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Berlin's squats are at your service

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Berlin's squats are at your service
Abstand, where The Local's reporter was pelted with an orange and lots of lettuce. Photo: J. Arthur White
14:58 CEST+02:00
In their struggle to opt out of the capitalist system, squatters and collectives in Berlin offer services from Mario Kart tournaments to yoga, creating a parallel economy as The Local discovered.

Everything from bike repair workshops and welding classes to underground cinemas and anarchist libraries can be found in a dingy basement somewhere, usually provided free of charge or on the basis of an informal barter system.

One of the best examples is Liebig 34. Describing itself as an "Anarcha-Feminist... collective and social living house-project," this former squat borders on Rigaer Straße in the Friedrichshain area of Berlin.

It is an area teeming with similar self-organized cooperatives.

The front of the building is painted with a giant fist and the words "we cannot be bought," which aptly describes the collective ideology of the approximately 40 people living inside.

The courtyard is full of broken down bikes which Ravel, who moved into the cooperative a few months ago, repairs.

Every Thursday at 5pm, the space is used for a bike repair workshop. Although it's mostly for Liebig's residents and other likeminded activists, Ravel doesn't shun the idea of opening it up to strangers - free of charge, of course.

"As I reject the capitalist system, I refuse to give a price to my time... maybe for a donation you could bring me some jam or soy milk. I would like to get outside the idea that it has to be for money," says Ravel.

Ravel is also toying with the idea of fixing up some old bikes and starting a bike exchange.

The idea is to make it easier for people to live outside of the mainstream economy.

"Biking is a sort of political act that you can do every day against the system, the car system, the insurance system  - behind it there is exploitation, the whole capitalist system," says Ravel.

A dedicated musician playing experimental music, Ravel sometimes uses the house's common rehearsal room, which is stocked with a range of instruments and quality amps.

Down the hall is an anarchist reading room, offering free internet access, a library of left-wing publications and a space for discussion. The reading room also houses the building's coal stove, which, faithful to the autonomous spirit of the collective, substitutes for a more conventional heating system.

Don't take any pictures!

On the other side of town is one of Berlin's oldest squats, Rauchhaus, part of a Hospital complex in Kreuzberg that squatters first occupied in 1971.

Now the cooperative of forty people living inside have legal title to the property, part of which they have opened up as a youth social space, featuring a bar with free bread, extremely cheap Spätzle (German noodles) and beer for €1.

Residents run all kinds of workshops, including yoga, silkscreen painting and welding.

Last Wednesday they organized their first ever Mario Kart 64 tournament. Two rooms have been set aside to accommodate international travellers and a neighbouring yard has filled up with a shanty settlement of around a dozen permanent shacks. 

Almost every night in Berlin’s squats there is a Volksküche - a kind of communal banquet that is either free or pay-what-you-can.

Abstand, an Oi! Punk squat on Rigaerstraße has a vegan one every Monday at 10pm. Just be careful not to take any pictures - The Local ended up having fruits and vegetables pelted at its reporter.

There are also plenty of film nights, usually showing movies that relate to anarchism, social justice or inequality.

Köpi, a collective housing project on Köpenickerstraße boasts a cinema in the basement next to the bar. The projector screen is enormous, some of the seats are old bumper cars and the beer is very cheap. Just be careful not to burn yourself on the wood stove that heats the building.

If you want to get a more complete view of the left-wing, anarchist and collective services on offer in Berlin, take a look at the magazine Stress Faktor at http://stressfaktor.squat.net, or pick up a paper copy at Liebig's reading room.

SEE ALSO: 'Black people ban' at Berlin pub ignites tension

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