• 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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Germany puts 700,000 WWI docs online
Prisoners of War pictured in 1918. Photo: Bundesarchiv/Bild 183-S45825

Germany puts 700,000 WWI docs online

Hundreds of thousands of rare records and images from World War I have been put online by the German government, ahead of Monday's 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict. READ  

Merkel to push for 'swift' EU Russia sanctions
Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Vladimir Putin chat with Fifa President Sepp Blatter (c) in Brazil before the 2014 World Cup final. Photo: DPA

Merkel to push for 'swift' EU Russia sanctions

UPDATE: Russia's failure to help quell the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and fully assist the investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 demanded a tough response, a German government spokesman said on Wednesday. READ  

Löw to remain Germany coach to 2016
Joachim Löw (l) during a coaching session in Brazil. Photo:DPA

Löw to remain Germany coach to 2016

UPDATE: Joachim Löw will remain German national football team coach following the World Cup victory in Brazil, he confirmed on Wednesday. READ  

Pressure on police over anti-Semitic protests
A pro-Palestine demonstration in Berlin on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Pressure on police over anti-Semitic protests

Demands are growing in Germany for the prosecution of protesters in Berlin, Frankfurt and other cities who led anti-Semitic chants and incited violence against Jews over Israel's military offensive in Gaza. READ  

The Local List
The 12 best words in the German language
Photo: DPA

The 12 best words in the German language

The Local List has covered all aspects of German words, from the untranslatable to the longest. But we've never done a ranking of what are simply the best words in the German language, until now... READ  

Munich police find 49 refugees on one train
Police arrested three Italians for allegedly driving 25 Syrians into Germany on Tuesday. Photo: Bundespolizei

Munich police find 49 refugees on one train

Police in Munich found 49 refugees on one train which arrived at the city’s central station from Italy on Monday night. Officers in the Bavarian capital have reported a “huge increase” in the number of people arriving illegally over the last few weeks at Munich's train terminal. READ  

Yoga helped Jogi's boys bring World Cup home
Coach Joachim Löw ensured his team had a yoga instructor with them at all times. Photo: DPA

Yoga helped Jogi's boys bring World Cup home

Germany’s World Cup winning football team have revealed one of the secrets of their success in Brazil this summer – yoga. READ  

Court jails student for protest at far-right ball
Josef S. at the court in Vienna. Photo: DPA

Court jails student for protest at far-right ball

UPDATE: A German student, accused of being the ringleader of far-left demonstrators who protested at Vienna’s far-right Akademikerball, has been jailed, despite questionable evidence of his involvement. READ  

Lufthansa cancels Tel Aviv flights
A Lufthansa Boeing 747 at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Photo: DPA

Lufthansa cancels Tel Aviv flights

Lufthansa said on Tuesday it was suspending its service to Tel Aviv until at least Thursday over security concerns amid the escalating Gaza conflict. READ  

German state bans Hells Angels' logo online
Photo: DPA

German state bans Hells Angels' logo online

Displaying the symbols of notorious motorcycle gangs the Hells Angels and the Bandidos is forbidden across Germany, but that ban has now extended to the internet. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Politics
View from Germany: 'Nobody will win in an economic war with Russia'
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
Jobtalk: How innovative is Germany?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
German Bucket List: How many of these can you tick off?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Joachim Löw: A career in pictures
Photo: Submitted
Society
Is this expat cat the world's oldest?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Germany's week in pictures: July 12th - July 18th
Photo: DPA
National
Heatwave to bring highs of 36C to Germany
Photo: DPA
Analysis & Opinion
Should Germany follow France and ban the burqa?
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
Which workers is Germany short of?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Ten best expat jobs in Germany: Which one would you choose?
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Photo: Shutterstock
Features
Some of the most embarrassing mistakes you can make in German
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Sponsored Article
Bilingual school turning education on its head
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

3,252
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd