10 years after: Gängeviertel is finally safe!

The sqatting of the Gängeviertel on 22 August 2009 was the founding act of the network Recht auf Stadt (right to the city) in Hamburg. With clever tactics and a huge backing from all parts of Hamburg’s urban society the 200 squatters took the city of Hamburg by surprise. The squatting started an important debate about the prevailing neoliberal idea of Hamburg as a „growing city“ that had stopped building new social housing and unnecessarily sold off municipal property.

Now city and Gängeviertel have finally agreed on a leasehold contract (Erbbaurechtsvertrag). That’s great for the Gängeviertel which is now safe for decades. It’s also a signal that leasehold contracts are important tools for urban development beside the market logic. Here is the declaration of the Gängeviertel:

The first big celebration: activists and the city of Hamburg agree on a cooperation contract. Now the joy is even bigger.

It’s a big day for an alternative urbanism!

Just in time for the 10 year birthday celebrations of the Hamburg citizen’s initiative “Komm in die Gänge”: after many years of negotiations, cooperation, and occasional conflicts, the Gängeviertel cooperative, founded in 2010, and the senate of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg have concluded a leasehold contract, an agreement that will secure the future of the user-led, grassroots, socio-cultural organisation for years to come. The agreement is subject to the approval of the Hamburg parliament. At a general assembly in the spring, the Gängeviertel cooperative already received a mandate from its members.

And so for us, today is a big day indeed!

Since the cultural occupation of the Gängeviertel in August 2009, the initiative was aware that the long-term security of the project would be indivisible from the question of ownership. The central goals of the Gängeviertel were and remain: preservation and development of the project for many generations, user-led and autonomous decision-making, and a renovation process that respects the the historical character of the buildings while providing modern living and working spaces. In order to achieve these goals, it is imperative that the plots and buildings located in the historic quarter are removed from the real-estate market and protected from privatization and the vagaries of changing political climates. In accordance with the motto “one mustn’t flog the family silver,” the initiative was of the opinion that a leasehold contract should be negotiated to preserve the landmarked ensemble of heritage-buildings and promote the development of an alternative concept for their use.

We are extremely happy that the forward-looking agreement between the city and the Gängeviertel cooperative is poised to secure affordable rents for living quarters, independent businesses, and rooms of infinite possibility – for decades to come! This enables us to keep offering Hamburg the cultural output it has come to expect from us, and allows us to pursue our greatest passion far into the future, namely the provision of a wide array of non-commercial spaces, colourful cultural events and tangible social experiments!

With this groundbreaking step, the city and the initiative are together sending a strong signal for an alternative model of urban development. To this end, we hope that our contract can act as a model and inspiration for other projects both near and far. Cooperatives are the solution for implementing a historical idea: “houses for those, who live inside them”. This demand is more relevant than ever; due to the exploding rents in big cities like Hamburg and Berlin, the citizen’s “right to the city” is being increasingly undermined.

The conclusion of this contract offers a clear counterpoint to the status quo while simultaneously honouring the uniqueness of the Gängeviertel model, where the prevailing lifestyle is the antithesis of segregated urbanity. We are a local community, bringing together not only art and politics, but also living and working, all in one place. In this respect, a defining epoch in Hamburg’s history – life in the historical Gängeviertel – is reanimated in the present.

We are ecstatic that an agreement with the city could be reached in time for the 10th anniversary of not only the Gängeviertel, but also the “right to the city” network! And we want to thank everyone who helped us on this long road. Special thanks go out to our companions from the allied “right to the city” projects, artistic and political initiatives from around the world, our professional consultants and advisors, lawyers, and of course all members of the cooperative, as well as our negotiating partners from the City of Hamburg. We can now move forward, together in a secure future, and – with the coming renovations – continue to fill the rest of the buildings in the Gängeviertel with the ideas of tomorrow: collaboratively, cooperatively and in solidarity.

Come in the Gänge – and become a shareholder – at least for the next 75 years!