The first week of 2014 start with a important mobilization in Hamburg, one of the major cities of Germany. This mobility was defined as “clashes between police and leftists” in dozens of news. Of course, there were clashes but what were the reasons of this clashes? In this article, I will try to tell what was happening in Hamburg and what were the reasons of the mobilty? It seems to very important to understand this emerging mobility in the early days of new year, and see what are dynamics of social movements that related city policies.
A mobilization in Hamburg occured because of “Rote Flora”( which means in English “red flower”). Rote Flora is a cultural center which had been occupied for 25 years. Leftists and anarchists used Rote Flora as a hub for their activities. These actions in Hamburg, started against to desicions of closing and destruction of Rote Flora cultural center. From this perspective, these events in Hamburg are being compared with Gezi Parkı protests that took place in Turkey in last summer. Gezi Parkı protests started against to the desicion of destruction of the park, similar to Hamburg protests that against to destruction of the Rote Flora cultural center. Also clashes between protestors and police, are similar.
Rote Flora, Hamburg
Photo Credit: wikipedia
Rote Flora was built in 1835. In 1989, leftist groups occupied this building. The building had been converted into a cultural center by leftists who occupied the building. At the end of the 1980’s, free standing buildings in almost all the major cities of Western Europe, was occupied by leftist youngs. In that year, the most important political rhetoric of the left in Western Europe was “owning property brings with it social responsibility to owner”.Rotting, unused, abandoned buildings was occupied one by one because of “social responsibility”. Occupied this place was used by the young people of college students, the homeless, and those who migrated from small towns to big cities. That period was very high rents in European cities and occupied this place was very important for these people. They established their own new world.
With the occupation of the houses, on the lower floors of this building was opening new places, such as cafes, small workshops, counseling and cultural centers. Thus, alternative life forms were created by these people who occupied and use that places. Rote Flora cultural center, which is closed by the authorities in Hamburg on 21 December, It was a case mentioned above. Rote Flora building was built in 1835, taking place in the middle of a small park as a summer theater.
In the next years, Rote Flora building was operated as a ballroom, country restaurants and a cinema. When the building was occupied in 1989, where was in one of the poorest parts of Hamburg and publicly owned, nobody used the abandoned building in that time. Hamburg State Government turned a blind eye to it and did not do anything against to occupation. Within a short time, a large number of alternative culture project came to life in the occupied public building. Many of these projects would also receive government support. “Rote Flora alternative cultural center” after a while was to have an important place on the cultural map of the city of Hamburg . In tourist tours, Rote Flora being shown to tourists as “a monument of alternative urban culture “.
In 2001, the building was sold to a real estate investor. However, the new owner of the building only can touch for repairs to the building that was guaranteed in the sales contract.
Some problems was occured in following years, between the owner of the building and people who are using the building, but these issues are settled through the intervention of the state government. In recent years, as a result of the “urban renewal” process in the major cities of Germany, a variety of problems is experiencing. In rich cities like Hamburg, numbers of neighborhoods decreases and middle and lower class suffer from this renewal. In big cities, for instance Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Berlin, rents have increased, rental rates has been up to thirty percent.
As a result of these developments, medium-and low-income urban dwellers in this city were forced to move to the outskirts neighborhood because of the low-rent social housing construction declined. Also neighborhoods are the rest of the old buildings from the last century which is located in the center of large cities, suddenly in vogue generous. These neighborhoods which is preferred primarily of immigrants -especially Turks- , low-income families and college students because of insufficent and old infrastructure, now grabbing attention with this vitality. Tenants who have adopted the bohemian lifestyle, can pay more money to rent this buildings, began to move such districts. These people are starting to purchase their dwellings. Buildings are made luxury renovations.
Then, cafes, small boutiques, exceptional restaurants are opening. The name of the neighborhood is starting to appear frequently in local media. This places are being more popular day by day. As a result of these, real estate investors has involved the process and poor apartments are converted to luxury apartments like New York and London.
Low-income families’, immigrants’, and students’s homes did not modify but, their rents were rised. They were affected by this “gentrification” process. They can not pay rent. After a while these groups are forced to move out of the neighborhood.
In the last year, as a result of these conditions, Rote Flora has been affected by this situation exactly. Building was rented to a real estate fund for a long-time by owner of the building. Real estate fund owner decided to modify the building and to build cinema, ballroom, theater and concert hall after the treatment in order to rent by money. However, people who have used this building for 25 years opposed this developments. They wanted to save the Rote Flora.Building owners and tenants were referred to the judiciary, state administration of mediation did not work this time. After that not only people who have used building for 25 years but also thousands of people who live in Hamburg made a demonstrations on Hamburg streets.
Demonstrations were held quietly and regularly since 2010. However, the recent days tensions between police and protesters has escalated. This tension was transformed into conflict. Activists and policemen were injured during demonstrations, public goods were damaged. Public opinion was divided in Hamburg. Supporters of building owners defended that property owners can use his/her property as he/she wishes. According to opponents of this view, property owners they have a social responsibility to public.
Police insisted to implement the court’s decision in the hands of property owner and the cultural center Rote Flora was closed on December 21. On December 21, clashes between police and demonstrators at a rally was increased. Eight thousands demonstrators clashed with police, 500 protesters and 170 police officers were injured and more than 20 injury were serious.
Clashes between police and protestors
Photo Credit: sosyalsavas.org
After that, the political debate has raged. Political opposition accused to the state administration for failing to provide policing in the building district. State government proclaimed a part of district as a “danger zone” to prevent any possible incidents.
“Dangerous zone” application gave to the police right to identity control without a concrete threat or suspect. In normal conditions, it is not possible in Germany, if the police do it, citizen has the right to oppose and complain. However, in the places where proclaimed as a “dangeres zone”, police can control identity card and do body search. Also police can gather people who deemed suspicious in spesific place.
The protests continued and at the weekend (January 5), more than 500 demonstrators walked on street including “danger zone”, police watched the march. There are other reasons for tension in Hamburg, the problem is not just Rote Flora Cultural Centre. Schanzen is a district where is Rote Flora Cultural center, is located on the verge of type of Germany urban transformation. Not only in this district but also in neighbor towns signs of urban renewal can be felt. For example, bohemian entertainment venues, small cafes and unusual design products selling shops began to open in Reeperbahn where is famous with including brothels, table dance bars and strip clubs.
Another issue that escalading tension in recent months, is located in this neighborhood, some developments have taken place regarding the Esso Building. In this building, a large numbers of African immigrants and homeless, families are too poor to pay rent to lived. Municipalities had placed them there. This building was started to decay. Municipilaty warned to property owners for building renovation. However, they did not make a renovation and the building was under danger of collapse, because of this, Hamburg municipalities began to evacuate the building.
According to estimates, after the buildings demolished, property owners will build more luxury apartments. There are many opposite reactions to this situation and the reactions caused to to increase the participation and support of demonstration in Hamburg. The cause of the opposite reactions that instead of building which will be demolished, luxury apartment is to be built. If these houses were built and luxurious, process of urban transformation that felt its effects, to be faster. As a result, one of the neighborhood which is low-income and poor families can live in Hamburg will be lost.
Indeed, these concerns in Hamburg, are shared by the tens of thousands of tenants who have a low income and living in neighborhoods of city center, in Germany. But the German public is becoming increasingly aware of this issue. Those who do not suffer from this trouble, are also involved protests. Civil society organizations try to work for solve the problem. Municipalities and city planners who think that rich and poor, native and immigrant must live together, try to help who resist.
All these developments shows that, neo-liberal policies and globalisation cause to problem in big cities. Urban transformation and gentrification is the most important of these problems. This issue is two-sided. Governments or/and local-offical organizations and capitalists benefit from it, but the poor or middle-income citizens will be victims. Europe’s major cities have experienced such a process, and this process is still ongoing. When I look at Hamburg example, I can say that similar gentrification process will continuen, citizens will react against it.
Tolun, A., 2014, “Hamburg’ta kentsel dönüşüme direniş” http://www.bbc.co.uk/turkce/haberler/2014/01/140108_hamburgda_ne_oluyor.shtml
Topçu, H., 2014, “Hamburg’daki çatışma ve gerilimin arkasında ne var?” http://www.bbc.co.uk/turkce/haberler/2014/01/140107_hamburg_hulya.shtml
Sabah Daily, 06.01.2014 “Almanya’da “Rote Flora” gerilimi artıyor”
sosyalsavas.org, 21.12 2013, “Hamburg’da anarşistler polisle çatıştı (Almanya)” http://sosyalsavas.org/2013/12/hamburgda-anarsistler-polisle-catisti-almanya/