A Short History of the Berlin Squatting Movement July 1982 – December 1983 – Frank Jackson

Eviction of 43-45 Danckelmannstraße, 27 June1983

THE GESAMTLOSUNG

THE CAMPAIGN for a Gesamtlosung (comprehensive solution) was the last united front presented by the squatters. This was during the autumn and early winter of 1982 when 122 houses were still occupied. The main demand was for a stop to all evictions i.e. contracts for the houses who were willing to negotiate and an eviction stop for the non-negotiating houses. Gone were the earlier demands for an amnesty and the release of prisoners.

The Gesamtlosung was an attempt to save as much as could be saved and at the same time exercise as much solidarity as possible with the houses which were not negotiating Its weakness was that it did not come from the squatters themselves; it came from the sponsors, the Alternative Liste, tenant organisations, Netzbau (the alternative building and development company which was set up to finance the contracts which the houses were to get), and other sympathetic 'established' organisations. Some felt that it was a manipulation of the movement from above; however, it was generally supported, and at the time the squatters seemed incapable of launching their own initiative.

The Gesamtlosung had its contradictions. but they were not the reason for its failure; the Senate was responsible for that. It brought squatters and their supporters out onto the streets again in large numbers, but the impression of strength and unity that this gave was not the true picture. which was that the movement was on the retreat and divided. The Gesamtlosung was a negotiating concept developed from a position of weakness. What was seen by some as its necessary flexibility was seen by others as inconsistency.

For exarnple, when in October Reuter/Phlugerstrasse, two non-negotiating houses, were evicted and on the same day the Senate announced that 26 other houses were almost certain to be given contracts within a few weeks, there were protests, but the idea of negotiating a Gesamtlosung survived.

The 26 houses which ware to be among the first to get contracts were owned by Neue Heimat , a building company owned by the German Trade Union Council. On November 2 two of them, in the Massenstrasse, in the district of Schoneberg, were evicted without warning. The reason given, by the Innensanat was that the houses were 'criminal' and a 'burden an the environment'. These evictions were a slap in the face for those who had hoped that a Gesamtlosung might actually come about

The Neue Heimat said it was willing to return the houses to the squatters on a contractual basis if the Senate agreed, and for a few days this seemed possible. The final rejection of this by the Senate meant the end of the Gesamtlosung and further negotiations. In December [i[Netzbau[/i] was dissolved and while the General Secretary of the Berlin Christian Democrats, Diepgen, who is due to become Mayor in 1984 (which he did), was saying that for reasons of 'social hygiene' more houses might have to be evicted, the squatters in the 100 or so remaining houses which were still occupied were talking, publicly at least, about a future without contracts.

DECLINE

1983 was more of less the funeral of the movement. The non-negotiating stance taken after the Massenstrasse evictions quickly faded into nothing when houses and groups of houses, faced with the threat of eviction, started negotiating on their own initiative. In February Netzbau had even been formed again.

Evictions followed one after the other; some of the squatters left their houses voluntarily rather than face the trauma and subsequent court cases which would follow an eviction. But also some houses got their contracts; some of these retreated into the relative safety of legality, others used their new legal status as a base for continued political and social engagement. All this took place against a background of continual criminalisation, divisions within the movement, a growing lack of Power (positive energy) and fantasy, and at a time when other political issues were coming to the fore.

CRIMINALISATION

In 1981 the police had been taken off-guard and were very often unable to control the situation on the streets. By the beginning of 1983 this was no longer the case; by then, due to increased manpower and patrols, better equipment and tactics, and more brutal methods, they had regained control.

From 1981 on the numbers of people going to squatter demonstrations also began to drop steadily: this was due to the increased likelihood [of being] badly injured and/or ending up in jail. The regular searches of the houses, usually under the most frivolous pretexts continued unabated; in the three year period over 600 searches took place.

Slowly too, the legal machinery of the courts rolled into action. It took time before this took effect; people were very often tried in 1982 or 1983 for something which had happened in 1981; but the fines and prison sentences (up to two years for grievous breach of the peace) were a constant demoralising pressure on people; and in particular suspended prison sentences were very effective in keeping people off the streets.

The Springer press also continued its campaign and was another wheel in the mechanism to isolate squatters from the population and facilitate the process of criminalisation.

Here are some concrete examples:

August 1982: The police search 15 houses in one day in order to confiscate a poster which has been declared illegal because on it Innensenator Lummer is described as a 'right-wing radical'. The police art squad (favourite colour grey) goes into action to paint over the undesirable object wherever it appears.

Winter 1982: The Public Prosecutors Office starts investigations into the activities of the Kreurzberg Councillor Orlowsky. a supporter at the squatters. The crimes under investigation are 'aiding and abetting trespassing' (while wiling as a go-between during negotiations he went into a squatted house) and theft (he used official notepaper and stamps to write to somebody in jail).

Winter 1982: A Berlin court threatens to separate a child from its mother if they continue to live in a squatted house.

January 1983: The police search Fidicinstrasse 43 and cut off the water supply on the grounds that it is being stolen. A few hours later they arrive beck with the health authorities, who disinfect the house by putting rat poison everywhere, including people's beds. ('Social hygiene'!)

May 1983: The police arrest five people In a bar in Kreuzberg arid charge them with arson. The next day the Springer press publishes their photos and names and says there is not enough evidence, so could the public come forward and help A demonstration to protest against this 'trial by Springer' was organised. The small number of demonstrators were out-numbered several times by the police, who surrounded them completely all along the demonstration route to the Springer building. At the back of the 'demonstration' which the police tried to prevent being photographed, people were kicked and hit with shields by the police to get ahem to hurry along. Charges against the five arrested have since been dropped.

June 1983: The eviction of the Willibaldalexis/Heimstrasse houses: The local Protestant church had been negotiating with the owners to buy the houses and then rent them cheaply to the squatters, minus the ground floor which the church wanted to keep and turn into a Kindergarten. Three clays before the contracts are to be signed the police arrive and carry out evictions. Innensenator Lummer has decided that the houses are `criminal'. Among the crimees cited were 'insulting of holders of official office', namely Lummer himself, and 'incitement' — all committed by the hanging of banners from the windows of the houses.

These few examples of how the state dealt with the squatter 'problem' are only the tip of the iceberg. By the end of 1983 all city districts, with the exception of Schoneberg and inner Kreuzberg, had been systematically cleared and less than 30 houses were still squatted.

INTERNAL PROBLEMS AND RESISTANCE

But the movement had to fact internal problems as well.

For a long time the question whether to negotiate or not was a central and really divisive issue. The negotiators, who were in the majority, maintained that negotiating was the only possible way to retain the 'free space' that had been won in 1981. The non-negotiators maintained that the movement should hold to its original position not to negotiate as long as people were in prison, that to do otherwise would be a sell-out and that there was very little to he gained by negotiating anyway.

To a certain extent both points of view have been verified by events. Only the houses which negotiated have held onto their 'free space', but on the other hand. up until now only 55 houses have got contracts. At times the discussion between the negotiators and the non-negotiators developed into a vicious verbal war, the negotiators being accused of being opportunist and they in turn, accusing the non-negotiators of being not able to get it together to negotiate, which only served to weaken the movement from within.

The root cause of this was the different reasons why the different groups squatted the houses in the first place. In 1981, when the movement was on the offensive these differences were unimportant but immediately it moved into the defensive and a hopeless stale of siege developed they came to the fore. Now, of course they are no longer important.

Militant confrontation with the police, which was part and parcel of the squatting movement in 1981/82 is now a thing of the past. The last riots in Berlin which were squatter related took place in June this year when the Turm (tower), a politically active non-negotiating house in Kreuzberg which had a Kindergarten and a women's cinema, was evicted along with the

Willibaldalexis/Heimstrasse houses. In the subsequent fighting, which lasted several hours, barricades were built and the police used teargas and made 33 arrests.

On July 18th Berlin saw its fiercest street fighting this year. A small fascist group calling itself Konservative Action decided to march into inner Kreuzberg to give the Turks there flowers and ask them 'politely' to get out of Germany. The fighting started in the afternoon at the end of a 15,000 counter-demonstration when the police arrested some people who wanted to put up an anti-fascist banner on the local U-Bahn station and lasted well into the night. It took hours of tear-gassing, baton charges and mass arrests (over 200) before the police could regain 'control'. However, this rioting was not directly squatter related.

The fantasy and Power of '81 no longer exists. It declined slowly. Kulturshock, a series of cultural political events in late 1982, was an attempt to revitalise this aspect of the movement. As too were the tent villages set up on public squares during the summer of 1983. There were three of these. One, christened Chaotenburg, was set up in the district of Charlottenburg after several houses and 200 squatters were evicted there. The other two were In Kreuzberg, one after the eviction of the houses, and one after the [i[Besetzereck[/i] was evicted during the Konservative Action riots.

The summer of 1983 was also marked by anti-militarist actions; the most recent of these was the blocking of the border-crossing point Check Point Charlie after the result of Bundestag (Federal German Parliament) debate on Persing and Cruise was announced. These actions were not exclusive squatter actions but a lot of squatters initiated and took part in them. Squatter involvement in the larger peace movement has been negligible. In general, squatters and ex-squatters have steadily become less and less visible as squatters, but many of them have become involved in other areas of political and cultural activity.

According to the Ermittlungsausschuss (legal support group) about 14 people are still in jail on squatter related offences. It is hard to judge exactly how much support the people in jail get from the movement. Sometimes it was very good, but sometimes people were not even visited. In 1982 a Christmas parcel action was organised through the Ermittlungsausschuss. This action was not directly squatter related but it was initialed by the same end of the political spectrum.. This year it was not repeated – a sad comment on the general state of the movement. Part of the failure of the squatting movement with regard to the prisoners can be explained though not excused, by its extremely loose and sometimes non-existent structures, which did not facilitate the regular and long term commitment prison work entails.

Heading into 1984 the movement is dead and safely in its grave, though no doubt, its ghost will continue to haunt West Berlin for some time to come. But also certain, is that the outburst of revolutionary energy which. at its high point in 1981, the movement really was, will also come again, though how and when and in what form this will occur is impossible to predict.

Frank Jackson, January 1984 Kucuck, Anhalterstrasse.
From Ecomedia's Squatting In West Berlin