The beginning is marked by a red dot, carrying the slogan: “Komm in die Gänge!” and inviting to the Gängeviertel festival on 22 August 2009. It is the onset of a cultural occupation, attempting to save the last historical leftovers of Hamburg’s inner-city. The goal is to create an autonomous and emancipatory space for the arts, culture, and politics. The preconditions are affordable living and working spaces and low-key access to the cultural program. To negotiate with the city council, the initiative shortly thereafter founds an association and a cooperative. This alternative approach to city-development creates a renovation concept and a cooperation contract with the city during the following year. Parallel to countless exhibitions, events, concerts, and parties, a ten-year negotiation marathon commences.
Right to the city
2009 is an exciting year for political activists and city-planners in Hamburg: The documentary “Empire St. Pauli” sheds light on the gentrification of the neighborhood, the “Centro Sociale” is successfully defended, conflicts erupt around the Bernhard-Nocht-Quartier in St. Pauli and the Große Bergstraße in Altona. Evictions, demolitions, temporary spaces and attempted squatting. Ateliers, art-spaces, clubs and pubs are in danger. The manifest “Not in Our Name, Marke Hamburg!” criticizes the misled development of the city and thousands join the right-to-the-city parade. The call to the demonstration states: “The city is all of ours and has to be affordable for all of us”.
In the middle of this turmoil: the Gängeviertel – culturally squatted, artistically appropriated, carefully protected, collectively developed. And defended until today.
New visions for the city
“Create your own city” is one of the goals of the Gängeviertel. The people living and working here decide directly and by themselves how the area is developed, what they need and what the future holds. These twelve houses, saved from demolition by the occupation, are an ideal laboratory for experimental and innovative city development. Self-determined and in cooperation with the city the planning follows the needs of the inhabitants and the general public.
The mixture of affordable living and working spaces has been banished for a long time from the city-center, although it offers countless opportunities. However, real participation, collective planning and democratic decision-making needs constant renegotiation and continuous struggle.
Since the occupation in 2009 we’re negotiating with Hamburg’s city council. After the great initial success, when the city bought the neighborhood back from an investor, the negotiations turned into a joint planning group. Between the different milestones – user agreements, development concept and cooperation contract – the government changes several times and with it the ideas and goals of the city.
The climate for negotiations varies between friendly and tense, between cooperation and conflict. Contentious issues are the rehabilitation of the area and the participation of the initiative in the process, the autonomy of the project and the self-determination of the renovated houses. Also, the financing and operation of the socio-cultural center Fabrique remains conflictive. In 2015, these issues led to a moratorium for construction activities that remains active until the negotiations are concluded.
Self-conception and principles
The Gängeviertel considers itself an emancipatory space. We cultivate solidarity, appreciation and respect. We’re tolerant, welcome diversity, keep low hierarchies, decide democratically and consensus oriented.
We don’t tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. We know that achieving this is a permanent struggle and try to establish a culture that allows us to learn from our mistakes. We believe in the power of change, our motto “Komm in die Gänge” (Get Going!) doesn’t derive from nothing. For us it signifies the development of this project but also the idea to change things and oneself in the process.