Zero Hour: The First Days of New Berlin

Berlin, in times of freedom, has always been a haven for artists, outsiders, and freethinkers. But Berlin’s freedom sometimes turns on a dime. The barriers that separated East Germany from West Germany fell on November 9, 1989, allowing freedom of movement between the previously-segregated sectors of Berlin for the first time since 1961. However, the technical reunification of the two nations was only accomplished a year later. Meanwhile, a group of young anarchists leapt to fill the political power vacuum in Berlin. They began by taking over an abandoned apartment building.   

They appropriated the five-story building, 47 Schreiner Street, and, in so doing, sparked a chain reaction across the city. Throughout 1990, DJs, artists and wannabe artists, middle-class students, activist filmmakers, clubbers, musicians, and other free spirits would occupy hundreds of apartment buildings, vacant shops, shuttered warehouses, and long-forgotten subterranean vaults. They came from East and West Germany, as well as from across Europe and beyond, to initiate Berlin’s rebirth as a cosmopolitan center after decades of reclusion. The Iron Curtain’s breach and Communism’s demise unleashed a groundswell of utopian energy and DIY zeal, most powerfully focused in the occupied spaces of East Berlin’s inner city districts, such as Friedrichshain. One couldn’t have known it at the time, but this ethos would infuse Berlin for years to come and does even today, earning Germany’s capital a reputation as one of Europe’s hippest metropolises.

In late 1989 and 1990 I watched East Berlin’s transformation through the lens of the 47 Schreiner Street squatters. I was twenty-something myself, a novice journalist living between Budapest and Berlin during the year of tumult. The Wall’s breach ushered in an exhilarating period of people power, improvisation, and revelry, which I both chronicled and took part in.

The anarchists were active both before and after that year, but for a brief space in time were ascendant in Berlin. Read that little-known chapter in history at the Boston Review.  -via Digg

(Image credit: Unknown)