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To Get to the Other Side

A journey through Europe and its anarchist movements

Four Storeys of High Culture

A Declaration of the Rote Flora[1] to the Commercial Culture in the Schanzen District

Translation of an article that appeared in Zeck, the magazine of Rote Flora, no.133 July/August 2006 pp.5-6. Thanks to Filip for helping with some difficult words and inside references that only a Hamburger would know.

Zeck1.What the Schanze Has Lacked until Today Is Obvious, According to the Press: Culture

Reading the future in the grounds left at the bottom of overpriced Macciatos hardly reveals a cultural milestone in this desolate wasteland between Altona, St. Pauli, and Eimsbüttel, which now receives that which was so long missed. Now everything will finally be different, now the Schanze too gets neat dance-cafés for seniors, sewing courses, family brunches with live music, and, we mustn’t forget, the long pined for meditation classes. Naturally we’re talking about the promised “Culture House 73” soon coming to Schulterblatt 73 and with it hip jazz sessions, readings, comedy, lectures (about whatever), theater, concerts, and—brace yourselves—tada! live football on video projectors. Finally, culture!

At least the Hamburg Morgenpost and the Springer’sche Abendblatt[2] were unanimous in their respective 22- and 23-02-2006 editions, that with the new bar and restaurant of Pferdestall Kultur Inc. in the until now empty building at Schulterblatt 73 next to the Rote Flora, the dream of a visible neighborhood culture project in the Schanzen district could finally be realized. While the Abendblatt, under the headline “A Chance for the Schanze” (we recall that this slogan was already in play within the framework of the drug debate), fantasizes over a promised development that would assign itself the task of culturally stimulating the district, the Mopo has already gone a step further, projecting a triumph for Business Führer Falk Hoquel and his project. In fact, Pferdestall Kultur Inc.’s project might be a great step forward in the development of the Schanzen district as a Party Mile and a lucrative zone for commercial bars and pleasure spots. The Piazza Project 2001[3] blew the opening whistle, and now, right in time for the World Cup (“football on video projectors”), the Abendblatt has announced the end of the days “in which around Schulterblatt more is protested than consumed.” It couldn’t be said better.

It fits the idea of urban planning, under the authority of the STEG[4] since 1989, if the opening of a commercial restaurant and leisure spot under the name of “Culture House” can be posed as an addition to neighborhood culture. But it also bespeaks the depressed state of public consciousness in this neighborhood that no criticism has been formulated of PK Inc.’s obvious swindle.

II. STEG: Godfather with Tradition

In this situation, one cannot accuse the STEG of not remaining true to their political line. The ostensibly “gentle urban renewal” that the STEG wants to accomplish, as official urban planner of Hamburg since 1989, has mainly taken the form of a silent reconstruction of the Schanzen district from an alternative scene neighborhood at the end of the ’80s to an “in” quarter with fashion boutiques, bars, high rent antique apartments, and also trendy mortgaged apartments. The in-this-context formally proposed neighborhood participation has exhausted itself in “round tables” and public comment processes that mainly just give the nod to long-decided political proposals. The STEG has consequently known to keep itself outside of all city development conflicts in the last years, instead playing a role of neutral mediation (most recently, in the closing of the Fixstern[5] and the remodeling of the Wasserturm[6]). The chief goal of the STEG was above all not to contradict the political programs of the city council or districts, which is to say, the interests of the investors.

III. Student Start-Up: from the Campus to the Schanze?!

It’s no surprise when STEG’s Julia Dettmer appears as the advocate for PK Inc. The behavior of the company is more than noteworthy. PK Inc., which has entered into a nonprofit partnership with the university, faced a need to stimulate student culture on the university campus in closer cooperation with the Asta student culture commission.[7] Therefore they ran, among others, the Ponybar, next to the Abaton cinema.[8] For this reason the university marketing firm is a company of PK Inc.

Meanwhile PK Inc. has monopolized the operation of the university event hall with their “hip events,” and set itself in direct competition with the smaller, self-organized student cafés at the university. The highly demanded cultural offerings of the Ponybar exhaust themselves these days in televised football, childrens’ books on tape and hip DJs. PK Inc. has since spread out from campus with the opening of the gallery “14 Dioptrien” and its investment in the Astra bar in January of this year.

And now that PK Inc., under the direction of Business Führer Falk Hocquel, is embarking on another commercial project in the neighborhood of the Rote Flora, one might wonder if anyone is privately enriching themselves with university subsidies?

The PR strategy for achieving these plans, for which even TAZ and Scene Hamburg[9] have placed themselves alongside the Abendblatt and Mopo as the uncritical executors, functions according to a relatively see-through pattern. Offerings for children, families, and pensioners will be indiscriminately presented as a profile, as if anyone could earnestly believe that in Schulterblatt 73, senior citizen dances, family brunches, or neighborhood-oriented youth activities will regularly take place, beyond a few superficial events to keep up the alibi. Instead of this we believe there will be up to ten events a week, but these will be marketed to yuppies.

This formulation recalls the former promises of the Schlachthof Project on Feldstrasse in the mid-90s.[10] The STEG also proclaimed then that a neighborhood culture center would be created for the Karo district, but in the end it has become a poorly run concert hall after the STEG got rid of all the neighborhood-oriented initiatives.

When in public opinion culture has its place only under pure economic interests and neoliberalization[11] holds more and more force in the mediation of culture, then nothing stands in the way of the growing stupefaction of society. Finally then nothing will be protested, only consumed. Congratulations.

IV. The Downfall of Noncommercial Neighborhood Culture

Without question the current development in the Schanzen district is merely the consistent continuation of the neoliberalization of all aspects of society. Perfectly according to plan, the neoliberalized Schanzen district meets an economically molded student milieu[12] in an amusement park almost totally cleansed of junkies, dealers, and the homeless.

In social and cultural spheres, usefulness—or, more exactly, demand—is woven together more and more with the principles of capitalist value: only those with money can use it. Claims to an equal share of public life, expectations of equal opportunities and equal rights in society are only valid for those who can afford it. Concomitant with this is the replacement of state-guaranteed employment, through rigid budget cuts, with a reference to the now politically desirable “charitable” social and cultural work.

A “culture project” like that planned at 73 Schulterblatt is the beginning of the end of a neighborhood culture oriented to the common good. When the so-called “Culture House 73” can be presented so far indisputably as an addition to “neighborhood culture,” that is the downfall of a notion of culture that falls short even by the minimal standards of Hamburg’s cultural authorities.

V. The Future is Here

Parallel to the discussion of “internal security” and the drug scene, the Schanzen district has also been placed under the rubric of public interest through intensified restructuring and investment plans. As the new information economy firms progressively establish themselves in the neighborhood and the Messe[13] expands, the Schanze can make an attractive starting offer for the upwardly mobile in the international real estate competition. The neighborhood possesses these and other winning factors. Schulterblatt gained a chic plaza (which is one-third privatized and lies in the domain of the respective bar owners). The Fixstern has been closed, because in a Party Mile there’s no more space for facilities to help drug addicts (recall what the STEG previously proposed: banish the Fixstern to Lagerstrasse[14]).

No shopping streets, no event rooms without cameras and security service. Social and racist criteria for who belongs and who doesn’t ever more comprehensively determine the movement of individuals and accessibility in a literal sense. The debate over video surveillance in the Reeperbahn shows the direction the Schanze is headed as well.[15]

Here another consequence of the gentrification process becomes clear. The effort to clean up the Schanzen district is based on a massive exclusion. Those who no longer fit into the image of the Schanze as an attractive neighborhood for pleasure and consumption must go. Above all the homeless, drug users, drug pushers and the people with dark skin who are all assumed to be pushers; all but a folkloric remnant have been successfully disposed of through chicanery, racist police controls, arrests, persecution, and expulsion.

In the long-term, all those who cannot afford the rising rents—another consequence of the no longer creeping gentrification process—will be forced out of the Schanze and other inner city areas. And also those whose rent contracts expire and who receive the option to buy their apartments will have to leave the neighborhood for lack of capital. Even those who celebrated the restructuring methods used to gentrify their neighborhood face the same problem of rising rents and now may have to pack their bags. Anyone who doesn’t have enough money in his pocket and can no longer maintain is no longer desired here.

But it doesn’t matter, because finally in the Schanze, nothing will be protested, only consumed.

Plenum of the Rote Flora, May 2006.

[1]The Rote Flora is Hamburg’s main squatted social center and autonomous space. It is located in the Schanzen district of Hamburg, at 71 Schulterblatt St. The “Culture House” next door is four storeys tall.

[2]The two largest newspapers in Hamburg, liberal and conservative, respectively, and the latter owned by Springer, the major German media baron. Later in the article the former is referred to ironically as the Mopo.

[3]A commercial project for the development of the plaza—or piazza—just next to Schulterblatt street.

[4]Hamburg’s urban development bureau, like HUD in the US.

[5]An institution for junkies to shoot up in a safe environment.

[6]An abandoned water tower in a park that was converted into a 4 star hotel.

[7]Asta is the official student union.

[8]A student-oriented movie theater.

[9]Two alternative Hamburg magazines.

[10]The Schlachthof was an abandoned slaughterhouse that was transformed into a community center but eventually came to offer little more than yuppy bars, galleries, a pricey concert hall, and offices.

[11]I’ve translated “Ökonomosierung” as “neoliberalization.” Sadly, in English “economizing” means to make more efficient, and “privatization” is too limited and technical a term. “Neoliberalization” suggests the necessary broadness and capitalist agency, but the reader should not get the sense that the writer is speaking within a newer antiglobalization framework so much as an older and deeper anticapitalist critique.

[12]In tandem with the rest of the European Union, German universities have recently been overhauled, away from earlier forms that encouraged free study and towards a new model similar to that of the US, in which students are produced to meet economic needs and moved quickly from scholarship to employment.

[13]A sort of economic expo, located in any major city, where new products are showcased.

[14]An out of the way street which at the time was in a run down area.

[15]The Reeperbahn, one of Hamburg’s red light districts and a major tourist destination, is now under complete video surveillance.