• 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
Updated: 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
Lufthansa pilots to strike for 35 hours
Grounded. Photo: DPA

Lufthansa pilots to strike for 35 hours

Lufthansa pilots have announced their eighth strike of the year, this time lasting 35 hours from Monday at 1pm until 11.59pm on Tuesday. READ  

German dies after trying to take ravine photos
Photo: File photo/Shutterstock

German dies after trying to take ravine photos

A German student has died after falling into a steep ravine at a waterfall on a popular Malaysian resort island, police said on Sunday. READ  

Academic makes Twitter splash saying 'Nein'
File photo. DPA

Academic makes Twitter splash saying 'Nein'

Former Ivy League professor of German Eric Jarosinski has become a Twitter phenomenon developing a huge social media following thanks in no small part to saying no in German. READ  

Klopp slams Dortmund as slump continues
Jurgen Klopp looks downcast as Borussia Dortmund suffer another defeat. Photo: DPA

Klopp slams Dortmund as slump continues

Jurgen Klopp slammed his Borussia Dortmund side after Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Cologne made it five Bundesliga games without a win ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash at Galatasaray. READ  

Michael Müller will be Berlin's next mayor
Michael Müller. Photo: DPA

Michael Müller will be Berlin's next mayor

Berlin’s development senator, who led the controversial project to develop Tempelhof Airport, will be the capital’s next mayor. Michael Müller won almost 60 percent of the vote among members of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) on Saturday. READ  

Train Strike
Rail strike cripples Germany's train lines
Passengers wait for buses outside Erfurt station on Saturday morning. Photo: DPA

Rail strike cripples Germany's train lines

Rail travellers on Saturday faced huge delays and disruptions on one of autumn's busiest travel weekends as the train drivers' union began a 50-hour strike. READ  

Freed hostages back at German embassy
Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen are welcomed by German Embassy officials upon their arrival at Villamor Airbase in Pasay city, south of Manila, the Philippines. Photo: DPA

Freed hostages back at German embassy

Two Germans kidnapped by Islamic militants in the Philippines are safely back at their Manila embassy, officials said on Saturday after a harrowing six-month ordeal in which they endured threats of beheading and seemingly routine cruelty. READ  

ID cards to be seized to stop jihadist travel
A huge German ID card specimen is exhibited at the booth of the German Federal Printing in 2011. Photo: DPA

ID cards to be seized to stop jihadist travel

Germany on Friday announced new measures to prevent its citizens from travelling to join the jihadist cause in Iraq and Syria, including confiscating their identity papers. READ  

UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party
Martin Sonneborn outside the EU Parliament. Photo: DPA

UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party

Germany’s leading satirist, who represents a joke party in the EU Parliament, has said he was approached by the UK Independence Party (UKIP), desperate to form a fresh alliance hours after their anti-EU parliamentary group collapsed. READ  

Train Strike
Deutsche Bahn makes pay offer to train drivers
Photo: DPA

Deutsche Bahn makes pay offer to train drivers

UPDATE: Rail operator Deutsche Bahn has offered train drivers, who plan to strike for the entire weekend, a five percent pay increase. But on Friday evening the 50-hour strike was still set to go ahead. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Travel
This is the man who has stopped Germany's trains
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
Expats: Should I stay or should I go?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: World's biggest erotic fair opens in Berlin
Photo: Screenshot
National
German jihadist threatens 'filthy' Merkel
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
Time to loosen the purse strings?
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
Which expat foods do you miss the most?
Sponsored Article
International School on the Rhine: a legacy
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
How to get hired at a Berlin startup
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Ebola 'prankster' shuts down Berlin bar
Photo: DPA
Features
215 countries, 26 years and one engine
Photo: DPA
Society
Leipzig 25 years ago: 'We were scared of being shot'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
What do other countries warn about Germany?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The ten richest people in Germany
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

3,447
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd