FEB 26. 2005
The Struggle for Freespaces in Vienna

freibesetzt - In a city full of empty buildings in a country in it’s fifth year under the conservative “schwarz-blau” government, a common crisis point has evolved for a number of different urban freespaces in Vienna. This document collects together various statements and recent press releases to create a window into the present precarious situation for a range of self-organised initiatives.

Many of these threatened initiatives are united in protest against the potential extinction of Austria’s only squat, the EKH. The Ernst Kirchweger Haus (EKH), squatted in 1990, includes an living space for 30 people (half of which are asylum-seekers)and numerous political as well as cultural initiatives and groups. Since the 20th of October 2004, it has been known that the former owner, the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ), sold the building for much less than its worth to speculators represented by Christian Machowetz, an known affiliate of Austrian extreme-right/neonazi groups. An action for possession [Räumungsklage] has recently been filed by the new owner. The court proceedings started on the 18th of February 2005. For the inhabitants of the EKH, these court proceedings are only a first step into a longer juridical dispute. The aim of the house management is to have the house empty by 30th of June 2005.

Behind the speculation around the EKH inevitably is the greater city masterplanning of the districts around the Südbahnhof (South Train Station) into the “Bahnhof Wien - Europa Mitte”. Currently the Austrian Railways (ÖBB) and the government are spending alot of money on the upgrading of stations around the country including 4 of the 5 major stations in Vienna. With the stations, so must the surrounding neighbourhoods also be "upgraded".

Within this longer-term process of urban renewal, there can also be a possibility to (temporarily) reappropriate train station spaces. Located in the rooms under the Nordbahnhof / Praterstern (North Station), a unique small scale bar, podium and project space has existed for the past 3 years. Initiated by a group of artist and musicians, FLUC has offered an impressive (often) 7 days per week agenda for activities that otherwise would not have easily found place in the city. FLUC is based on principles of non-hierarchical self-organisation and strives for multi-culturalism and diversity in programming and audience. Trademarks like free entrance and one euro beer are otherwise foreign concepts in Vienna. FLUC also quickly became an important Austrian node for many internationally touring small bands and artists. In our experience in what is often referred to as the "squat-circuit" in Holland, touring performers stated that they often skipped Vienna and Austria altogether as there were not spaces operating in a manner appropriate to their requests (outside perhaps the EKH). The (apparently inevitable) commercialisation and/or institutionalisation that comes along with covering the cost of ie. the alcohol liscencing and the safety regulations ultimately excludes these talents and their audience. FLUC is a rare alternative. But in middle January, FLUC announced that they must give way to the upgrading of the train station sooner than expected. FLUC closes end February 2005 and is in negotiation for another location. Concrete plans have been proposed by the group for a FLUC_2 which would build upon the successful experience of their 3 year experiment. For the meantime, the group plans "FLUC-in-Exile" with activities in collaboration with other locations and groups throughout the city.

Over the past couple of years, there have been increasingly reports of “hausbesetzungen” in Vienna. In November 2003, the Meldemannstrasse 25-27, a former social shelter for homeless men was closed down. This address, reknown for harbouring Adolf Hitler in his homeless years, was squatted on the day after it was officially closed. For the thousands of people on the street in Vienna, the house offers 400 beds which the squatters, with the support of many organisations, wanted to see re-opened for this purpose, WINTERNOTQUARTIERE. The building was cleaned out by the police the next morning. In 2004, the year began with a list of demands for a more social Vienna in the action days of FREIRAUM STATT WIEN. Activities were organized at various freespaces and in public spaces including the action-squat of the HOTEL NEUBAU in a central district of the city. Later in the year, the group FREIRAUM, consisting of university students amongst others, protested the lack of non-commercial meeting spaces through the squatting of campus building which stood for years empty. They wanted a freespace for discussions and activities, a café where you don't have to consume just to have a conversation. Also they protested the institutionalisation/commercialisation of the once-freespaces such as the WUK and the Arena, both former squats from the 70's, where no longer is there any free space offered to do anything. FREIRAUM was forcefully evicted by the police 3 days after the squat on the grounds that the building, property of the university, was structurally unsafe. In August, the grounds were squatted again but the eviction would follow the next day. FREIRAUM currently continues with their struggle to create such spaces and works in collaboration with other groups in Vienna to realize this vision.

Another bitter side effect of the Blue-Black Government in Austria has been the cuts in cultural funding. One of the most shocking examples of the repercussions of this policy has been the closing of the PUBLIC NETBASE in November 2004. Public Netbase was founded in 1995 as a pioneer within the Museumsquartier - once a 10-year massive building site since completed to museum shopping mall. As a non-profit internet provider and a platform for the participatory use of information and communication technology, they cater to a wide range of people that do not find adequate possibilities anywhere else in the city (including artists, young people, and migrants). They also have organized social and political interventions and activities in public space critical of technological and political developments (Nike Platz, Government-Austria). Underfunded for years, their closing means several thousand members, individuals, projects and groups will lose their net access (mail and web services) and Vienna (obliviously) loses it's international status within innovative media cultural debate. A similar example of a once Museumquartier pioneer cum “unfeasible” occupant is the DEPOT.

Also the TÜWI, a student bar with a cultural and political discussion program, is threatened to have to leave their current location. The association TÜWI was founded as a forum for interaction, integration and communication in 1994 by students of the university of tillage (BOKU). Since then, premises in Peter Jordan Straße 76/19 have been run autonomously. Now, a planned "general maintenance" of the building serves as a pretext to relocate the association.

In light of the current situation, these initiatives amongst other concerned groups and individuals collaborate to bring greater public awareness to the importance of freespaces in Vienna. Solidarity parties, discussions and info evenings, international summits and public actions are in the planning. From the 23rd to 26th of March 2005, the RäumungSchlussTage (End to Eviction Days), including cultural events and more, will be organised by the KRitischPolitischeOffensive (critical political offensive). From the 11th to 17th of May 2005, the international Congress of Vienna 2005 will be held in Vienna including different political and cultural events and actions. Austria in 2005 will be full of “heimat” (homeland) celebrations: 60 years of liberation, 50 years State Treaty, 10 years EU membership. The so-called jubilee year of 2005 must be expected to bring Austria another surge of historical distortions and jingoism, of victim myths and assorted national constructions of identity. OESTERREICH-2005.AT is protection kit against a year of homeland celebrations. A range of political and cultural events will be organized against the engines of jubilation, and will facilitate debates on the various jubilee topics from different emancipatory perspectives.

 

Related Articles:

The Struggle for Autonomous Spaces in Vienna

 

 

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