For decades, the remains of the Gängeviertel stayed relatively calm. While the neighborhood on the Valentinskamp was still mostly inhabited in the 1970s and 1980s, the city-owned SAGA started to evict people from the 1990s onwards. At the same time, the last attempt to rehabilitate the houses failed. Only the “Loge” was renovated and restored, before the attempts to renovate ceased again. For this reason, the half-timbered house from the 17 th century wasn’t a part of the Komm In Die Gänge! Initiative and has a unique status in the Gängeviertel project today as a rented office space for the co-operative (Genossenschaft) and the association (Verein).
The evictions of the 1990s only left five former tenants in the area by 2009 – the remaining apartments and workshops had been empty for 15 to 20 years. The Gänge fell in a deep sleep, even if occasionally ideas for fixing the area popped up among investors and city officials. In 2009, the city sold the entire area to the investor Hanzevast, who planned to demolish, remodel, and modernize the area to a high- class creative neighborhood. In the same year, several political, economic and social factors interacted and made the occupation of the neighborhood possible and successful. For one, 2009 was the year of the global financial crisis and investors and their megalomaniac projects suffered a severe blow in public opinion.
Earlier this year, a new kind of network had formed in Hamburg around several urban conflicts: Recht auf Stadt (Right to the city). Different initiatives connected and formed a political movement, in order to intervene in conflicts around the Rote Flora, the wagon-place Zomia, the Frappant in Altona, and also in the Gängeviertel. The network constituted the political basis that enabled the occupation and up until today its principles influence the everyday practice of the Gängeviertel. In November 2009, artists and creatives released the manifest “Not in our Name, Marke Hamburg!” in which they protested their role as a fig-leaf for the ongoing gentrification of the city.
Since January 2009, a group of artists and activists had started to meet in the Kaschemme, an illegal bar in the Gängeviertel, to discuss what to do with the large, empty area. The Kaschemme itself was an art project – there was music (but no techno), cold beer and a counter which went until 1000 guests, which was the closing-mark for the establishment. The result of the meetings of the so-called “cell” was a festival, which was to take place at the end of August. Weeks before, red dots, spread throughout the city, announced the event. On the weekend of the 22 nd of August 2009, thousands of visitors came to the Gängeviertel to see art, music, and discussions in the open houses, thereby participating in the occupation. Surprisingly, the activists weren’t directly evicted by the police, (as it is common in Hamburg when private property is seen as threatened), but were still around on Monday, when the negotiations with the senate started.
In October 2009, Hanzevast payed the first installment for the area and the initiative left the sold buildings Druckerei and Fabrique to avoid claims of the investor against the city. The overwhelming support by the media and the general public forced the city to negotiate a repurchase, which came into effect on the 15th of December. Since then, the city and the initiative negotiate and strife to find common ground to save and develop the neighborhood. Milestones in this process where the signing of a development concept in 2010 and of a cooperation contract in 2011. In the same year, the entire area came under preservation order as a heritage site. The relationship between activists and city officials has often been difficult. Until now, however, the initiative managed to win the political struggle with wit and creativity; hopefully it will remain this way.