History Will Be Made

History Will Be Made

All kinds of buildings, the dirty and old, the quaint and those not planned on the drawing board, were now seized by young people, whose habitus was anything but middle-class. Since speculators had let buildings in West Berlin fall into disrepair, a wild scene of undogmatic leftists, alternative freaks and punks took possession of many of these buildings to repair them and ultimately to live in them. In the beginning of the eighties hundreds of buildings were occupied in this manner. They were mostly located in areas where tens of thousands of migrant workers had taken up residence. These workers, mainly from Turkey, had been coming to the city since the sixties. Increasingly violent clashes took place between the police and the squatters. Then the Berlin senate decided in favour of a political solution and offered to legalise the building projects of the squatters.

The anthem of the squatters was “One Year (It’s moving onward)” (“Ein Jahr (Es geht voran)”), a song from 1980 by a band from Düsseldorf called Fehlfarben: “Without taking a breather, History will be made, it’s moving ahead!” (“Keine atempause, Geschichte wird gemacht, es geht voran!”). In Berlin nothing moved ahead. West Berlin was neither an economically viable city, nor was it of any importance politically – apart from its symbolic status in Cold War imagery. The squatters wanted to maintain precisely this state, that of existing outside history; they were only minimally interested in making history.

Another pop song by the legendary Berlin band Ton Steine Scherben immortalised in detail one of the key early moments of this history. “Rauch-Haus-Song” (“Smoke House Song”) of 1972 narrates how activists defended an outbuilding of the former Bethanien hospital in Kreuzberg against the advancing Berlin police. The name that the squatters gave the building commemorates the anarchist Georg von Rauch. This city guerrilla, who had escaped from prison and was a member of the Zentralrats der umherschweifenden Haschrebellen (Central Council of the Rambling Hashish Rebels), was shot and killed in 1971 by the police when he tried to resist arrest. Rather unintentionally, the full name of the building - Georg von Rauch House - brings to mind the original architectural idea of the institution, which was built by the Prussian king and romanticist Friedrich Wilhelm IV in a manner reminiscent of they Middle Ages: with two lanceolate towers, Bethanien appears as the castle of the dragon slayer Georg. The famous landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné laid out the Mariannenplatz in front of the building. This is, even today, a place of calm, bounded by a church in the northwest.

Since 1973, the Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Artists’ Residence Bethanien) with its residency program and its scholarships for artists from all over the world has become an important fixture in the international art scene. The Künstlerhaus recently announced that it will be relocating in 2010. Ironically, the occupation of an empty wing of the building by residents of a leftist house project they were made to evacuate, contributed to this decision to relocate.