Introduction - Frank Jackson

Introduction - Frank Jackson

Introduction to Squatting in West Berlin, published by Hooligan Press in 1987.

SQUATTING IN WEST GERMANY is illegal and when it does occur it is more often than not seen by the authorities as a direct attack on the institutions of the state, unlike in England where it is mainly seen as a tolerable nuisance which can be dealt with adequately by the civil law. This was particulary true of the large squatting movement which existed in West Berlin between 1980 and 1984.

Because of this it was a very different kind of squatting from the kind we have here, It was a political movement orientated around squatting and it was conscious of being so. Very few of the people involved squatted because there was literally no alternative to doing so though it did of course mean an improvement in housing and social conditions for the people who did. Opening up a house was a political decision—in theory the police could evict you whenever they felt like it and in practice they often did—so you had to be fairty well organised to pull it off, which of course meant being politically aware. Under the circumstances this meant that it was done openly and as a challege to the system. Banners declaring that they were BESETZT (squatted) and supporting other causes hung from nearly all the houses and massive demonstrations and militant actions were part and parcel of the movement.

Another factor which made it different from English squatting was the actual size of the houses. Most of them were four storey apartment blocks built about a hundred years ago and most of them had anything from one to three adjoining houses behind the main front house. There was no question of an individual or two occupying a semi-detached and living there undisturbed until the inevitable court order dropped though the letter box, more or less unobserved and not particulary aware of the political consequences of their actions. These large houses also required large groups of people and life in them was usually marked by an endless round of meetings about what to do with this or that or on how to react to the latest police action. Everything about it was obviously political and even if by chance someone got involved without being aware of this, the illusion was soon shattered simply by picking up a newspaper or listening to the radio (there weren't many television sets in the houses) or more brutally by an early morning raid by the police who if they did not arrest you or wreck the place, at the very minimum left with your name and snapshot for their files.

This book is an attempt to document this movement and life in the houses from the point of view of some of the people who were Involved. Most of it was written at the time of the events described or very shortly afterwards, when the events were still fresh in people's memories, Nearly all of the texts have already been published in some form or another. The History down the side of most of the pages was first published by Ekomedia in photocopy form when they had an office in the Kukuck. This I wrote at two different periods and that is the main reason why it is divided into two. Looking back on it I find it a bit, to say the least, sensational but the facts are accurate. About the words troop carriers: if I was writing today I would probably use the words police transits but that it is what we called them at the time. With this text as well as with the others I have edited as little as possible, doing so only where something would be really incomprehensible to a non-German reader.

Other sources used are Bar Fax, an English language magazine which appeared in Berlin in 1981/2; Courage, a German feminist magazine; Die Tageszeitung, a left/alternative/greenish daily paper, the likes of which does not exist in England, and which covered the movement extensively; Frauenbewegung und Hauserkampf —unversohnlich? (Women's Struggle and Squatting Movement —irreconcilable), a booklet by the women who ran the women's cafe in the Jagowstrasse. The photos, except where credited, I took myself mainly in 1983.

This book would never have appeared without the help of numerous people. I would like to thank them all, especially the contributors; and Jo Brown without whose help I would never have been able to print the photos; Martin, Sarah, Kay and Papier Tiger in Berlin who sent me essential material; Mike and Richard at Leveller Graphiics who allowed me to use their excellent typesetting and graphics facilities and who gave me invaluable advice; Jo Brew for proof reading it and, last but not least, Hooligan Press for publishing it.

I would like to dedicate this book to Claus Jurgen Rattay, who died as the result of arrogance and power-tripping of West Berlin Innensenator Heinrich Lummer and the brutality of the West Berlin police. Claus died in September 1981 as a result of a police baton charge which a West Berlin court has since declared to have been unnecessary and illegal.

Frank Jackson
Brixton, March 1987