Gängeviertel: Where Politics and Art go Head to Head

I often enjoy to circumnavigate and explore parts of the city which are new to me. While I walk through wet-paved alleys in Hamburg city center, I run into this historic quarter looking all depressed in one side and glowing fancy on the other. I can barely recall such a sharp distinction in a well established and developed city. The run-down facades soaked in historic memories are all wrapped up in funky artistic street charm. The other side of the street makes the contrast sharper as it features the expensive newly build Scandinavian hotel, glass facades and shopping malls. I got curious, and I asked my boyfriend about this area and researched it later.

Gängeviertel or the Alleys’ Quarter, a small ensemble of historic houses dating back since 1780 which has certainly created attention and political debate in the city senate. In a nutshell, the story of Gängeviertel is this:

The city of Hamburg sold the run down historic Gängeviertel to Hanzevast Holding to build highly polished office buildings and shopping malls like the ones laying just across the street. But in 2009 the Gängeviertel was occupied by about 200 squatters, artists, free-lance graphic designers, painters and so on. They occupied the historic buildings that was put for sale. Not only the squatting of the Gängeviertel was tolerated by the authorities, but the squatters turned this movement “Komm in die Gänge” into what is featured by some leading newspapers in Germany like “The Miracle of Hamburg”. They even succeeded to get the Hamburg senate to buy back the area from the previous owner Hanzevast Holding. In the end no politician wants to be responsible of selling off this old slice of historic Hamburg, and certainly not against an increasing public awareness on historic preservation issues.

But why am I writing about this? What do I care about these city historic preservation issues?

Well, first I find easy just by walking through the Gängeviertel to sympathize the “Komm in die Gänge” movement while reading about famous characters such as water carrier Hans Hummel and the petite lemon seller “Zitronenjette” once lived in Gängeviertel. Just to walk through the hood feels like being brought back in the 17th century.

Second, I find fascinating for a over-regulated country like Germany, that some 200 squatters take over the good old hood, gather in a movement not only to preserve it, but also to develop an alternative social housing for free-lance artists who can not afford to live otherwise in the city. Their cotribution in return is to preserve and revitalize the Gängeviertel.

Last but not the least I would like to bring this movement as a great example for the society I come from where the money rush seems to have no limits, but to seize and hold firmly every historic corner,  like old characteristic Tirana houses. How many of them are left before turning them into block buildings? Can the shining facades always justify the trade-off?