ABSTRACT

The wave of squatting that started in the GDR just a few weeks after the Berlin Wall came down lasted well into the 1990s and has left deep marks both on the biographies of countless squatters and their supporters and on the development of affected urban neighbourhoods. In East Berlin alone, around 150 cases of squatting were registered during a single year. During the summer of 1990, the peak of this squatting wave, around 120 squats existed concurrently. The squatter scene of Potsdam, a city of 120,000 inhabitants, celebrated its status as the ‘squatter capital’ with thirty-five squats at one point in 1991 and sixty squats in total during that year.1 Squatting achieved a similar scale in Leipzig. The neighbourhood of Connewitz became virtually synonymous with the alternative movements that sprang up around the squats. By 1994, there were around twenty squats in Dresden’s Äußere Neustadt, already a neighbourhood with an alternative flair during GDR times.2 At times, the appropriation of empty buildings via squatting also left its impact on the centres of medium-sized cities such as Rostock, Halle, Magdeburg, Karl-Marx-Stadt/Chemnitz, Jena, Dessau, Gera, and Weimar.3 With their so-called info shops, pubs, book shops, clubs, concert venues, rehearsal rooms and workshops, these squats became attractive centres for those who wished to continue a long tradition of anti-fascist activism and for members of the autonomist left and also for young people from the neighbourhood, artists, drop outs and the simply adventurous.4 And they became the visible symbols of the beginnings of change in the neighbourhood. The legalization of a majority of these squats in the early 1990s provided their residents with long-term tenancy and turned the former squats into lasting companions of East German urban development. Yet, what level of influence did the squats exert on urban development? How did squatting impact on the changes in urban neighbourhoods over the long term? What role did squatter movements play in urban politics?