preventing existing demoli-
tion plans (conservational squatting).

A second phase of squats, lasting from May to July 1990, centred
geographically on the urban district of Friedrichshain. During this pe-
riod the squats underwent a qualitative and quantitative expansion,
growing by a further 50. In their search for places to live as well as new
adventure, an increasing number of ‘unpolitical’ groups also experi-
mented with squatting. In addition to the mainly East German squat-
ters, there were now squats that for the first time were being organized
by West Germans or West Berliners. These squatters had been affected
by the housing shortage in West Berlin and had partly been brought
together through political protests. They were predominantly students
who collectively moved into vacant houses in the East. The main fo-
cal points were still Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. In Friedrichshain only
a handful of houses were occupied by squatters at this time. In the
April 1990 issue of Interim, the newsletter for West Berlin’s ‘alternative’
scene, members from the oppositional ‘church from below’ drew atten-
tion to houses in Mainzer Strasse that had been left vacant since 1987,
and put out a call to the squatter movement (see Arndt, 1991). In their
announcement they said: ‘If there are really enough squatting opportu-
nities for everyone, if it’s more a case of a lack of people willing to take
them up, and if it will maybe help avert or impede a further destruction
of houses along western lines, then why not?’ (ibid.: 32).

At the beginning of May the 11 vacant houses in Mainzer Strasse
were occupied by squatters. With over 250 occupants, the ‘Mainzer’,
as it was called, swiftly became the centre of the Friedrichshain squatter
scene. Alongside many facilities (bookshop, second-hand bookseller,
public kitchen) the first Tunten (gay) house project in East Berlin and a
women’s/lesbian house were set up. Those who lived in these houses on
Mainzer Strasse were mainly West Berliners and members of the West
German autonomous movement (Benjamin, no date). The coordinat-
ing committee that operated between the occupied houses, the ‘squat-
ters’ council’, pursued a strategy of confrontation, in particular through
initial negotiations for contractual legalization of squatted houses.
In Pruijt’s typology this second phase of squats in East Berlin may
be more clearly characterized as ‘political’ squatting. Houses that were
occupied by squatters were no longer considered mere free spaces for
self-realization, but more markedly as sites of confrontation with the
state authorities and as symbols of political self-positioning.

A third phase of the East Berlin squatter movement began at the end
of July 1990. The number of new squats was reduced when the mu-
nicipal authorities in East Berlin started implementing the ‘Berlin Line’
ordinance, in terms of which, from 24 July 1990 onwards, no new squats
would be tolerated, and independently of any criminal charges or evic-
tion notices, squats would be evacuated by police within 24 hours of
occupation. In early November evictions of squatters from 2 houses in
Prenzlauer Berg and Lichtenberg gave rise to violent conflict. After evic-
tions on the morning of 12 November 1990, around 50 squatters from
the houses on Mainzer Strasse spontaneously demonstrated their solidar-
ity with the evicted squatters. According to police reports, squatters re-
acted to the introduction of police reinforcements and the use of water
cannons and armoured personnel carriers in Mainzer Strasse by bom-
barding the police with flares, throwing roof tiles, cobblestones, paving
slabs, sacks of cement, slingshots and Molotov cocktails (Arndt, 1991:
13). During the night, a violent street riot ensued that lasted for hours.
Attempts by around 1,500 police officers, all from the West, to force their
way into the street were unsuccessful, despite the use of water cannons,
armoured personnel carriers and stun grenades (ibid.: 21). This escalation
of violence made a negotiated solution less and less likely, in particular
because the West Berlin police ignored the district’s political protago-
nists and focused instead on eviction by force. In the early hours of 14
November, Mainzer Strasse was cleared by a total of 3,000 police officers
from all over Germany, several helicopters and ten water cannons. With
over 400 arrests made and many casualties on both sides, this was the
violent turning point in the East Berlin squatter movement.

The evictions in Mainzer Strasse clearly demonstrated that the
option of militantly defending squatters’ houses had failed. This re-
alization prompted the majority of groups in squatted houses to
come to the negotiating table. During district-specific negotiations,
usage agreements on the majority of houses were drawn up with the
respective housing associations. However, when East Berlin proper-
ties were being reassigned to their previous owners or their respec-
tive heirs, these contractual agreements were no longer considered
reliable. In the case of a number of squatted houses, reassignment
led to conflict with the private owners and to more evacuations well
into the 1990s.

In contrast to the wave of squatting of the early 1980s, internal
debates between ‘negotiators’ and ‘non-negotiators’ in the East Berlin
squats remained confined to specific time periods. After the dramatic
evictions of squatters from the houses in Mainzer Strasse in particular,
only a few squatters refused to accept a negotiated solution. This change
in attitude is evident from the ratio of around 30 evicted squats to 90
legalized ones during this time. While around three-quarters of all the
houses in East Berlin were contractually safeguarded in the early 1980s,
in West Berlin the figure was scarcely more than 60%. After legaliza-
tion, many former squatters began to make structural improvements
and, following their own initial renovations and repair work, under-
took more comprehensive restructuring, often in the context of public
development programmes. In the course of the 1990s the Berlin Senate
spent over 250 million euros on what was known as the ‘self-help hous-
ing policy’ development programme. In total, over 3,000 units were
renewed in this way, many of them former squats (Abgeordnetenhaus
Berlin, 2002). On the basis of lease agreements that were concluded
over many years and as a result of people having a substantial personal
stake in the modernization of the buildings, modern housing condi-
tions were created in the context of these programmes. In some dis-
tricts, the renovation of former squats was the first clear sign of urban
renewal in the making.

Squatting and urban restructuring

The squatter movements of the 1980s and 1990s were similar not
only in terms of their solidity; we can also identify numerous paral-
lels between the processes involved. First, in each case a political pow-
er vacuum was the condition for the explosive proliferation of both
movements: in the 1980s the death throes of the SPD-led Senate of
January 1981, and the transitional government’s restricted capacity to
act; and in the 1990s the fall of the Berlin Wall and the institutional
chaos that followed. Secondly, in both cases a violent demonstration of
restored sovereignty in urban policy constituted a turning point that
ended in the defeat of the movements: on the one hand, the eviction
of 8 squats on 22 September 1981, during which Klaus-Jürgen Rattay
came to a violent end; and on the other hand, the eviction of Mainzer
Strasse on 14 November 1990. In both cases this restoration of sover-
eignty was preceded by widespread shifts in political power at the broad
urban level: the election of the CDU-led Senate in 1981, the formal
reunification of Berlin and the annexation of the former GDR into the
Federal Republic on 3 October 1990. Thirdly, a further similarity was
the fact that extensive legalization models could in each case only be ap-
plied to houses in public or not-for-profit ownership, whereas for hous-
es that were in private ownership only individual rental, leasehold or
purchase agreements were drawn up. And fourthly, the conflicts within
both squatter movements ran along similar lines: while in 1990 the
conflict between ‘negotiators’ and ‘non- negotiators’ was not as acute as
it had been in the early 1980s, the conflict of interest between, on the
one hand, ‘conservation’ squatting and ‘squatting to try out collective
forms of living’, and on the other hand, the ‘political’ or autonomous
squats, was the same. It was symptomatic that in both movements the
squats organized by citizens’ action groups were the first to draw up
agreements and legalize their houses.

Despite all these similarities, however, we must also take proper
account of the differences. The squats of the 1980s were part of an
extended and differentiated alternative subculture that centred on the
inner-city districts of Kreuzberg and Schöneberg, which made up not
only the ideological background for the squats, but also the environ-
ment of their social and political supporters. The squats in the 1990s,
by contrast, consisted more of alien elements in a situation of sweeping,
radical change. While there were continuities with the GDR practice
of ‘residing illegally’, and many houses were rooted in their respective
neighbourhoods, they could nevertheless not be considered part of the
more extensive movement in the eastern inner-city districts. However,
the most marked difference between the squats of the 1980s and 1990s
may be found in the role each played in urban restructuring. We shall
now explore this difference in more detail.

The role of squats in urban restructuring

The policy of urban renewal pursued in Berlin can be divided into
three clearly distinguishable phases and models: first, what is known as
‘areal redevelopment’, carried out between 1963 and 1981; secondly,
the policy of cautious urban renewal, which was pursued between 1981
and 1989; and thirdly, post-Fordist urban renewal in East Berlin, pur-
sued from the early 1990s. The Berlin squatter movements in each case
accompanied the transition to a new model of urban renewal. For this
reason we shall examine in more detail the specific network of rela-
tions between squatters and the implementation of new types of urban

‘Areal redevelopment’ describes an approach that focused on the
widespread demolition of housing stock that is in need of renewal, as
well as the building of new, modern housing developments. The ‘First
Berlin Urban Renewal Programme’, approved by the Berlin Senate in
1963, provided for the demolition of 10,000 housing units. The re-
newal model was based on developers (mostly housing associations)
buying up mostly private property in the redevelopment areas and ex-
tensive financial support for demolition and new house-building work
from public funds for the Social Housing Development Programme
(Dahlhaus, 1968; Zapf, 1969). Aspects of this authoritarian form of ur-
ban renewal that were particularly criticized were the failure to involve
residents, the concerted destruction of existing neighbourhood struc-
tures, and the demolition of low-cost housing stock that would not be
replaced. In spite of comprehensive funding, rents in the new buildings
were markedly higher than those in the old building areas (Becker and
Schulz zur Wiesch, 1982).

The policy of cautious urban renewal was born out of this criti-
cism of the redevelopment of spaces. In implementing urban renewal
it focused on three types of ‘caution’: caution in construction, which
involved preserving the building stock and modernizing one step at
a time; social caution, which involved preserving the composition of
the social structure wherever possible and allowing tenants in the re-
development areas to stay in their houses; and finally, the principle of
caution in planning policy, comprising widespread involvement and
participation by residents in renewal activities. A participatory model of
urban renewal was tried out. Nevertheless, there was no change in the
material basis for urban renewal. Even cautious urban renewal rested
on extensive public funds and a transfer of the plots of land to (often
urban) redevelopers, so that in spite of other goals, urban renewal was
from then on organized by the state and distanced from the market
(Konter, 1994; Bernt, 2003).

The squats of the early 1980s were of major importance for the
implementation of cautious urban renewal. The squat houses and the
squatters occupying them provided the trigger, as well as objects and
partners, for a new model of urban renewal. First, the concentration
of the squatters’ houses in future or pre-designated redevelopment ar-
eas was a consequence of the legitimation crisis in the redevelopment
of spaces. Squatters, citizens’ action groups and a critical section of
the public attacked in equal measure, if not always as one voice, the
planned demolition of whole streets. The self-presentation of the squat-
ter movement as ‘rehab squatters’ essentially suggested a criticism of
the (by then usual) demolition-approach to development. Secondly, the
squatted houses not only triggered a new policy of urban renewal; they
were at the same time a kind of experimental laboratory in which new
instruments of urban renewal were trialled.

The eviction of squatters was not the only way in which the city
reacted to the regulatory requirement to end the existence of ‘lawless
spaces’. For the first time, some of those living in squatted houses were
granted a say in the renovation and design of their houses. Collective
usage agreements, gradual modernization and the deflationary integra-
tion of self-help interests represented completely new forms of urban
renewal and the end of the authoritarian urban-renewal regime of rede-
veloping spaces. The apparent coherence of the participatory principles
behind cautious urban renewal, along with the squatters’ notion of ‘self-
empowerment’, can be viewed as a third level of successful integration
of squats into cautious urban renewal. Apart from some basic criticisms
of the de-politicization of housing (Homuth, 1984) and of the evic-
tion of squatted houses, described as ‘preventative counter-insurgency’,
an independently minded political alliance consisting of alternative
groups, squatters, the Alternative List (the later Green Party) and pro-
fessional town planners and architects agreed to reject the bureaucratic
and authoritarian urban renewal of the past, and to work together to
create alternative models.

Post-Fordist urban renewal in East Berlin in the 1990s was clearly
distinguishable from the cautious urban renewal in the western part of
the city by criteria relating to real estate, urban planning and finance.
The enormous renewal requirements of around 180,000 apartments
in old buildings, the crisis in public finance and the privatization of
property brought about by restitution in redevelopment areas led to a
form of urban renewal ‘financed first and foremost by property owners’
(Berlin Senate, 1993). Instead of using funds and transferring owner-
ship to redevelopment agencies, the authorities attempted to imple-
ment the social and building objectives of urban renewal in East Berlin
using town planning legislation. The mode of control deployed for
urban renewal could be characterized as an increasingly negotiation-
oriented administrative action (Holm, 2006: 90). Rather than impos-
ing direct control through ‘money’, the redevelopment objectives of
the 1990s were to be strengthened using ‘laws and commandments’ as
means of control. In the process, multifaceted systems of negotiation
between tenants, property owners and urban authorities were created.
The redevelopment regime, in particular contractors and tenants’ com-
mittees, used moderation and consultation to provide, wherever pos-
sible, conflict-free implementation of urban renewal. Now the decisive
factors were not merely economic criteria, but also cultural and social
resources. Educated tenants in particular, and those closely involved
with social networks, were better able to make their interests count in
the individualized negotiation of modernization plans (Häußermann
et al., 2002).

Unlike the West Berlin squatter movement in the early 1980s, squat-
ters in East Berlin did not play a central role in implementing a new
redevelopment regime. Squatted houses were, in fact, an alien element
in the new regime of urban renewal. As in West Berlin, the regulatory
strategy the city’s government was pursuing gave squatters huge scope
for structurally renovating their houses. In East Berlin the authorities
for the most part had recourse to solutions already tried out in the
West. The routine unwinding of self-help programmes and collective
tenancy contracts had absolutely no innovatory potential for imple-
menting the new redevelopment model in East Berlin, focused as it was
on individual negotiation and private investments. These programmes,
on the contrary, brought about only cautious renewal of small niches.
The special role of squatted houses not only created discord between
East and West, but also explained the squatters’ far-reaching avoidance
of district conflicts. Their special status made cooperation with tenants
and district initiatives difficult. For example, widely held fears regard-
ing the restitution process and changing property ownership played
only a minor role in former squats that had long-standing leasehold
agreements. Contact between district initiatives and squatters’ houses
existed primarily in cases where private property owners tried to evict
the squatters themselves. For example, a fire on the roof of the squats
in Dunckerstrasse 14/15 in Prenzlauer Berg’s Helmholtz Square led to
a massive show of solidarity between neighbours and can be regarded
as the birth of many neighbourhood initiatives that still remain active
in the area today. In view of otherwise divergent interests of residents,
such shows of solidarity were, however, isolated cases.

Research carried out on movements such as the Kreuzberg squat-
ters in the 1980s shows that urban social movements cannot really be
understood when considered in isolation, and that they must instead
be viewed against the background of general social change. In the con-
text of the Fordist redevelopment of spaces in particular, squats can be
seen as catalysts for areal development. The orientation towards hous-
ing preservation in the founding period, the demand for a detailed
process of renewal, and even the implementation of an extended en-
vironment for urban renewal, can be seen as crystallization points for
post-Fordist urban renewal (Jahn, 1994). In this way, the Kreuzberg
squatter movement illustrates the modernizing function ascribed to ur-
ban social movements (Rucht, 1997). The institutionalization of social
movements that Margit Mayer (2009: 15) termed ‘from protest to pro-
gramme’ was reflected in the practice of ‘self-help in building’, but also
in the categorical acceptance of cautious urban renewal. In his studies
of Zurich, Christian Schmid (1998) refers to a dialectic of urban social
movements and Zurich’s ‘global city formation’, and in particular iden-
tifies the impulse of urban protest movements and subcultural activities
to bring about a cultural openness and the formation of a cosmopolitan
image of the city (ibid.: 221). In Berlin, too, there were attempts to
incorporate the squatter movement’s multifaceted and often self-orga-
nized cultural forms of expression into the image of a vital and creative
city. Urban protests and squatter movements should not be analysed
as something in opposition to the neoliberal urban development, but
must always be considered in terms of their restructuring impulse.
If we divide neoliberal urban policies into ‘roll-back’ and ‘roll-out’
phases of neoliberalism (Peck and Tickell, 2002), the history of Berlin’s
urban renewal shows that in Kreuzberg in the 1980s new forms of con-
trol and governance were being implemented while Fordist funding
instruments were maintained. It was only when the model was applied
to East Berlin’s redevelopment areas in the 1990s that a clear roll-back
of the earlier welfare-state foundations of urban renewal became notice-
able. The economy of urban renewal, no longer based on public funding
and public redevelopment agencies, now drew on private investments
of professional property developers. However, the communicative
incorporation of modernization projects, the involvement of non-
governmental agencies and the rhetoric of ‘cautious urban renewal’ all
survived. The squatter movement’s demands for a cautious treatment
of building structures and for more participation were absorbed into
the ‘software’ of neoliberal urban renewal, while changes in ‘hardware’
did not occur until urban renewal was extended into East Berlin. The
squatters were not so much the engines of this second transformation
in urban renewal as they were alien elements in its development. Its
abstention from a personal urban political agenda isolated the squatter
movement of the 1990s from other urban protest movements.

A new urban political movement?

Leftist movements today are again taking up urban restructuring as
a theme, and a ‘movement of free spaces’ seems to be picking up the
loose ends left by the squatter movements in the 1990s. In Berlin, these
themes were first revived in the campaign for a social centre between
2001 and 2005. Mobilization against the eviction of a longstanding
housing project at 59 Yorckstrasse, as well as the occupation of the for-
mer Bethanien Hospital and its use as a social centre a few days after
the evictions of June 2005, revived the debate on urban restructur-
ing and free spaces. And discussions around this subject in the Berlin
movements in 2008 seemed for the time being to have reached a peak:
the ‘squatter action days’ held all across Europe in April, the successful
prevention of a possible eviction of the social centre Köpi, the ‘emanci-
patory space’ action days at the end of May, and finally a referendum
that was called by the alliance ‘Sink the Mediaspree’, with 87% of par-
ticipants voting against a large-scale urban restructuring programme.
After 15 years’ delay, how did urban movements assume such po-
litical significance within the current model of post-Fordist urban re-
newal? The first decisive factor was the emergence of a ‘new’ political
movement in the 1990s, for which the Zapatista uprising in 1994 in
Chiapas, Mexico, and the protests in Seattle in 1999 and Genoa in
2001 can be considered the most important reference points. Thus,
for instance, the campaign for a social centre initiated a short time af-
ter Genoa was less an expression of a lack of space for leftist move-
ments than a culmination of the convergence of groups and trends in
the context of a movement critical of globalization (cf. Lebuhn, 2008:
30ff). A second reason is the accelerated urban renewal in Berlin’s in-
ner-city districts. Luxury modernization, rising rent costs and social
displacement are no longer confined to the districts of Prenzlauer Berg
and Mitte, but can be seen increasingly in other inner-city districts such
as Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg or Neukölln. Furthermore, former squat-
ter houses are now no longer excluded from these trends. Changes in
ownership or a revived interest in profit on the part of existing owners
have affected the leftist ‘free spaces’ at 59 Yorckstrasse and currently also
at 54 Rigaer, the Köpi and 183 Brunnenstrasse. This has led to broader
alliances such as the ‘Wir Bleiben Alle!’ (‘United We Stay’) campaign,
brought into being to organize squatters’ action days, or through par-
ticipation in the ‘Sink the Mediaspree’ initiative, which was started in
2006. It remains uncertain how far this new political interest will have
noticeable repercussions for current urban renewal policy, or whether,
in fact, we can expect a break with the current redevelopment model.
The increasingly strained housing-policy situation, the large number of
new and old groups and initiatives, and initial institutional successes
such as the victorious referendum against the Mediaspree development
are at least signs of a new wave of urban policy disputes.


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