Hamburg 2: Siedlung and Squat
The first post on Hamburg concentrated on two spaces that were, and are, wholly capitalistic - the Kontorhausviertel of the 1920s and the HafenCity of the 2010s. This concentration on spaces of accumulation while stressing the palpable influence of social democracy on the city might seem a little perverse, so this post should go some way to redressing the balance. There are two things in Hamburg which seem to have at least attempted to exist outside the logic of capital - the Siedlungen, the estates, that were built in what was once almost a one-party SPD state (and this is an organisation which claimed to be Marxist until at least the 1950s, however unconvincing that might be); and the squatland that has taken over parts of the city since the 1980s, connected very consciously with Anarchist and Autonomist politics. I doubt the two places feel they have much in common with each other...
Social Democratic Utopia: Jarrestadt
Hamburg doesn't have the classic machine-imitating rendered-concrete siedlungen of Berlin or Dessau; rather, like everything else, the Hanseatic brick is used, meaning that it seems very much of a piece with the surrounding city, the differences spatial rather than a matter of façades. The Jarrestadt was masterplanned in the late 20s by Fritz Schumacher, who also masterplanned the Kontorhausviertel, but the architectural identity is that of Karl Schneider, a member of Der Ring and later, anti-Nazi exile. The area above is reproduced in Tafuri's Progetto e Utopia as an example of the ruthless Taylorist logic of the Siedlung. What stops it looking so harsh now is something quite simple - the plants have grown.
The fact that the residents of this estate have twigged that the place hinges on the dialectic between the rectilinear loggia and the overgrown greenery is clear enough...
...the enclosures which look so barrack-like in Tafuri's photographs here look much more unambiguously utopian, in that they are filled, not a mere space for contemplation.
There's not much in the way of fancy detail, just very simple brick with occasional embellishments around the entrances - we're very far from the Chilehaus' phantasmagoria.
This is most likely because the place was built with fairly minimal funds, according to Existenzminimum principles - and these blocks, with their long access decks, suggest Hannes Meyer, the doyen of Weimar's Marxian 'fanatical functionalists'. That said, by all accounts the blocks were also at a slightly too high price for the really poor in the area (Barmbek, then as now a working class district) - this was for the deserving poor, the 'hard-working families' as they'd be called now, those who voted SPD rather than KPD.
Yet what is similar to the Kontorhausviertel is the sense of free space - movement below, through and across space, without gates or other uncivic encumbrances. It's beautifully un-Secured by Design.
If the area had a Stadtkrone, a tall civic building to define it and for it to cohere around, there's two major candidates. The first is a school by Schumacher, which in its dominant height and its (much more Fordist, in the sense of the factories of Albert Kahn) bare concrete frame, suggests the 1950s much more than the 20s.
The other option is a rather Swedish unornamented but still rather more Volkisch church. My interestingly named volume Hamburg - Der Architekturfuhrer doesn't give any clues as to date, but I'm guessing this comes rather later in the 1930s. Gemeinschaft over Gesellschaft.
The giveaway is these cottages in the church's immediate hinterland - as minimal in their way as the Jarrestadt's perimeter blocks, but with a palpable yearning for a place less stridently modern (and stridently sinful) than Hamburg.
The newer blocks at the estate's edges dissent with the original in rather different ways.
There's a reminder here of how rich (some of) Hamburg is - we have minimalism, we have undemonstrative dark brick, but we also have pseudomodernist bling. It's all gone a bit Accordia.
Disputed Territory: Squatters and Millionares
A local civic notable in Hamburg once said of the HafenCity that the place's obsessive cleanliness, privacy and security were there for one principal reason - 'this isn't going to be another Hafenstrasse'. This is an area of St Pauli that was squatted by anti-Fascists in the 1980s, and they still have some toehold in the area, as you can tell very quickly from the graffiti - rhetorically a cut above the usual stencilled smug 'street art' that you might find in Berlin. Here, as in the capital, there's a slightly depressing dominance of what Sami Khatib calls the 'Party Paradigm' - the fact that the reappropriation of urban space by squatters and/or hipsters always ends up creating the same thing - Party.
Yet the place is also clearly very conscious of the fact that it has become a tourist attraction (and here I am) - it feels hemmed in on all sides by new development, and the best piece of graffiti in the area by far draws attention to this fact...
In what follows I don't want to merely dismiss these kinds of enclaves, nor contrast it necessarily unfavourably with the Jarrestadt - I know where my aesthetic sympathies lie, but that's not the issue, and both places are necessarily limited incursions into the city of profit. Yet throughout, another, far more dramatic contrast asserted itself. In 'Anticapital after Containerisation' Mark Fisher points out how the minor little scuffles offered by something like the G20 Protests in London couldn't help but seem fairly pathetic in the face of the overwhelming mechanised process of distribution and production - the container crane making the placard look silly. Unfortunately, in Hafenstrasse, that conflict is direct, cheek-by-jowl.
I'm sure that the surviving squatters will notice how the spaces inbetween have been infilled with bland yuppie blocks (as you can see below); but how much is the mechanised process in front of them noticed? How could they 'resist' that?
Because, although that might not be the area's most obvious 'attraction', this elevated point provides a view of one of the most remarkable cranescapes anywhere. There's even a little park, where you can contemplate it.
So, we're left with crumbling, graffiti-ed Wilhelmine tenements on 'our' side and the automated and monumental machines of late capitalism on our side. Maybe for some that proves our vitalist righteousness, but it seems we should be jealous, instead. As it is, even that residential enclave is now overlooked by luxury towers as much as Stimmann-style infill...
A detour, at this point, to the Finanzdeputation, another gigantic (and this time, municipal) building designed by Schumacher, finished in the early '20s - more nautical Expressionismus.
What is notable here, as with Chilehaus and such, is the sheer level of permeability in this place. A civic building like this would very, very seldom be so easy to just walk around - we just walked through the doors and looked at the various rooms without anyone feeling our collars.
Stylistically, this is what would later be called Art Deco, not Modernism - lots of tiles, lots of jagged ornament, a noticeable influence from Cubism and Futurism (and with lots of fairly colonial imagery too) but no paradigm shift. It is silly and stunning in equal measure.
...and it has a Paternoster Lift, and these are of course the greatest things ever.
Opposite, another Weimar commercial building, this time in the 'ship' style that would become popular practically everywhere at this point; here with slightly more local justification. As Tafuri would tirelessly point out, under the SPD governments of the 1920s, capital had the Metropolis, with labour's side of the brief compromise forced to create enclaves in the outskirts. Land values being what they are...
This, however, is where Squatland can for a moment prove itself superior to Social-Democratic Siedlung space. Land values mean nothing to it - if a space becomes available, it's there for the taking. This makes much of central Hamburg into a compelling battleground.
A cramped Wilhelmine space slated for demolition is quickly re-appropriated...
...and a programme is established. The space faces an area of seamless, icy business urbanism, and it does so with an unsurprising aggression.
The Party Paradigm is not entirely avoided, however - there's always an element of the playground about these spaces, and this can seem either excitingly ludic or powerlessly infantile depending on how you want to see it. What is undeniably exciting, though, is seeing a sown-up space of capital suddenly thrown open, in flux, with the shiny new towers forced to share their plazas with something they'd rather forget about.
What does seem to be the case is that it's almost always older buildings which are reappropriated in this manner. A grabbing and remaking of one of the new towers might be even more disjunctive in effect.
Past another Expressionist behemoth - this one with a definite Louis Sullivan/Chicago Skyscraper influence - there's some more areas where businessland and squatland are at some sort of stalemate. The graffiti here is not so encouraging.
...suggesting that the containers vs squats battle is a bit of a foregone conclusion.
The Anglophone graffiti here dissents with the Messe, the trade fair hall, which is in the front of the shot where the (much more interesting) TV tower rises above it.
...and there's some more glaring examples of the Party Paradigm here, where a World War Two bunker has become a general space for the Creative Industries. Anything in German cities, no matter how bleak or how unique - Cold War bases, Jugendstil department stores, DDR blocks - can become Party, and hence they all end up feeling very similar, as one Party is much like another. At least the unbelievable thuggery of this building has a power which no amount of Creative Re-Use can dissipate.
Finally, the space below was at the centre of a street party which became a small pitched battle between squatters, Party-goers and police the weekend I was there. I chose not to attend, partly due to a dislike of being kettled, and partly for slightly more principled reasons - right now, I can think of a hundred thousand better things to fight for than the right to party.
A shop sign over the road says something else entirely. In John Boorman's 1973 film Zardoz, the rich inhabit a Bucky Fuller bubble, where they are practically immortal, with ageing as the punishment for transgression of the community's rules. Outside are the Brutals, warrior hordes who are fundamentally controlled by those in the bubble, via a Highgate Cemetery-style flying head. It seems relevant to Hamburg's predicament.
Thanks to Michel Chevalier and Monika Wucher for their invaluable walking assistance.