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German communities in the 60s, 70, and 80s

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German communities in the 60s, 70, and 80s

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Background:

Many of the communities existing in Germany today can be seen as having their roots in the small communities such as Kommune1 (Berlin) and Amon Düül (Munich) started by artists, musicians and new-left and libertarian political activists towards the end of the “swinging” sixties. Also influential were the squatted housing projects which came into being in the following years. There had been a period after the first world war when about 100 communities had come into existence, but these had been mostly rural “back to the land” groups with little direct influence on the communities later in the century. (see Post WW1 german communities and Völkische settlements.)
After the second world war, reconstruction of most german cities began, and priority was given to re-industrialisation and to rebuilding the inner city housing stock. By the sixties, after a period of economic boom, people were moving out to the suburbs and inner city industry was also moving out to new industrial estates. This left plenty of space and empty buildings. It meant the possibility for new usage of these sites by communal projects. Many present day german urban communities are characterized by their use of older buildings, both industrial and residential, which differentiates them from the purpose built communities and co-housing projects found in other countries, such as the USA, Canada and Australia.

In particular, West Berlin played an important role in the development of alternative intentional communities in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It had a special status as a western enclave inside the German Democratic Republic. It was the one part of the Federal Republic where young men did not have to do military service. This meant that many young conscientious objectors and radicals moved there. These were the people who were often interested in new forms of living such as communes and squats and who contributed to the foundation of these projects. Many wealthy and middle class people left West Berlin after the building of the Berlin Wall, so there was quite a large stock of empty property which was ideal for communal living projects.

In addition, Germany had many thousands of war and post-war orphans who were becoming adults in the sixties. These young people without families were also interested in the new ways of living together. Some of them felt very marginalised by the system, placed in children’s homes where they were not respected or were even abused. A number of communities gave space to these young people. This sometimes lead to problems, both within the communities and problems coming from outside. Some young commune members got into hard drugs, others became radicalised politically and joined urban guerrilla groups.

A further influence on german communities of the time was the US american commune scene. This had an influence on the foundation of rural communes. Many of the land communes were more “new age” than new left, green, spiritual pacifists rather than political activists with links to the urban guerrilla groups.

The sixties – artists and musicians as communards:

“If you sleep with the same person twice you are bourgeois” :- A Kommune 1 member.

The first well known german commune in the sixties was the Kommune 1 (K1), started in Berlin in January 1967. Like the Kommune 2 (K2) which was formed a short time later, it had its origins in a communal project started by members of the “new left” german SDS (Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund), some of the founders were radical artists connected to the Situationist International (Langhans, Obermeier, Kunzelmann, Teufel). During 1966, SDS members had discussed how to make a radical break with life in the nuclear family and in patriarchal, capitalist society. They came to the conclusion that a new way of life was necessary, the commune. They started a “prototype” community, which was the fore-runner to K1 and K2. Both projects existed for a couple of years only, but they had a great influence on both the development of german communes as left-wing/libertarian political projects, and on the popular perception of communes. It was the time of the “sexual revolution”, and young germans saw this and communal living as part of a wider revolution which was happening around the world.
In the same year, about a dozen musicians and artists started the “Amon Düül” community near Munich. They had good contacts with the Kommune 1, and there was some movement between the two groups. Indeed, the original SDS group had been a mixture of members from Berlin and Munich.

The sixties – the commune movement:

There was the hope that people would begin to copy the idea of starting communes, and indeed, a sort of movement came into being, first in West Berlin, then in other parts of West Germany. The development of the german communes at this time parallels the development of the social movements of the period. Kommune 1 began in a very inward looking way, seeing the personal as political, concentrating on sexual politics. After a period the members of Kommune 1 began political actions outside the commune. Kommune 2 was started as a political commune, with the idea of taking action in society. The Wielandkommune went further, with members proposing the solution of anti-imperialist urban guerrilla warfare. (It is important to note that the late 1960s west german commune movement in West Berlin was infiltrated from the start by at least one agent provocateur working for the Berlin “Office for the Protection of the Constitution”, Peter Urbach, whose role in the radicalisation of the movement toward violence has been controversially discussed). By the end of the sixties, a number of communes had started across the Federal Republic. The groups saw themselves as being part of a political movement which was revolutionising all aspects of life. Just as the radical left was being subjected to repression, so the communes were often raided and searched, not just for hash and marihuana, but also for bombs and weapons. It was a reality that some of the communes did have contacts with the urban guerrilla groups of the day (e.g. Kommune 3 Wolfsburg), but even those communes which were not so close to the armed groups felt the effects of the general repression being exerted against the West German left.

The seventies – housing for the homeless youth and self-help:

More important for the development of urban communal housing projects was the left-wing music group, Ton Steine Scherben started in Berlin in 1970. With close links to the squatters’ movement, many of their concerts ended with the audience going out together and squatting empty buildings with the aim of providing housing and starting local community social centres. One of their most famous songs, the Rauch-Haus Song was about the “Georg-von-Rauch Haus” in Berlin – Kreuzberg. This was the former nurses home of the Bethanien Hospital, squatted in December 1971 and named after a german activist killed by the police. It accomodated between 40 and 50 mostly working class young people; workers, apprentices, school students and homeless young people, many of whom were orphans who had previously been in children’s homes. They had the clear aim of living as a community and looking after one another. They had weekly meetings, and all occupants had equal rights and equal responsibilities.

The members of “Ton Steine Scherben” themselves lived as a community. In 1975 they left West Berlin and started their own rural commune at Fresenhagen (North Friesland).

The seventies – back to the land:

The number of rural communes in West Germany grew from an estimated 60 communes in 1971 to an estimated 200 in 1978, which meant that they were about 5% of alternative projects in the Federal Republic at that time. Many of them were intense but short lived experiments which lasted for just one summer, but they were important because, unlike most of the urban communal projects, they tried to unite communal life and consumption with communal production. On the other hand, they were often criticised by left-wingers as being similar to the “völkische settlements” of the 1920s, middle class, with an emphasis on anti-industrialism, spirituality, macro-biotic nutrition and bio-dynamic self-sufficiency. In addition, many land communes had the problem that they tried to establish themselves in parts of West Germany where land was cheap and the infrastructure was under developed. The rural population in these areas was often conservative and closed, making the acceptance and integration of communes difficult. A further problem was that few of the land commune members had any experience of agricultural work. One interesting project in this period was the Heumarkt near Kassel, which was an attempt to combine an urban project with a rural community.

The seventies – Wohngemeinschaften (WGs) and larger communities:

Together with squatted buildings, the main communal living form which became popular during this period was the “Wohngemeinschaft” or “WG”, the small, house or apartment-sharing living group. (Indeed, the K1 was in many ways really much more a living group than a commune. Only squats the size of the Georg-von-Rauch Haus came near to being communal housing on the scale which many projects have today.) The seventies saw an increase in the number of WGs across West Germany, and they began to be a recognised and established alternative to family life or living alone. Associations were set up to support the founding of WGs, and networks came into being. The forms and structures ranged from loose groups of residents who did little with each other to housing projects with weekly meetings, communal activities and shared finances.

At the same time, various larger communities came into being, many of them combining living together and helping each other with working together to support the project. One of these is the SSK (Socialist Self-help Köln) in Cologne. This began in 1969 as an officially recognised association helping orphans, (in Cologne in this period over 1,000 young people lived on the streets!) providing them with advice, accomodation and help to find work-places. In 1975, after problems with the Cologne city council which funded it, the SSK became an independent, self-help project for a wide range of marginalised people. Members squatted various buildings (in 1976 there were 32,000 empty houses in Cologne!) and set up new projects. including the SSM in a squatted factory in Köln-Muhlheim. The SSK, SSM and a number of housing projects that they initiated or supported still exist today. SSK Homepage in German SSM Homepage in German

The first of the AAO-Aktionsanalytische Organisation communes began in Austria at the start of this period, and the AAO movement grew to become one of the most important and controversial groups of the seventies. At its peak it had about 600 members across Austria and West Germany, living in both urban and rural communities.

A major project which combined the ideas of squatting and being an artistic/musical community is the Berlin UFA-Fabrik, which began in 1979. In the summer of that year about 100 people prevented the demolition of the former film studios by squatting the buildings on the four acre site and starting a unique urban village community combining social cultural and ecological aspects. At present, there are about 30 full members living in the community, with about another 150 people working there. UFA-Fabrik English Homepage (See also : ic.org Directory – Community List)

The eighties – Squat the Streets!:

At the start of the eighties, people began to squat some of the empty houses belonging to the housing company, SAGA, in the Hafenstrasse in Hamburg. These had been declared in need of renovation or of demolition (which would have resulted in valuable building land for speculation). In the spring of 1982, after several months of occupation, SAGA became aware that some of the property had been squatted, and began legal proceedings to evict the people living there. Throughout the eighties, there were continued attempts to end the occupation of the houses, and attempts by the occupants to get legal acceptance of the continued usage of the houses. In fact, for various periods, various properties in the street were rented or leased. The period was characterised by solidarity actions and demonstrations on the one hand, and police raids and searches on the other. (One reason for the raids was that police and media believed the squatters had contacts to the Red Army Fraction urban guerrillas). In 1995, the houses were sold to a housing co-operative and renovated. The current communal housing project there is made up of twelve houses. They have regular general meetings and consensus decision making. Links: History of the Hafenstrasse Hafenstrasse in Wikipedia

The Kiefernstrasse in Düsseldorf has a similar history, as do a number of other streets and blocks in cities across Germany.

Squatting blocks and whole streets continued into the nineties, especially in cities which had previously been parts of the German Democratic Republic.

External links:

Wikipedia on Squatting

[email protected]!Net

Sources:

  • Alternative Selbstorganisation auf dem Lande“, Klaus-B. Vollmar, Verlag Jakobsohn Berlin, 1976.
  • Auszug aus der Gesellschaft?“, Gert-Joachim Glaeßner + Klaus Jürgen Scherer, Verlag Europäische Perspektiven, Berlin, 1986.
  • Heumarkt“, Klaas Jarchow & Norbert Klugmann, Rotbuch Verlag, Berlin, 1980.
  • Schrittweise (Geschichte der Kommunebewegung)“, Uwe Kurzbein, in “Das Kommunebuch“, Verlag Die Werkstatt, Göttingen, 1998.
  • Various Community Homepages (inc. SSM, SSK, UFA-Fabrik etc)
  • Wikipedia pages (linked)
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