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Worldwide Berlinification! - click opera
February 2010
 
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Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 11:05 am
Worldwide Berlinification!

There are heartening signs that the recession is causing a creeping "Berlinification" of England. An article in the Business section of yesterday's Guardian said that MPs, desperate to prevent the recession turning Britain into a succession of ghost towns, have outlined a series of emergency measures which include giving thousands of grants to people who find creative uses for vacant shops -- and there are predicted to be more than 70,000 newly-chained and shuttered shops in Britain this year alone.



The article describes UK law coming halfway to meet potential squatters: "Planning rules will be relaxed to allow changes of use which go against local guidelines. For example, a disused clothes shop could become an art gallery or an empty Woolworths an NHS drop-in centre. Temporary lease agreements will enable owners who want to retain a vacant property in the long term to make it available for community or creative use."

This development shows the UK government embracing the so-called Slack Space movement described in a February article in The Guardian's art and design section. That article, though, came out and used the s-word: squat. "Artists and curators have begun colonising "slack space" freed up by the recession and are transforming vacant shops into "creative squats", galleries and studios."



The February article sees defunct branches of Woolworths and Carphone Warehouse colonised to house community cafes and performance art events. "We know recessions are awful," says a member of a group of art squatters who've taken over a parade of shops in Margate, "but they can be a good time for artists as creative ideas start appearing while otherwise redundant people are sitting at home fiddling and doing creative stuff."

Meanwhile, an article in last Sunday's Observer looked at The artists who are hot to squat. "Straitened times call for ever greater resourcefulness," wrote Hermione Hoby. "They also - luckily for artists if not the former occupants - mean more empty buildings than ever. According to England's Empty Homes Agency, 784,495 are unoccupied, and the number rises each day. Taking their cue from similar movements in Berlin and Amsterdam, artists in this country are realising that squatting provides not just freedom from paying rent but also extraordinary creative freedom. The chance to make large-scale work, to put on frequent, artist-curated exhibitions and to form collaborative relationships based on sharing a space, has made squatting more than simply a housing solution." Hermione's article covered the Da! Collective, Steal From Work, Artspace Lifespace, The Hannah Barry Gallery, and !WOWOW! collective.



Berlinification indeed; when Germany legalized squatting in the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new verb -- Instandbesetzen -- entered the language; a combination of "to occupy" and "to renew". Berlin squatters became adept at adding cultural value to their squats, knowing it put them in a much stronger position. Many squats became cultural centres -- art galleries, music performance spaces, bookshops, coffee bars. Many of the places I go to regularly -- places with names like Eschloraque, Neurotitan, Zapata Coffee, Ausland -- began as squats, or still are.



Now, I'm too lazy to be a squatter myself; I don't have the energy for hacking at building infrastructure, making repairs, changing locks, let alone having confrontations with owners or police. I just want to get on with my own thing, thank you very much, and paying rent buys me time and space. But I live in a city that's been vastly improved by culturally-minded squatters, and I often think the current recession came along just in time to prevent Berlin getting too chi-chi, too bourgie-bourgie.

Since it's a global recession, I also like to think Berlin has now become a sort of template for cities all over the world. Whereas we might once have looked like a museum of crusty subcultures past their sell-by date, this city now looks like the future of Tokyo, the future of London, and the future of New York. We're your best-case scenario, guys, your optimal recessionary outcome. Everything else is dystopia, Escape-From-New-York stuff.

If the major cities of the world all become "Berlins", though, I can't guarantee I'd stay in the actual Berlin, the black flagship, the Big Squat itself. If Tokyo, for instance, got as cheap and cheerfully creative as Berlin -- if it became the kind of city you could simply occupy without having to scuttle around pointlessly making rent -- I'd be there in a flash. Secretly, what I'm doing here in Berlin is waiting for Tokyo to Berlinify.

55CommentReply

stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 09:41 am (UTC)

let us know when the time is right!


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krskrft
krskrft
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 10:18 am (UTC)

We're your best-case scenario, guys, your optimal recessionary outcome. Everything else is dystopia, Escape-From-New-York stuff.

Not really. I think the future is in real economic utilitarianism (as opposed to the design variety) like that which exists in South Korea. The only way that a place can continue to be livable, even after the cool kids flood in and take over, is if the consumer culture is designed from the ground up to specifically target the many rather than the few. Which is to say that new apartment buildings need to target average consumers instead of millionaires and/or their trust-fund-having spawn.

I was having a conversation with two Koreans the other day about looking for a new apartment this summer, and they expressed dismay that I would be willing to pay the equivalent of $500 or $600 a month for a 3-room apartment near a subway station in a city with a population of 3 million. And these aren't recession prices, either. They're the norm. Production of apartment buildings intentionally outstrips demand so prices will remain low. And of course, the government makes sure this is the case by offering all sorts of subsidies to the corporations who build and run these complexes.

In your argument, Berlin needs a recession in order to keep it from ballooning into an NYC or Tokyo. But giving corporations the correct incentives (and hitting them with the right regulations) can create an incredibly stable living situation that doesn't require a recession in order to persist. South Korea is the prime example.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 10:26 am (UTC)

Wow, I'm paying (at current exchange rates) $540 for a two room apartment in Berlin. Maybe I need to move to Seoul. If I didn't put my contacts in, do you think I could imagine I was living in Tokyo?


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vertigoranger
vertigoranger
VERTIGORANGER.REKAY
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 10:47 am (UTC)

This is at booster shot against by bloody miserablism at least. I am loathing a return to the UK in a week from now. West Coast living agrees with me.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 11:01 am (UTC)
Berlin

I share much of this perspective but it concerns me that you would so easily dessert the 'black flagship'. Earlier you remarked that you lack the time or inclination for hacking the infrastructure and it occurs to me that perhaps this is a problem in relation to the 'creative class', specifically here in this city.

The international artists, musicians, writers et al, that choose to live here, enjoying Berlin's relatively cheap rents, liberalism and cultural diversity (and I count myself amongst this group) can easily exist in a bubble, indifferent to local concerns and politics and contributing little. Don't like the neighborhood, city, country? - Move.

There is never any need to take responsibility for the consequences of gentrification by culture - just keep one step ahead, so long as the rent is cheap. After all, the city, society, the world, exist for no other purpose than to facilitate our needs, provide a backdrop for our fabulous creativity - and isn't it great that everyone speaks English as well?


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krskrft
krskrft
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 11:09 am (UTC)
Re: Berlin

As long as these people are paying for whatever they require from the culture (food, housing, etc), I don't see the big problem with it. After all, it could be investment bankers filling their places. I would agree that sometimes a creative culture can begin to border on (or wholly become) obnoxious, touristic, and cancerous to the culture at large, but as long as that's not the case, I don't see why it should be treated as an evil.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 11:29 am (UTC)

What about Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City ?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 11:31 am (UTC)

Are you living there? How many times a day does the internet go down?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
Capital schmapital! Don’t cut off your feet to fit your bed, get a real career instead.

History will look back at this period in history and say "Never was it so easy for a committed, pre-senile person to defy their social position, and to earn as much as they like, with access to education available as never before."

The exciting imbalance in earnings is proof of this mass Exodus from poverty!

Dump the didgeridoo, and get on board the Bling Bus, sister.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Capital schmapital! Don’t cut off your feet to fit your bed, get a real career instead.

Inequality is bad for your health.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)

what about São Paulo ? It's has the largest japanese community based outside of japan, superb health care, lovely weather , just not sure bout that hipster thing although their biennal keeps bombing every two years!
Anyone know how much the rents are down there ?
Talks abunded about getting ride of all outdoor publicity by the end of 2008.Though socially pleasing, i'm not sure it turned out the best way ....

Alex P.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
Comrades, time to squat the ruins of the creative city!

http://detroitunrealestateagency.blogspot.com/2009/01/beyond-ruins-of-creative-city.html

http://www.rekombinant.org/docs/Beyond-the-Ruins-of-the-Creative-City.pdf



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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)

By this same logic, Momus should let me borrow his Mono/Poly for 12 months...since he's not using it.


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eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)

Next year in Brooklyn.


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robotdeer
robotdeer
James
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)

I was always under the impression that Amsterdam had the best squatting laws.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
Amsterdam squatting

Not for long. That's about to change. The government may be about to make it illegal by not voting to keep it legal, as had always happened in the past. They've anyway been tightening the laws over the years. A place simply had to be empty, then it was 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc. The laws were good, and when I heard squatters moan, at a point I'd usually want to send them somewhere less.. sympathetic, shall we say, to squatting, and see what happens. I was in Amsterdam for 3 years. When I was there, people (older squatters, usually Dutch of course) said yeah it's good, but it wasn't like it was in the 80s -which may well have been true but, hmm, is easy talk and doesn't encourage much.

Squatting has been pretty essential to Amsterdam retaining much in the way of anything going on, or as decent and cheap social spaces for artists/activists/etc to meet and greet. Though there's plenty of pretty dull predictable squat culture going on with a hefty dose of infighting to boot.

It's different to Berlin because there isn't a generally cheaper rent average which pretty much renders squatting redundant. Amsterdam rents are very high and often involve ridiculous deposits. Artists often took 'anti-squats' -empty places rented (cheap but with no real tenancy rights) in need of something to keep the squatters out. Good for studios, and always some more or less apolitical artists willing to take them. (I'm not wholly opposed. Can see both sides of the argument there, tho it drove the harder line squatters up the wall of course). That may also go if they make squatting illegal. However, making it illegal will put huge strain on the police -evictions involving riot cops and water cannons etc (as Dutch evictions often do) cost big taxpayer money. This in a society that has a strong squatting history, so it's in the blood and not just of the younger generation. So, we'll see..


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)

I've talked to a German who said that Berlin was expensive. But, somewhere in Click Opera history this has been discussed before, I am certain of it. It is interesting though, she thought that Sweden is cheaper than Berlin while a Swede wouldn't agree. Everything is cheaper than the other except when it is expensive. Or something like that.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)

Krkrft,

This was a very interesting blog post on Berlin. And I was glad to see Momus stop by and add his 2 cents.


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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
Not in Reykjavík, alas

It appears that this isn't happening in Iceland. I was in Reykjavík over this past week, and over the weekend, a group of squatters took over a disused building (just off Laugavegur, in 101) to establish a community space. They already had a "free shop", in which they would allow people to leave and take potentially useful items. By Tuesday afternoon, there were protests outside, as the police had given notice that the squatters would be evicted by force. (Under Icelandic law, squatters have no rights, and are considered to be equivalent to burglars in all aspects of the law, regardless of whether the property is occupied or not. Whether or not this has anything to do with Iceland having been a favourite project of the neoliberal/anarchocapitalist/property-first movement is uncertain.) This morning, as I was leaving, I walked past and saw that the street had been taped off and there were police in riot gear near the building.


Hopefully this will change when the conservative Independence Party (which ruled Iceland since independence) is kicked out and a Social Democratic/Leftist Green coalition takes office.


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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Wed, Apr. 15th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Not in Reykjavík, alas

And here are some photos from the protest: 1, 2, 3.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 16th, 2009 12:56 am (UTC)

Very cool, very cool!


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gubia
gubia
maureen
Thu, Apr. 16th, 2009 08:10 am (UTC)

La Escocesa


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