Squatters Take on the Creative Class Who Has the Right to Shape the City?

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Part 3: 'Not in Our Name!'


The people attending the meeting at the Jupi Bar in the Gängeviertel neighborhood agree that this is a question that has been of little interest to the city of Hamburg in the last few decades. Christoph Schäfer is one of the leaders of the Right to the City group and the founder of Park Fiction, a citizens' initiative against gentrification in St. Pauli.

Wearing a green tracksuit top under his corduroy sports jacket, he talks about the German thinkers Walter Benjamin and Georg Simmel who, at the beginning of the 1900s, recognized that the city would serve as the nucleus of the great social struggles of the century. Later in his talk, he discusses the left-wing sociologist Henri Lefebvre, who in the 1960s developed the notion of the "right to the city," based on his observations of the Paris suburbs, and David Harvey, a Marxist geographer and social theorist who attributes the causes of the financial crisis to neoliberal urban planning.

Photo Gallery

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Photo Gallery: Hamburg's Polemic Makeover

It quickly becomes clear that Schäfer is repeatedly pointing to the same source of conflict: The city is the capitalist, hungry for profit, while the residents are the workers, exploited for the city's gain. According to this analysis, artists are the city's unwilling puppets. As members of the creative class, they move into poorer neighborhoods, inadvertently giving them a trendy image which allow them to be marketed more effectively by the city.

This is why the artists of Gängeviertel have penned their manifesto against the branding of the city, called "Not in Our Name!" The weekly newspaper Die Zeit and the daily Hamburger Abendblatt, owned by Axel Springer, have both printed the artists' manifesto.

There is only one problem: The city did not react the way the squatters had expected it to. This, in turn, has something to do with Richard Florida. For years, city officials had racked their brains about how they could attract the coveted creative class to Hamburg. And now members of that very creative class have come to Hamburg of their own accord, in the form of 200 artists right in the middle of the city. Rather than an inconvenience, the mass squatting was a stroke of luck for city officials.

And so the city, on Aug. 22, the first day of the occupation, did not send in the police to drive out the squatters, as it would have done in the past. Instead, it dispatched Dirk Petrat to talk to the artists.

Sympathetic to Squatters' Concerns

Petrat, a lawyer by profession, heads Hamburg's office of media, tourism and marketing. His children's drawings and paintings are taped to the cabinets in his office, and his screensaver shows postcard views of Hamburg. He has a penchant for colorful neckties. He also has very strong principles.

Petrat went from his office in the Hanseviertel shopping arcade to the Gängeviertel, a 10-minute walk. Standing in the courtyard of one of the buildings there, he asked the squatters if anyone had anything they wanted to talk about. He said that he was from the city administration and was there to negotiate, and that he also wanted to bring in inspectors to check the structures were safe. He didn't want anyone getting hurt, he said.

The squatters were speechless. Some of them had already gone to former radical squatters in the Hafenstrasse neighborhood for advice, and they had told them to be prepared for bitter house-to-house fighting. As a result, they were all the more surprised to be faced with a friendly man from the city who seemed to be so sympathetic to their concerns.

Petrat proposed that the squatters sign tenancy agreements with the city. He told them that they could stay where they were for the time being, but that the arrangement had to be regulated somehow. The department manager began to enjoy his new task. The city can depend on the squatters to uphold their end of the agreement, he says, sounding like the father of children who are sometimes somewhat boisterous but basically good-hearted.

Then Petrat and the Senate decided to buy back the buildings from the Dutch investors. It cost the city €2.8 million more than the Dutch had paid for the buildings in the first place. In a sense, the €2.8 million represent the cost the city incurred for listening to Richard Florida.

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