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Squatters Occupy a Berlin Apartment Building (1981)

The squatters’ movement that started in the late 1970s was motivated by concerns both political and personal. On the one hand, the movement attracted those who wished to protest the lack of affordable housing and the negative effects of postwar urban renewal. On the other hand, however, it also appealed to some young people who were primarily interested in escaping both parental control and the burden of paying rent. For some members of the counterculture, occupying empty apartment buildings was a way to create a sphere of youthful freedom. But it was also a source of endless conflict with landlords and police, who insisted on the observance of private property rights.

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From House to House – Studying a Berlin Movement

According to everything I heard, our occupation was among the better planned ones. This planning basically consisted of "checking out" the house: from the owner, to the state of planning, down to the chances for gaining entry.

We met three times in various combinations in order to get acquainted and make preparations. A few dropped out, others brought along friends. Certainly, each of us thought at least once that the whole thing would remain nothing more than a nice dream. At the time of the occupation, just exactly who would be moving in, and who would rather retreat to the status of "supporter," was as unclear as our notion of what would happen to the house in the long run.

But then, one morning at six-thirty, we simply went in. We brought along the most basic tools, flashlights, stoves with pipes, leaflets, a big breakfast, banners, and two new locks.

When a new lock is on the door and the banners are fluttering from the windows, then the house is considered occupied. That's important. For the police are under instructions to do their utmost to prevent new house occupations, but also to keep their hands off those already occupied.

It's cold and dark. We're excited: will the cops immediately throw us out again? We shine our flashlights into empty rooms, junk is lying around. We start tidying up the most well-maintained apartment. A press conference is supposed to be held at 11:00 a.m.

The people on the street are going to work. We are celebrating the occupation with small chocolate cakes and champagne, which we offer them along with the leaflets. "Another one already?" This is already the fifth occupied house. "Well, in a way you're right, eh. Cheers then!" We seldom run into real disapproval. "Just no rocks, lads, and then I think it's all right too." – "I was almost expecting this," says a man from the neighborhood, "it's a nice little house, eh." The leaflets are gone within two hours, the champagne even faster. We unload the stoves and building materials. At the press conference, the talk is of shameless speculation, the housing shortage, and irresponsibility. The journalists must have nearly memorized all that stuff about the 80,000 people looking for housing and the 10,000 empty apartments. They're looking for something unusual. How about that one banner – the one that says "Squatting is hot!" What's that supposed to mean?

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