Experimental Geographies

"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)

Liebig 14: Eviction

Liebig 14 Housing Project, August 2010 (photo: author)

Naja. I feel really guilty not to have posted earlier on the eviction of residents living in the Liebig 14 alternative housing project in Berlin-Friedrichshain. They were evicted on the 2nd of February in a massive police operation after losing a length legal fight and despite attempts to find a negotiated settlement.

The house was first squatted in 1990. The recent fall of the Berlin Wall had offered a rare opportunity for various social groupings to create radically new and autonomous spaces in former East Berlin. Liebig 14 was once such space and part of a wave of squatting that occupied abandoned tenement blocks in the districts of Mitte, Friedrichshain, and Prenzlauer Berg (there were a few squats in Lichtenberg and Treptow as well). The violent clearing of squatters on Mainzer Strasse in Berlin-Friedrichshain in November 1990 led to the legalization of many remaining squats. The Berlin housing board took over ownership of Liebig 14 in 1992. The squatters signed a lease which made them legal residents of the house. Even though the house was sold in 1999, the lease was passed on to those who continued to live in the house. As I understand it, the legal grounds for their recent eviction are based on a technicality, namely the construction of an additional door  in the early 1990s. The door was built to offer some safety against attacks by far Right groups, a serious problem at the time.

As Andrej Holm at gentrificationblog has rightly argued, the eviction of the residents of Liebig 14 is a sober reminder of the close relationship between law and private property. The lockstep march of gentrification has become something of a commonplace feature in inner-city districts in Berlin and other major German cities. Liebig 14 was seen, in this respect, as both a site and a symbol for anti-gentrification activists who were seeking to create workable alternatives to the uneven geographies of development. But Wednesday’s eviction and the violence that ensued should also be seen as part of a broader historical geography of necessity and to which a “right to housing” was a key feature. The bitter clashes between police and protesters should prompt us therefore to not only look back to the eviction of the Mainzer Strasse squatters in 1990 but to the violent confrontations that characterized an earlier wave of squatting in the West Berlin districts of Kreuzberg and Schöneberg (I’m thinking here of the events of 12.12.1980 and the protests that followed the death of Klaus-Jürgen Rattay). As Holm points out, we can even track back to the late 19th century and the first wave of Häuserkämpfe that were precipitated by the violent clearing of illegal settlements that had sprung up as a result of a severe housing crisis. Creative destruction and violence, resistance and protest have, it would seem, a long history in Berlin.

I’m in the midst of compiling articles on the Liebig 14 eviction. Andrej Holm has posted thoughtfully on this (here and here). See the following in Indymedia and the Berliner Zeitung (hereherehere, and here). Die Taz has a number of interesting articles as well (here, here, and here). I will try to update this shortly. I’ve included a video below (thanks to gentrificationblog for the clip from Tagesthemen).



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