Taking ground: the Barricade Days in Hamburg 1987

So that the struggle for a squatted house is not just about itself, we should embed it in a discourse about the occupation of a larger area, e.g. taking ground in a rebellious neighborhood. This discourse allready started and we want to continue this with regard to the defense of Liebig34.
To find out more about the Squatting and Autonomous Movements in Europe from the 1970s to the present, you may read The City is Ours by Bart van der Steen, Ask Katzeff, and Leendert van Hoogenhuijze.

The attempt to remove certain areas from the control of the german state is a rarity. What is practiced in Hambach forest is difficult to implement in urban areas. A rare attempt to use this method were the Barricade Days in Hamburg, November 1987. Perhaps more a tactical tool than an utopia, let us recapitulate this scenario.

As early as April 2004, an action took place in Hamburg as part of the fight for wagon places, reminiscent of the Barricade Days.

The history of Hamburgs Hafenstrasse is closely connected to the german Squatting scene and the 80’s.
The conflict has not only been a conflict between real estate brokers, Hamburg state government and local squatters. The Hafenstrasse became an example of symbolic policy and the conflict between society and state.

On saturday, the 4th of April 2004, shortly before 7.00 am about 100 trucks and trailers blockaded the four lanes of the Hafenstrasse Street in the innercity of Hamburg. Police did not expect such event and reacted slowly. After two hours the area around the Hafenstrasse has been cordoned off by Hamburg police. Waterguns, bats, bulldozer-like vehicles and teargas have been used against activists. Participants of a solidarity demonstration that started at noon in the centre of Hamburg have been surrounded and pocketed by police.

Chronology of the Hafenstrasse or: History of the Making

1981 In the autumn of 1981 the empty houses of the Hafenstrasse are quietly occupied. The Council-owned houses are badly run down. In the previous months there have been many houses squatted in the area, all of which are evicted within 24 hours due to police actions.

1982 Feb./Mar.: The squatted houses are publically announced. Eviction is immediately attempted but the houses remain firm. A public letter is sent to the Council with the demands: no eviction, negotiations over “self administration and utilisation”.
June: 18 days before the local elections the houses receive a Status Quo Promise from the Mayor: first of all no eviction, but also examination of the buildings by experts and a report of repair costs. The results of the report are made public in July the cost of rennovation is way below the cost of the new building draft (the city planned to build an extensive office-block development).

September: the first raid by police, entering the houses under the pretext of looking for explosives. First Hafenstrasse-Demo with a loudspeaker in a shopping trolley. Agreements with Couneil over building repairs and rennovations. In the end of the year the Soup Kitchen opens, supplying regular meals.

1983: Quarrelling over rennovation payments begin. A festival is held locally to raise money. Following this there is a huge police build-up, house searches follow with arrests.
Through the summer negotiations with the Council continue over the future of the houses. During one spontaneous demo the police encircle and effectively lock-in the people. They are held there for hours powerless to leave. 154 are arrested. It became known as the 1st Hamburg lock-in.
With the possibility of eviction an ever present threat, the occupants decide to look towards a contract agreement with the Council in order for them to secure the houses. Towards the end of the year a compromise is found.

1984: With the help of money from the ‘Green Party’ scaffolding erected in order to paint a wall mural. ‘A Colourful Picture Full of Horror” (Hamburg Daily Rag).
After Molotov attacks and raids by Fascist groups night watch groups are organised. On 4th Dec., political prisoners of the RAF (The Red Army Faction, a German armed resistance group) and others begin an indefinite hungerstrike. They are demanding to get grouped together in one prison (rather than being dispersed all over the country), and to have Contact with each other. On New Year s Eve there is a Germany-wide Day of Resistance at the Hafenstrasse followed with a solidarity-desonstration to a local prison.

1985: To show solidarity with the political prisoners and to increase publicity of the hungerstrike, barricades are built around the houses of the Hafenstrasse.
With more financial help from the Green Pary the Störtebeker Centre (as an antifascist centre) is developed in one of the houses.
March: Another forced inspection under huge police presence, whereby scaffolding is disassembled and stolen, doors and stairs demolished, electricity meters removed and one flat evicted. Next month electricity is cut off in one of the houses. Through the summer, occupants of the houses organize open days, public diskussions and film exhibitions.
September: Barricades were erected in protest to the battering received by an anti-fascist demo in Frankfurt in which one demonstrator was killed by police. In October a campaign against the Hafenstrasse is started by the media, whereby they claim that members of the RAF are living there.

l986 In August the police try to storm one of the houses, again under the pretense of looking for a supposed criminal. Some houses are evicted, parts are demolished and some windows and doors are bricked up. Also another load of scaffolding is seized (stolen). After this pressure is put on scaffolding firms of Hamburg not to rent out equipment to the Hafenstrasse any more. In October police pressure escalates, as 500 special-police occupy the area of the houses. For the whole day the houses are under siege and close combat troops storm in and try to destroy everything which isn t brick: six flats are evicted, household goods are thrown out of the windows, doors and toilets and electrical goods are destroyed, and CS-gas sprayed on cups and beds. On this evening a spontaneous deno is called. 2,000 people turn up and try to make their way to the Hafenstrasse. They aren’t able to get through because the police have cordoned off the entire area around the Hafenstrasse. The Council have declared this area a prohibited zone. In the following days and nights many protests and actions are made around Hamburg. Further solidarity actions take place all over Germany. and also in Holland and Denmark. On the 1st Nov another 2,000 strong demo is attacked by the police. Two weeks later more evictions are attempted. By December barricades are burning again. On 20 Dec. a 12,000 strong solidarity demo marches through Hamburg calling for an end to the police terror

1987: The fact that the Hafenstrasse is still in existance in the beginning of this year is considered the first political success. It is recognised that this is largely due to the wide level o. international solidarity.
Local initiatives develop the concept of ‘Day X’. With an explosive day of many sided, decentralized and imaginative actions against the Council, they could emphasize the demands of the occupants of the Hafenstrasse and politically prepare for the reoccupation of the lost houses.
In April ‘day X’ takes place, the police are completely surprised. In many parts of the city at a co-ordinated time, many groups from wide ranging political spheres demonstrate against the destructive policies of the Council. In Hamburg more than 30 attions took place, also in other cities in Germany, and further in Holland and Denmark. The next day the newspapers write: “Terror in Hamburg”.
In July the empty houses are squatted again, and a public letter sent to the Council demanding an end to the State terror of the previous months and years. Thousands of people come to support the Hafenstrasse and spontaneous demos march off to the prison and to another new squat. An outside cinema is set up to keep the supporters entertained.
The Council recognizes that the support for the houses is more than a match. They call councillors back from their holidays for ‘Crisis sessions’. Negotiations start between the Council and the occupants’ lawyers. It is decided the squatting actions are illegal. The solidarity for the houses of the Hafenstrasse is growing more and more. A huge demo is called for in October with over 40 groups/institutions being involved. Also the newly established “Radio Hafenstrasse” is on the air at all times and is an important organiser, informing the listeners of police movement at crucial times
The summer months are full of legal battles between the Occupants and the Council to find a contract which suits them both.

Although it is politically a compromise, the signing of a contract means that for the moment the houses can remain secure. The police are not able to instantly evict but now have to look towards the courts and legal channels. Thus allowing the occupants room to breathe and to keep developing other political activities coming from the houses.

Through demonstrations and wide public support the Council is under intense pressure and anxious to find a solution to the uncomfortable issue of the Hafenstrasse.

After negotiatons between Hamburg state government and inhabitants of the 12 houses of the Hafenstrasse have failed, people started building barricades on November 12th., in order to prevent eviction of the houses. For four days, autonomous people set up their barricades throughout the quarter and brought traffic to a standstill. As a result, the State lost controll over the neighborhood for some days. The cops mobilized 6000 forces to prepare for a storm, politicians and the press were expecting some dead and there was strong pressure on those responsible to find a solution.
On November 17th. the Council draws up a contract which tsuits’ the occupants but with the condition that all barricades are to be removed within one day. The contract is finally signed. The same day the Hafenstrasse releases a statement: “The Hafenstrasse is officially secured. We recognize that the struggle continues and that this is only one part. our real aims are not fulfilled through the contract. We continue working towards self-determined, autonomous lives and Continue building resistance against oppression.”

detailed report in german

1988: It is demanded by the Council to paint over the ‘Boycott Israel’ mural which is complied with. From now on the Council are looking towards ways to cancel the contrast by trying to make court actions against occupants, for both real and alleged incidents.

1989: In May the Council demands that the caravans which are situtated between the houses are removed within two days. This is complied with, except for three which are immobile.
The same day 2,500 police, 20 water cannons and 10 armoured cars arrive, under the pretext of looking for an illegal radio station. With the use of the water cannons and by brutally attacking the people they again entry. Many people are injured and houses badly damaged. This is even though the people react peacefully because they know in this case that if they try to defend the houses, the police will have the excuse to evict the whole block. Further provocations include the police shooting into the air near by two occupants and between the legs of a third who comes to assist.
In September it is demanded that a new mural is painted over and scaffolding then removed. This is enforced by a heavy police presence. Again many people are injured as well as getting pushed off scaffolding.
In the same month a pipe bomb explodes in front of one of the houses, giving damage up to the 3rd floor. Shortly before 40 hooligans had been chased away.
In December the director of The German Bank is killed by the RAF. This sees the revival of a media smear campaign attempting to link this ‘illegal terrorist group’ with the Hafenstrasse.

1990: In May there is a further massive raid, due to warrants out on two residents. Again the area around the Hafenstrasse is declared a prohibited zone with everyone in the entire area having to show ID. This is enforced by 3,000 police. Vanfuls of alleged evidence are taken away (including a computer, a copy machine, and street maps of Hamburg). The next day the contract is cancelled because of alleged criminal activity. This cancellation is not yet legally binding.
In Sept two articles appear in STERN, a widely eireulated German magazine, linking the RAF group with the Hafenstrasse. Even the German Parliament are debating these issues. A few days later the RAF releases a statement denying any connections to the Hafenstrasse.

1991: In Jan. the court approves the cancelling of the contract. The bailiff who is responsible for the eviction doesn’t accept the court ruling. The court then agrees with this. The development is (and it’s still continuing) that each occupant must be taken to court seperately. This is a real legal headache for the courts as they have to find out the names of all the individual occupants first (Ed. At the time of writing) these legal proceedings look like they will continue for some years).


Plans of the city to make occupants disappear from the street across the huge and famous Hamburg port have never been dismissed.
The main interest of the occupants was to prevent the demolition of the 12 houses in the street, to preserve cheap housing space and the creation of an open public space for a self-determined life. The Hafenstrasse-conflict always included more than a comfortable individual solution for some occupants of the street.

The fight for this free space always had to be regarded in a wide social context, which is also explaining the high level of repression by the state.
The 12 houses on Hafenstrasse are organized as a co-operative. During regular meetings inhabitants of the Hafenstrasse try to find reasonable solutions of problems by finding general contents.