wir sind unregierbar

When I lived in Berlin, I got interested in the anarchy-queer-feminist community of the squatters, residing mainly in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood of the city. Inspired by Gonzo journalism, from my flat in Moabit, I often got on the train to Liebig34 – shortly after its eviction – and Køpi, where I got a faint taste of this subculture.

Since then I’ve learned a lot about the ideology, and it still has a place in my heart. Surely, I’m still learning, and I can’t tell if I’ll ever get it fully right (if I get anything right, ever), but a few months ago it seemed a good idea to investigate and maybe work on a work of nonfiction.

Projects come and go, and wir sind unregierbar was one of these undertakings suffocated with a pillow in its cradle – and it was my own hand applying the pressure!

Anyway, lately I’ve been more into fiction writing, and I prefer to convey my ideas through art rather than nonfiction (at least now, not universally). Here is the draft – the first few pages – I wrote some time ago.

All names were changed to initials for whatever reason people do it.

wir sind unregierbar

“Impossible,” I heard. “You have to sign up to a waiting list.”

My enthusiasm couldn’t be stifled. “How many people are on that waiting list?” I asked.

Smiling at the naivety of my question, she took a toke of her marijuana cigarette and replied, “Millions.”

That’s a bummer. First time I get in touch with somebody from the anarchist community, and that’s what I hear. Or barely hear, for the punk metal music in the pub at Køpi made having a conversation next to impossible. Only through a combination of movements, screams, and gestures could you communicate. The two predominant languages were English and Spanish – much to my surprise, being in the capital of Germany.

The scenery was indeed breathtaking. Fancy hairstyles, leather jackets, beer bottles, and vegan food were all around the place. The tables were covered with stickers, as were the walls. Tobacco smoke was rising up in the air. Hanging down from the ceiling, a bunch of junk completed the picture.

My interlocutor seemed quite perplexed by my question. I thought that telling her about my idea would maybe change the course of events. “I’m a writer,” I said, “and I want to write about this (I opened my arms, symbolically grasping the surroundings within my hands) whole culture. Anarchism and squatting in Berlin. So my plan is to live in one of the occupied houses for some time and then write a book about it.” The people around me leaned closer to listen to what I had to say. My eyes jumped from one person to another, looking for somebody who’d help me with this undertaking. “I don’t really like journalists, I want to tell the story of this culture differently.”

I mean, nothing against journalists. To some extent, I was a journalist myself, having done some reporting in the recent past. Nevertheless, I knew about the hostile attitude of squatters towards the press people, especially news journalists. Berlin’s squatters have been misrepresented by the media more than a few times, especially by those in favour of the status-quo-preserving law enforcement. Somehow, I had to make it clear that I was on their side, whatever that meant.

So maybe I did hate journalists.

“I want to show the squatters’ culture through the people. Focus on their personal stories rather than the ideology surrounding it, you know.”

Indeed, an anarchist and a squatter had been seen as a persona non grata by Berlin’s government for the last couple decades. Køpi is one of Berlin’s most famous occupied houses, a historical centre of underground counterculture in the city.

“Well,” she replied after a while, “maybe it would be possible for you to live there as a guest.”

Bingo. That was my first step, and a successful one. We exchanged contact details. “I will give it to one of my friends, he’s part of the [word for the application council, I don’t know exactly what it is, nor remember its proper name],” she added.

Within the next hour I met a couple other people, including C, who’d been a squatter for three months. Born in Chile, she used to be an activist for trans people’s rights for some fifteen years before she left her home country. I wanted to know everything, but questions have fallen out of my mind at that moment. “Why did you come to Germany?” I asked, and that was the best inquiry I could come up with.

“I don’t know,” she replied. Honestly, I knew not what I expected. I myself didn’t know the answer to that question. Berlin seemed to be a magnet that worked in mysterious ways. A cosmopolitan city, where the houses occupied by anarcha-queer-feminists were the core of this international community, the epitome of its unique vibe. As I found out, houses like Liebig34 were in fact a refuge for people fleeing war, oppression, or – obviously – capitalism.

That very same night, Liebig34 went ablaze. The fire devoured the entirety of its ground floor. Some three weeks earlier, the occupants of the house had been evicted by the police by force, following a two-year-long legislative and activist fight. The eviction of Liebig34 was what brought my attention to Berlin’s squatters in the first place, as violent face-offs between Liebig34’s occupants and the Polizei made it to the news. Back-and-forth struggle between the city’s underground culture and law enforcement was Berlin’s bread and butter, especially in the Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain neighbourhoods. Since the late 1960s, over 650 houses, parks, and factories had been squatted – often for political reasons.

The anarchists’ distrust towards journalists can be excessed only by their hostility towards the police, the red right hand of the government, whose legitimacy they refuse to recognize on any level. After the fall of the Berlin wall, squatters had more than enough opportunities to spread across the neighbourhoods, balancing on the thin border between law and its grey areas.

“Liebig34 stays,” said the many wall paintings and posters. Surely, it wasn’t the first – or the last – occupied house eviction by the police. Shortly before that, an anarcha-queer-feminist pub Syndikat was similarly cleared by the cops. “You can have our house, but you will never get our passion,” claimed Liebig34’s official statement. “Liebig34 lives. Liebig34 fights.”

The fight entailed predominantly spreading anti-capitalism leaflets, posters, and graffiti around the city, as well as organizing demonstrations and, on occasions, violently facing the police or the landlords’ minions. In a way, the squatters’ lifestyle was part of the fight in itself. Houses burn, people go to jail, but ideas – they never die.

C produced two Motorola walkie-talkies from her bag and put them on the table. She started passionately chatting about the devices with her friend in Spanish. I waited for her to finish, understanding but a few words from that conversation.

Another friend of Ca’s asked, “Did you get any of that?”

I looked at her in perplexity. “Err, sempre… cocaina.”

C shook her head in disappointment and sent a funny remark to her friends in Spanish, which was met with laughter. “So,” I broke the uncomfortable situation and pointed at the walkie-talkies, “why do you need these?”

“It’s because of the evictions,” she said. “The police sometimes block the signal, so you can’t call or text anybody.”

“Hm,” I nodded my head. “So that’s how you communicate.”

An awkward silence followed. I put a short note in my journal: walkie-talkies. There was an unsatisfiable spring of curiosity inside me, yet no questions arose in my mind to keep the conversation going. I decided to take a bold move.

“Do you think it would be possible if I paid you a visit at the house you live in tomorrow?”

“Sorry?” she said, tilting her head and leaning towards me so that she could hear me better. Okay, I thought, too many words to break through this music.

“Can I visit you tomorrow?”

“Well,” she said unconvinced, “I have an interview tomorrow already.”

“No, I don’t want to do an interview, you know,” I assured. I didn’t want them to think of me as another nosey journalist. “I just want to see the place, take a look around, talk to some people.”

She leaned back, thinking. “Text me,” C said. She gave me her phone number.

Saying that I’ll be back in a minute, I headed for the toilets. At first, I looked for the men’s restroom, only to remember that I was in a swarm of far-left, counterculture individuals. There were no differentiations between men and women, or any gender, especially not when it comes to toilets. So much easier.

While relieving myself, I made up my mind to leave. I didn’t have any loose change at the moment to buy a bottle and mix with the people – a mistake I promised never to repeat. Though I had the punk-ish looks – fingernails painted black, a couple of rings on my fingers, and a leather jacket – just sitting there and smoking cigarettes, fully sober, would be a bit weird. I said my goodbyes and stepped out of that underground world. Through the closed door, I could still hear the heavy music playing.

The next day I lost touch with C, so I went to Liebig34 again to see the scope of damage. On a threshold opposite the house, I saw a man sitting in silence. 

“Do you mind if I sat here?” I asked, pointing at the space right next to him. He shrugged and, producing a pack of tobacco from my pocket, I took a seat. “What’s your name?” I said, trying to spark up a conversation. Absent-minded, he didn’t reply. On the other corner of the crossing, five police officers stood in silence.

In another attempt for a little chat, I said, “Did you live here?”

He looked at me, sad. “I’m in no mood for talking.”

“No problem,” I said and started rolling my cigarette. Some minutes passed, for I’m by no means a champion cigarette roller. Moving my tongue along the paper, I said, more to myself than to him, “I want to write a book.”

“I don’t give a shit,” he replied almost immediately. “I told you, I’m not a person to talk to right now.”

I nodded my head in defeat, grabbed my things, got up, wished him a good evening, and walked away. On my right, I passed Rigaer94, another occupied house in Liebig34’s closest neighbourhood. Last time I was there, I spoke to one of its inhabitants, asking if I could talk to somebody. 

“Are you a journalist or something?” he asked suspiciously.

“I’m an independent journalist,” I explained, peeking through the half-open door of the house. “I want to write something about Liebig34.” At that point, the idea of a whole book hadn’t fully formed itself in my head.

Seeing my curiosity, he gently closed the door right in front of my face. “We have something like open days on Thursday at 8 p.m. Right now we’re all quite busy.”

“Great,” I replied. “I’ll be there.”

And I was there – when I met the man in no mood for talking – yet the door of Rigaer94 was closed. Not willing to disturb the peace of the house’s inhabitants, I made up my mind to return to Køpi, hoping to meet some other squatters there.

It’s important to note that today’s squatters are unlike those of the 1960s through 1980s. Most of the squats had been “legalized,” meaning that the inhabitants have their contracts and pay adequate rent. It’s when the contract expires or when the landlord changes their mind that problems arise. Arsons and police evictions are the most common ways of forcing contemporary squatters out of a house.

Originally, squatters in Berlin occupied houses whose owners were unknown, dead, or didn’t care. By living in the buildings and transforming them into places where art and culture could flourish, squatters prevented the houses from being destroyed. It was a manifest action against gentrification, to which squatters and anarchists are still opposed. As the market value of the buildings grew over time, some landlords changed their minds, deciding to sell the property. Only then did the law enforcement have to get involved. Occupying the old buildings was also a way to protest against private property. In the anarchist ideology, it’s seen as despicable to privatize any piece of land, all of which ultimately belongs to mother Earth.

For a second time, my pockets were empty, hence I invited a friend to come along with some Kleingeld. Cruel as it may sound, I was fully engaged and devoted to the idea of submerging into the counterculture of underground Berlin and absorbing the stories of 21-century squatters.

The pub at Køpi was closed. It didn’t stop me from staying downtown till 4 a.m. On my way home to Moabit, I took the wrong bus. Sat in the back, I sipped my beer in peace. There was no one else in the bus, so I couldn’t care less. Apparently, the bus driver felt like disturbing my carefreeness. He approached me, demanding I put a mask on and leave the bottle out. A pain in the ass that man was, but I did as he pleased. I wanted to get home, so I let him feel like the boss for once. I didn’t pay for the ticket though, as I hadn’t done in some two months, so the joke was on him.

I continued my work in Poland, somewhat forced to come back to my country of origin due to the pandemic-related regulations. With my plans uncertain, I decided to go on with the research and networking remotely. Apart from sending emails to squatters from Berlin, I got in touch with Rozbrat, an anarchist collective based in Poznan, where I stayed at that time.

[…]

In an April 2001 report for the U.S. Department of Energy, the Office of Safeguards and Security, Karl A. Sager, Ph.D., warned of the threat of left-wing extremism “seeking in theory to eliminate, not preserve, class distinctions.” Communist ideas didn’t die with the fall of the Soviet Union, the totalitarian, warped implementation of Marx and Engels’s dialectic ideas on the progression of history and the eternal class struggle of humanity. Though twenty years ago right-wing extremism – white supremacists, white nationalists, and other terrorist, like those responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in the U.S. history – was at gunpoint of anti-terrorist forces, left-wing extremism was a power not to be ignored due to its having “several objectives.” The left-wing extremists would call for the liberation of blacks, establishing a Marxist-Leninist government, as well as engaging in international espionage, terrorists attacks and bombings, and calling for the freeing of political prisoners and redirection of capitalist wealth. Demographic characteristics of left-wing extremists were a red flag too. Both left- and right-wing extremists were predominantly male with the average age of respectively 35 and 39 years old, left-wing groups comprising mostly minorities, of better education, urban place of residence rather than rural, and employed professional workers, in comparison to the “largely unemployed or impoverished self-employed workers.” [1]

The stakes changed after the September 11, 2001, attacks as they “marked a dramatic escalation in a trend toward more destructive terrorist attacks which began in the 1980s,” said Dale L. Watson of the FBI during his 2002 speech before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in Washington, DC. He continued that the attacks “also reflected a trend toward more indiscriminate targeting among international terrorists. The vast majority of the more than 3,000 victims of the [11 September 2001] attack were civilians.” The focus was shifted, and terrorism is still considered a major threat in European and North American countries, consequently due to excessive media coverage. A comprehensive statistical study by Hannah Ritchie and her colleague researchers of Our World in Data shows that, despite holding one third of media coverage in 2016 (New York Times and The Guardian), terrorism amounts to 0.05% of all global deaths, and being far less deadly in the United States than heart disease, cancer, and accidents. In 2017, the countries most prone to terrorism were in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, where casualties were counted in the thousands, in comparison to 184 deaths in Europe and 124 in North America. Simultaneously, around half of Americans are “somewhat scared” of terrorism and less likely to jump on a plane, go into skyscrapers, or attend mass events. In reality, terrorism – though still an issue to be done away with – has been in decline since 2014, fatalities from plane hijacking oscilating around zero, yet the overall death toll still fluctuating between 10 and 30 thousand casualties annualy. Today’s left-wing extremists aren’t a deadly threat as much as they are an ideological hazard for the PR of democratic-capitalist governments, the most active terrorist groups in 2019 being the Taliban, Houthi extremists, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Boko Haram, so ideologically speaking islamic fundamentalists, show statistics published by H. Pletcher of Statista. The Maoist Communist Party of Nepal, the Communist Party of Nepal, the New People’s Army of the Philippines, and Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party in Turkey being the biggest perpetrators and/or terrorist on the left. However, none of these four communist entities has anything to do with anarcha-queer-feminists, social democrats, or squatters. The threat of left-wing terrorism is virtually non-existant in the 21st century, the last and exceptional active violent extremist group after mid-1990s being the Revolutionary Organization 17 November in Greece, which lasted until 2002. [2, 3, 4, 5]

It was in the period of left extremists’ highest activity, the 1970s and 1980s, when the squatters movement gained momentum in Berlin.  [6]

[…]

Autumn 2020


I don’t think I’ll move on with this project. If I take something similar on, it won’t have anything to do with this draft. This bit above – some creative nonfiction, some history lessons, some loose ideas – are here on The Red Frame in a fun-fact manner rather than to showcase anything.

To me, writing such things is learning. That’s one of the reasons why I’m still spending time on blog posts read by 30 people a month. Maybe, it’s the only reason left (apart from the money I’ve already paid WordPress, ugh).

Viva la revolucion!*


LINKS I USED & FURTHER READING

Anarchism

Haymarket Affair 1886

May Day

Hell’s Angels and Hunter S. Thompson

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Seattle declared an “anarchist city” by the federal gov’t

Rojava

2018 evictions

“Squatting in Berlin in the 1980s” by Lothar Schmid

Photos by Lothar Schmid & Michael Hughes

2007 Køpi evictions

Køpi

Rigaer94 aversion towards politicians and media

Liebig34 eviction

Køpi

Squatting

Topf & Söhne – Besetzung auf einem Täterort

Rote Flora

Gonzo Journalism

New Journalism

Left-Wing Extremism: The Current Threat

Reddit: Can someone explain Berlin’s squatter rights?

Anarchism (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy)

Grass Roots Urbanism: An Overview of the Squatters Movement in West Berlin During the 1970s and 1980s

Earth Liberation Front

The History and Cycles of Squatting in Berlin (1969–2016)

Shifting Tides: The Rise And Fall Of Squatting Culture In Berlin

Ms Informed: Liebig34, The Sex Pistols, And What Is Anarchy

DW May 20th, 2018

Squats in Berlin: The City’s Open Wounds

Gentrification Virus

Squats in Berlin: The city’s most famous occupied houses — in pictures

Coney Island Outlaws: Life Under the Boardwalk

In Praise of Graffiti: The Fire Down Below

Berliner Linie

Adverse Possession


* I mean, protect the whales!

Published by Dawid Tysowski

[writer]

One thought on “wir sind unregierbar

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