Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


Der Turm today (photo by notmsparker)

Der Turm today (photo by notmsparker)

The occupation of Der Turm (“the tower”) – the house in Leuschnerdamm 9 in Kreuzberg 36 – began on September 7th, 1979. For the next 4 years it became a home to many mostly young people. All in all around 100 of them. It could have been 200, too – obviously no statistics were ever kept.

Forced to act against the law – house occupation was an act of trespass – by the harsh and not exactly people-oriented urban planning policy of Berlin´s city authorities in Kreuzberg (you can read more about in the following post), the squatters or the Besetzer moved into one of the hundreds of empty houses standing at the time in the borough.

Der Turm in Leuschnerdamm 9, SO 36 and the Kinderbauernhof that Michi dreamt of opening next to it

Der Turm in Leuschnerdamm 9, SO 36 and the Kinderbauernhof, a mini farm for kids, that Michi dreamt of opening next to it – this dream came true

The following film called Im Turm – Hausbesetzer in Kreuzberg was made by one of the national TV stations as a follow-up to their reports about the housing problem and the social revolt it led to in Berlin.

It presents several residents of the famous house and gives them the opportunity to show as well as to say what it is that they want. It´s not meant as a platform for big political manifestos. Although the film explains the background story and obviously, the political element is very much present, it is first and foremost about the people and their house.

About Gaby who only a week earlier had her spectacles smashed and her eye hurt by a policeman during some evening encounter. About her flatmate Uwe who actually wanted to be a kindergarten carer but ended up as a rebel in Kreuzberg. About a 14-year-old Karsten who lives without his parents and joins Gaby and Uwe for meals after school. About Michi who grew up in orphanages and came to Der Turm with her two very young sons to live with lots of other people and dream of a trip to the seaside with her boys – she never saw the sea yet herself…

About Bine who left home at 17 and wants to live according to her own rules (that´s the one who goes to work as a cleaner and quits after the first 4 hours because the job makes her unhappy). Then there is Meno whose Papa is a retired secretary of state but whose disappointment in his daughter´s non-existent academic career did not stop his financial support.

Mate is Michi´s friend and just as her an orphanage kid for whom life in a commune means a lot. Olaf, who lives in the 2nd floor, grew up several streets further where his parents had a two-room flat. For themselves and their five children. They had to watch their neighbourhood being first dismantled and then destroyed to make space for new buildings that nobody wanted.

In 1981 the house had only one “legal” resident – the 74-year-old Opa Erich living alone in the basement flat and only glad to get help from his young and only seemingly quite unruly neighbours. The only reason he is still there is the fact that he was simply overlooked, forgotten – all other old residents were told to leave, given new flats and that often against their will.

Like the Pringalls, old residents of Leuschnerdamm 9 who shared Der Turm with the squatters for a year and who have very fond memories of that time. Then, in 1980 they had to leave as the house was to be torn down to make space for new architecture (part of the Sanierung project so often mentioned in the film).

Their new address is Mariannenplatz 47. A lovely 4-room flat that costs 755 DM instead of the 220 DM they had to pay for the old one. At the unchanged monthly income of 1500 DM a tremendous financial effort, where the 17 DM Wohngeld (housing subsidy) paid by the state to alleviate the pain of forced moving is nothing but a pittance. No wonder that the Pringalls have nothing but sympathy for the squatters. They see them as somebody acting under constraint and in response to injustice. So great is their grief at losing their home that when asked whether they would occupy houses themselves, they say that under the same circumstances they most certainly would.

The film made in 1981 and found by me only today on YouTube is astoundingly honest and fair. Perhaps that´s why it makes you really understand how the civic disobedience and the violence in Kreuzberg came to be.

It is Olaf, the Kreuzberger, who says: “It hurts to see how the Kiez (neighbourhood) is being destroyed” while the camera is sliding along the Sanierungsgebiet (redevelopment area) in Skalitzer Strasse: with empty plots gaping open like dry wounds where houses used to stand.

It also hurts looking at the destruction being done in scenes where the houses around Kottbusser Tor fall down under the racking ball. And it helps understand those who sprayed the wall of the newly built NKZ – Neue Kottbusser Zentrum better known as Kotti – with the words: “SCHADE DASS BETON NICHT BRENNT“.

“What a pity that concrete doesn´t burn”.

This film shows that the house occupation in Kreuzberg was not about folklore or spoilt but bored Wessie kids or that it happened due to the misunderstanding of the word “freedom”. It was about trying to make your own home where no house was available. It was about building your own Turm.

At the moment the film is only available in German. Do watch at least some of it, however. It speaks through images just as strongly as it does through words.

Post scriptum

Only several weeks after filming, on the 7th of April 1981 Der Turm was raided by the police and all its residents, including the children, were arrested. Although released later that day, the squatters were charged under § 129 of the penal code – Bildung einer Kriminalle Vereinigung. With establishing and running of a criminal organisation. This event led to the radicalisation of the group and their future status as Nicht-Verhandlungshaus (the house that refused to negotiate).

When two years later, on June 1, 1983 faced with an ultimatum to either sign a proper lease contract or be forcefully removed from the house, the inhabitants of Leuschnerdamm 9 rejected the offer. The police raid on the house later that day led to another outbreak of riots in Kreuzberg 36.

On June 28th, 1983 Der Turm residents were forcibly evicted.

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