The Gängeviertel in Hamburg has produced a lot of media coverage in the last couple of years. The Gängeviertel used to describe the narrow alleys between densely built buildings in the old (and some new) parts of Hamburg. So narrow in fact that most of these quarters were torn down at the end of the 19th century. Too many diseases and a lacking infrastructure made it impossible for the growing population to find a sanitary home. The last massive demolition was accounted for in the 1960s.
But: the area around Valentinskamp is still somewhat in tact. When in 2009 many artists and citizens occupied the buildings to protest in peace against a planned demolition by a foreign investor (probably to make space for a new super-mall or something), they achieved a monumental success: the city bought back the area and is currently planning a complete re-do. The aim is to make the area, nowadays a cultural hub for Hamburg, an affordable part of the city for artists, full on with apartments and monument protection to keep it the way it is (and potentially making it better).
This success should interest Berliners too. What about Tempelhof? What about all the rundown buildings that are now the target of big investors who want to build townhouses and offices? What about Mediaspree? Same story, different day. Gentrification issues and demographic changes are omnipresent. Will it always work out this way? I doubt it. But the story of the Gängeviertel — nevermind the fact that there is still a long way ahead for everyone who is involved — is a good example for why these protests are most definitely worth it. One might object that there are many differences between Berlin and Hamburg. Hamburg is a wealthy old lady that has the pocket money to fund a project like this. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Besides: ideology and value don’t come with a price tag. The people of Berlin have made quite a few accomplishments in the past years, despite all the changes. This is where it gets ugly, too. More rapid transactions are going to take place in the future, and it’s going to be difficult to keep track of them. I’m a romantic person, I like to believe that if everyone stands up for only one thing they love, then Berlin may stay lovable for many generations to come.
So what’s the status quo of the Gängeviertel? Well, many parties, exhibitions and readings have been held since the takeover three years ago. There’s now the ever lasting question of financing the properties and the organisations. Funding, man, is always an issue. But after the redevelopment of the Gängeviertel, everything involved with it will be in the hands of the Gängeviertel Genossenschaft to self-regulate the buildings uses. As mentioned before, the Quartier is supposed to become an exclusive place for art and culture.
By the way: there’s a similar use-case currently to be found in Wedding (that’s a bold statement, but hear me out).The ExRotaPrint project is a self-regulated architectural masterpiece (a former printery) that has been in the hands of an artist collective for a while now. They’re trying to react to the rising rents of the city. Profit and economical growth are used to keep the place a safe haven from the usual political get-go. It’s an easy model*: take the property out of the rotation, no more Buy, Sell, Revaluation, Gentrification. Artists, craftsmen, teachers, everyone should be able to afford the facilities they need for their work. And don’t mix it up: ExRotaPrint, unlike the Gängeviertel, is not supposed to be “arts and culture” only. It’s a stabilisator for social structures, not a new hotspot for Fine Art Galleries and whatnot (so the Gängeviertel is probably going to be more along the lines of the Hackesche Höfe, although probably affordable and therefore a combination of both models). What unites both ExRotaPrint and The Gängeviertel is the simple ideas that people sometimes have. Ideas that become movements and movements that become new norms. These projects can be game changers in the long run. They need support, sure. But they’ll give the people something essential back: a precedent on how things could work outside the system and still be part of it.
Our friend Caro, who is currently travelling a lot for our favorite magazine iGNANT, has paid the area a visit and came back with some stunning visual impressions. We’re very grateful to publish some of her pictures exclusively here. For the rest, go straight to iGNANT.
*It’s definitely NOT easy. The idea is easy, but getting through with it? It’s a massive load of work to get foundations to support your plans. And German laws are an undergrowth of paragraphs. The ExRotaPrint project works on the Erbbaurecht, which pretty much means that the facilities are only leased from the city but with an immanent security of the way it’s used. Read about it here.