The dispute over the left-wing house project Rigaer94 is occupying the entire city. But what do the residents have to say? A walk.
"A kilometer of anarchy" was the headline of a tabloid newspaper about Rigaer Strabe Photo: dpa
Down the stairs at the Frankfurter Allee S-Bahn station and then keep to the right, to where pizza stores are lined up with tailor stores and kebab bars: This is where it begins, currently the most discussed street in the city. "A kilometer of anarchy" was the headline of the B.Z. in January of this year – today the debate is even more heated.
For more than three weeks, the dispute over the left-wing house project Rigaer94 has become the central issue in this year’s election campaign. In the past few days, the events overlapped: On Wednesday, the regional court declared the partial eviction of June 22 illegal, and on Thursday the rooms had to be returned to the residents. A success for the left-wing scene.
The political conflict about Rigaer94, the debate about whether damage to property can be legitimate and whether one should negotiate with squatters, is therefore far from over. There is hardly anyone on this street who doesn’t have an opinion on the matter – time for a walk.
Right at the beginning of the street, on the right, is the triangular Schleidenplatz. The playground in the middle is only moderately used, but the homeless people on the park bench are almost always there. In the shade of the sunshades of the ice cream parlor on the west side of the square sit a few women with baby carriages, who could also be at home in Prenzlauer Berg. No wonder: The parallel streets to the north of Rigaer are bursting with beautifully renovated old buildings.
"In the GDR, there would have been truncheons."
Peters Bier Bar on the corner of Waldeyerstrasse is home to a different world. The air is filled with cold cigarette smoke, and the three male guests each have a man’s place setting in front of them. The landlord doesn’t want to say anything at first about what is happening in the same street a few hundred meters to the west. Then it bursts out of him: In the GDR there would have been truncheons against these chaotic people, maybe even a shot from the Makarov. Today, he says, the police are sued for every little thing, and it’s a disgrace.
One of the guests, younger than the rest, blond brush haircut, eagerly agrees. He lives just around the corner and only yesterday observed from his balcony how young people had smashed the side mirrors of several cars. Naturally, he called the police. Does he perceive the leftists as a threat? Not directly. "But when there are ten scroungers sitting there begging you, that does bother me, after all, I go to work for what I have."
Then an older man, who had only listened so far, intervened. He has lived on Rigaer Strasse since 1969, when he first moved into the new GDR prefabricated housing for 45 East Marks and eight pennies. And now he has to say: "Of course they’re slobs, I wouldn’t have done anything like that in my youth." At the idea, he himself has to chuckle that the mustache wobbles. "But they’re always friendly to me, I’ve never experienced anything negative there, they’re really nice people."
His car, a small car, is also always spared, there has never been a scratch on it. He always argues with his daughter, a "senior traffic warden," about this: "You have to be tough," she says. Leave the young people alone, they’re not doing anyone any harm, he says.
Out of the smoke, further along the street. On the left is the Lidl, which was looted last year during a power outage. The site has already been sold, and new housing is to be built here.
Resident of the Convoi car park:
It’s just no fun going to the bakery in your bathrobe and being checked by the police at every opportunity
"Whoever buys here buys trouble".
Across the street, in the neighborhood’s only commercial courtyard, progress has already been made. Old clinker brick buildings still exude a touch of industrial charm in the densely built-up residential area. But a mountain of construction debris already announces: a private investor wants to build 133 luxury rental apartments here, calling the place "Carre Sama-Riga" in the nicest advertising slang.
The sign announcing the construction had been up for less than two days, when someone spray-painted "Whoever buys here buys trouble" on it. On the sign was also the "Stadtraumnutzung e. V." as a partner. The next day, the windows of their office directly opposite were smashed.
"It was a shock, even though I understand the anger and powerlessness behind it," says Hajo Toppius from the association, in his early 40s, full beard, gray T-shirt. He is sitting at one of the desks behind the windows, which have since been replaced, with a view of the construction site. Ten years ago, together with others from the association, he set up the legendary project space "Antje Øklesund" on the site of the old furniture factory; through a hole in the wall, one could get into the hall for concerts, exhibitions, performances. Last summer, the last party took place, then they had to vacate the premises. "We are the artists who gentrify ourselves away," Toppius says.
June 1990: Occupation of Rigaer Strasse 94.
January 1991: Residents sign a framework agreement and individual leases with the owner, Kommunale Wohnungsbaugesellschaft Friedrichshain (WBF).
September 1998: Because the original, Jewish owners were expropriated and deported by the Nazi regime, the house is transferred to the Jewish Claims Conference (JCC).
January 2000: The JCC sells the house to Uwe Ehmke. After disputes, the latter withdraws from the purchase contract.
September 2000: Suitbert Beulker becomes the new owner of Rigaer94. The 2000s are marked by a protracted dispute – with dismissals, court cases, police interventions, evictions and reoccupations.
May 2002: The Berlin Senate offers Simplonstrabe 15-17 as a replacement property. A framework agreement between the Senate, the district and the residents is concluded, but ultimately dissolved.
December 2013: Beulker tries to sell Rigaer94 to the Edith Maryon Foundation. He fails due to the resistance of the residents.
December 2014: Beulker sells the house to the current owner, Lafone Investment Limited, which is based in the British Virgin Islands.
October 2015: Berlin police increase the number of patrols in the Nordkiez. Residents then call the measure the "Rigaer Strabe danger zone."
January 13, 2016: A patrol officer is attacked. Because the alleged perpetrators are said to have fled to Rigaer94, the police "commit" the house project with 500 officers. In the days that follow, there are further police operations and apartment searches.
June 22, 2016: With 300 officers and construction workers, the property management company commissioned by the owner has a workshop and the trendy pub Kadterschmiede evacuated.
July 13, 2016: Emergency proceedings against the partial eviction take place before the Berlin Regional Court. This is found to be unlawful.
July 14, 2016: After the verdict, the police end their operation at Rigaer94. (aga)
But this time things are supposed to be different. Because the site is actually a commercial area, an investor can only build apartments there with the approval of the district. And that’s why the district and the existing commercial tenants have a say in the design of the 5,000-square-meter site. "We’re trying to wring something out of the investor," says Toppius, referring to a kind of public civic courtyard with self-made charm that is to be attached to the new buildings. There is room in the basement for "Antje Øklesund.
Toppius and his fellow campaigners are currently talking to all those involved about the implementation. Talking instead of resisting. "The thing can go full tilt, but the alternative is to do nothing at all," Toppius says.
"What kind of world do we actually want to live in "
The people from "Antje Øklesund" are heavily criticized in parts of the left scene for their willingness to negotiate with the investor, and after the window attack there were also considerations in the association to give up everything. In a way, this shows the mixed situation that determines the whole street. The question remains whether one can bring those who throw stones, the people from the house projects and from the condominiums, the expensively renovated old building apartments, the investors and the tenants threatened with displacement to one table?
Continue across the Samariterstrabe intersection, behind it on the left: the Spati with the resonant name "Bier und mehr Bier" is a neighborhood institution. Two men are sitting on the windowsill of the store. "When I look at what’s happening here right now, I wonder what kind of world we actually want to live in," says one of them, about 30, black chin beard, and answers the question himself right away: "Not in Henkels." His neighbor, long curly hair, nods.
The two men work in a bike repair shop around the corner. They often spend their after-work hours on Rigaer Strasse, they say. "Because this is an island," reasons the bearded man. "The problem is that they want to push the Assipack to the outskirts of the city – just because others come with money," says the other and points to renovated old buildings on the other side of the street.
Rigaer 94 under siege Photo:
His colleague objects, "It’s a systemic problem," he says. "It’s about profit." He understands the newcomers and their expectations. But so do those who respond to "police harassment" by throwing bottles – although he actually rejects "such militancy." "They keep escalating," says the one with the curly hair. "Actually, politics in particular should care about peaceful coexistence."
Short silence. No one here knows how things will continue, not to mention any long-term proposals for solutions. "It all just makes me sad," sighs the bearded man.
"Now he’s due"
Two houses down, in front of the Fischladen scene meeting place, people are eating in a large group – and there is only one topic of conversation: how Interior Senator Frank Henkel is embarrassing himself with his actions against Rigaer94. "Now he’s due," a woman exults.
I wonder if the residents of the new construction project diagonally across the street feel the same way. This used to be a wasteland, the "Bambiland," used by the squatter scene to hang out and drink beer. Now there are six houses here, 140 condominiums. It’s a construction group project, where the middle class invests. The residents do not see themselves as evil gentrifiers; some have lived in Friedrichshain before. They are surprised by the hostility they encounter.
Damage amounting to more than 200,000 euros has occurred on the site in recent months, which is why the construction group has hired private security. There is currently no understanding between the construction groups and the autonomous scene; both sides make no secret of how little they think of each other.
There is a celebration in front of Rigaer94: The first floor rooms have been open again for a few hours. More than ever before, the building has become a projection surface as a result of the confrontation in recent weeks: as a control center of left-wing autonomous machinations for some, as a Gallic village of squatters and the epitome of radical left-wing opposition for others. She would be happy if things were a bit quieter again, says one resident quietly.
"Where do they actually think they’re moving to?"
Past the Galilee Church, behind it, is another special place on this street: the "Convoi" wagon yard, which has occupied lot number 6 since late 2002. A resident in black clothes and turquoise dreadlocks reports on the police checks: "It’s just no fun when you go to the bakery in your bathrobe and are checked by the police at every opportunity," she says. She has lived here for ten years, with a flat-screen TV and ice cream machine, in her car.
She has nothing personal against the newcomers, who contribute to the upgrading of the neighborhood. They live past each other. "But where do they think they’re moving to?" she says, annoyed by their complaints about noise and dirt. If music is played on the intersection between Rigaer and Liebigstrabe, which is called the "village square," and burning Euro pallets in a shopping cart provide "warmth and atmosphere," then that’s good, she says.
She also cannot say what will happen to Rigaer Strabe. But she fears that the Kiez will not exist for much longer: "I don’t know when it will be our turn. We do have a lease, but we’ve just seen that you can be evicted without a legal basis."