This spring, Bogna and I visited old friends and made new ones in aftersquats in Paris and Hamburg. In France squatting is legal half the year round. In Germany, it’s completely illegal, all year round.
59 Rivoli, was squatted in 1999 and for the past 13 years has been home to six floors of artist’s studios. After about 10 years it became what the Rivolians now call an aftersquat. That is to say, it was legalised – the city bought the building on behalf of the ex-squatters who occupy it in return for a (relatively) nominal rent.
Das Gaengeviertel, in Hamburg was squatted in 2009 and is host to a wider range of activities. There’s a hostel, kitchen, tea-room, two bars, two clubs, a free shop, a bicycle repair workshop, a recording studio, a free-movement space, a digital studio, several offices, apartments and much more besides. Everything from the beer in the clubs to the accommodation in the hostel is paid for on a donation basis. As squatting is criminal in Germany it became an aftersquat almost immediately. The buildings, owned by the city of Hamburg, are rented by these aftersquatters for about one euro per month per square metre. On their omnipresent plastic mugs is the phrase “unkommerzell selbstverwaltet” which means something like non-commercial selfsufficiency.
Since Mayfair, I haven’t squatted anywhere despite being constantly tempted. Instead I’ve been fathering, chopping heads and labouring under the misapprehension that I could cast a hyperincantation. I.e. a magic spell in the form of a website which could summon a community of willing and able volunteers who’d then negotiate with owners of unused buildings and harmoniously occupy them.
Listening to Niall Ferguson’s mention of Bowling Alone in his last Reith lecture I realised two things. Firstly, perfecting such a magic spell shouldn’t be the focus of my attention. Secondly, the massive potential and need for a place where people can meet in real life. Ironically I’m sure the best way to do that, in the C21st, is to begin online.
So, instead of perfecting that incantation, I’ve bashed together a new super simple site, to the best of my ability and I’m focused on using it to document unused buildings and communications with their owners.
I’m sure that in due course others will join in, but to begin with, its down to me.
here’s the site: