• Germany edition
 
'Protests make Hamburg different'
A protester in Hamburg on Saturday. Photo: DPA

'Protests make Hamburg different'

Published: 20 Jan 2014 16:55 GMT+01:00

“People in Hamburg have always gone to the streets when the government does something they don’t agree with,” said St. Pauli resident Gernot Krainer, reflecting on demonstrations in the area in December and January.

“Protests are an important part of city and street culture here, especially in St. Pauli and the Schanzenviertel, they make Hamburg different from, say, Cologne or Munich,” he added.

Last Monday city authorities finally bowed to pressure and lifted Hamburg’s restricted zones which gave police extra powers to stop, search and ban people from the area.

But the atmosphere in St. Pauli and the Schanzenviertel remains tense. On Saturday almost 3,000 people marched to protest against restricted zones.

'No hipsters please'

Gernot Krainer has lived in St. Pauli for more than 25 years and has witnessed the neighborhood’s gentrification. “It’s always the same cycle,” he said. “First an investor buys a property. Then the tenants are pushed out.

“Then a sleek new high rise is built, all steel and glass, luxury apartments with the requisite coffee shop on the ground floor.”

He added: “People here are angry. Developers are destroying our neighborhood.”

Krainer is speaking from experience. He is the co-owner of a St. Pauli landmark, “Die Kogge,” a small hotel and bar on Bernhard-Nocht Strasse, which is popular with touring rock bands. 

The Kogge and its neighbours are biding their time as investors are threatening to bulldoze the historic buildings to make room for a series of luxury apartment towers.

Krainer doubts that the kind of “yuppie tenants” these developments are supposed to attract will like living in St. Pauli.

“These hipsters, young folks with money, think it’s cool to live here,” he said. “But at night, when the nightclubs and bars are in full swing, or when their kids see sex workers on the street or behind their windows waiting for customers, they complain.”

In defence of the old neighborhood and to save The Kogge, Krainer and other community activists founded a group in 2011.

For the past two years they have held demonstrations, collected signatures against the project, and organized discussion forums. 

Eventually the investors agreed to extend The Kogge’s lease, convert one of the neighboring buildings into a self-governing cooperative owned by the occupants, and reserve part of the new development for low-income housing. 

“Our demos were effective, unlike the big demo in the Schanze last December [which led to violence]. That one conflated too many issues,” said Krainer.

Riot like its 1980

Krainer concedes that his successful initiative might have stalled had it not been for the Hafenstrasse riots in the 1980s, which permanently changed city politics and established protesting as an effective means of government resistance in post-war Hamburg. 

“The Hafenstrasse protests were about gentrification,” Krainer said. “Hamburg would be completely different today if people had not demonstrated.” 

Emotions erupted over the Hafenstrasse, a picturesque St. Pauli street overlooking the Elbe, in the early 1980s, when the developer issued an eviction notice to squatters in twelve buildings to make room for new construction. 

Most Hamburgers saw the Hafenstrasse as an island of lawlessness and a festering eyesore. Elbe river cruises made it a part of their itinerary - “chaos-sightseeing” from afar. 

In 1987, the Social Democrat (SPD) mayor Klaus von Dohnanyi led the way towards the conflict’s peaceful resolution by persuading all parties to return to the negotiating table. 

The buildings remained and were, in 1995, turned into cooperatives jointly owned by the occupiers. 

“Hamburg would be a lot less interesting if the Hafenstrasse, the seedy, old St. Pauli, or the Rote Flora did not exist. We don’t want our city to be all cleaned up and boring,” Krainer said. 

These places have become important parts of Hamburg’s cultural landscape – and big tourist attractions.

Visitors from all over the world flock to the Rote Flora for great live music, or simply to see a “real punk.”

And the Hafenstrasse is mentioned in travel guides as a rare left-wing utopia.

But does all new construction spoil a neighborhood’s character and destroy its authenticity? 

Who owns this city?

The fight over the run-down “Esso-Häuser,” an apartment complex built in the 1960s and nicknamed after the gas station that occupies their ground floor, illustrates this dilemma. 

The buildings are prime St. Pauli real estate, right next to the Reeperbahn. Decades of neglect have left the buildings structurally unsound and the owner plans to tear them down this year.

Tenants have been temporarily accommodated in hotels and promised new contracts under the same conditions as their old ones. 

Is this really a building worth fighting for, a bulwark against the neighborhood’s commercialization, as demonstrators called it last December?

Yes, insists Krainer. Many other St. Pauli residents share his view. To him the buildings are worth preserving. Just like other, more traditionally beautiful parts of St. Pauli, residents should have the right to decide what happens to them. 

“We live here, and we refuse to be ‘managed’ like vassals in a feudal state," he said. "We have a right to this city, too. The real question is: who owns this city?” 

The police provoked us

That tension is not going to go away. The violence between left-wingers and police which led to the establishment of “restricted zones” has only soured relations between the two sides.

Albrecht Metzger, a St. Pauli resident and community activist, said: “Police operations were completely arbitrary and random and entirely political. The goal was to suppress political protest. 

“People have this image of the police as their 'friend and helper', but being stopped by them, in full gear, is an act of provocation.”

CLICK HERE for photos of the December protests

Ale Dumbsky, editor of the magazine Read, and former drummer of the punk band “Die Goldenen Zitronen,” added: “The SPD-led senate attempted to push through and assert commercial interests by force and failed, because the people of Hamburg made use of their right to demonstrate and their freedom of assembly.

“The big demo on December 21st escalated because of the police. The police were beating people and used water cannons without prior provocation.” 

By Jana Bruns

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Germany frees female Russian spy early
Photo: DPA

Germany frees female Russian spy early

A Russian spy, jailed in Germany with her husband last year, has been freed early and allowed to return home, media reports said Friday, suggesting a possible prisoner swap. READ  

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge
Andreas Van Knorre being transported by Singapore police. Photo: Wallace Woon/DPA

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge

Two German men were charged Saturday with breaking into a Singapore metro depot and spray-painting graffiti on a train, offences punishable by jail time and flogging with a cane. READ  

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard
The Museum of Fine Arts in Bern. Photo: Gian Ehrenzeller/DPA

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard

A relative of late German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt lodged a claim Friday for his inheritance, a Nazi-era art hoard which he has bequested to a Swiss museum, a spokesman said. READ  

Schweinsteiger poised for Bayern return
Photo: Andreas Gerbert/DPA

Schweinsteiger poised for Bayern return

Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is set to make his first Bundesliga appearance since the World Cup final on Saturday, Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola said. READ  

Suspected ETA identity forger detained
Photo: DPA

Suspected ETA identity forger detained

German state prosecutors on Friday said they have taken a Spanish national suspected of forging identification papers for Basque terrorist movement ETA while working at a university into custody. READ  

False teeth trigger school ‘poisoning’ scare
Photo; DPA

False teeth trigger school ‘poisoning’ scare

Emergency services showed up in force at a Ruhr school on Friday after a schoolgirl mistakenly treated her friends to grandpa’s denture cleansing tablets rather than vitamins. READ  

German bikes to carry Ebola lab samples
A doctor at a Guinean Ebola clinic in October. Photo: DPA

German bikes to carry Ebola lab samples

Germany has sent 400 motorbikes to the areas of West Africa worst hit by the Ebola epidemic to speed up testing for the virus. READ  

Merkel’s 1.5 tonne Xmas tree hits the road
Photo: DPA

Merkel’s 1.5 tonne Xmas tree hits the road

Donated by a private forestry concern, the 21-year-old fir was felled and loaded on a truck on Friday and dispatched to Berlin. READ  

Police arrest man over Russia-proof bunker
Weapons found by police in the bunker. Photo: DPA

Police arrest man over Russia-proof bunker

Police in Kelheim said on Friday they had arrested a man who hoarded guns, ammunition and bomb-making material in a nuclear-proof family bunker he built fearing an attack by Russia. READ  

Far-right agenda gains ground in middle class
AfD leader Bernd Lucke celebrates election results in Potsdam in September: Photo: DPA

Far-right agenda gains ground in middle class

Overt xenophobia and fascism have lost a lot of ground in Germany in recent years. But a new survey of attitudes shows a creeping tendency in moderate society to sympathise with core ideas of the far right in private. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Win your Christmas list: €250 at Marks & Spencer
Photo: DPA
Politics
Can 'sorry' ever be enough for the Linke?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
Offer: Unlimited airmiles through December 19th
Sponsored Article
Ever wanted to try out home exchange?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1989
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
National
Which city is the worst for car crashes?
Photo: DPA
National
The folly of the foreigner road charge
Photo: DPA
National
The man who stopped Germany's trains
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
How to replace retiring baby boomers
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
Finger slicer's insurance scam fails
Photo: DPA
Gallery
See how Berlin has changed in 22 photos
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Want to study in Germany? These are the subjects to choose
Sponsored Article
International School on the Rhine: a legacy
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,316
jobs available
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists
Click here for the full job description
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd