Exka und Reba84 im Fokus der Wissenschaft

Im Folgenden dokumentieren wir einen Forschungsbericht des European Cities Seminar, der äußerst gewinnbringend zu lesen ist. Die Autoren beleuchten die Reitbahnstraße 84 und dem gemäß auch die Initiative Experimentelles Karree hinsichtlich deren spezifischen Entstehungsbedingungen im Kontext der Schrumpfung post-sozialistischer Städte. Weiterhin zeichnen sie die Konfliktlinien einer neuen Stadtplanung nach, die sich notwendigerweise aus dem Gemengelage von Top-Down-Planung, privaten Verwertungsinteressen (GGG) und selbstbestimmter Basisbewegung (im Falle des Experimentellen Karrees) ergeben.

Second case: Reitbahnstraße 84
[...] The conflict described here became apparent on the 20th of June in 2007, when a building in the Karl-Immermann-Str. 23 was squatted for housing and to establish a space for cultural purposes (Blitzpunkt, 2007, Freie Presse, 2007d, indymedia, 2007a, indymedia, 2007d). A few days later the building company in charge, the Grundstücks- und Gebäudewirtschafts-Gesellschaft mbH (GGG), offered the building in Reitbahnstraße 84 as alternative location for the squatters, since the ownership structure of the building in Karl-Immermann-Straße was unsettled at this time. The offer was accepted and in the beginning of July the people moved to the larger building, located at a road junction and is, as such, highly visible (see figure 5; Der klare Blick, 2007, Freie Presse, 2007c, Freie Presse, 2007a, Freie Presse, 2007b, indymedia, 2007b, indymedia, 2007c, Reitbahnviertel, 2007a). Based on this initial situation, which turned out to be non-violent and based on consensus from the beginning, and its quick legalisation, it would not be daring to assume that the further development of the project would be unproblematic. But already at this time, the building was officially up for sale and only offered to the initiators of the “legalised squatting” as a temporary solution. The media reported positively about the resulting culture and living project in the Reitbahnstraße and the unfolding cultural life as well as numerous events attracted many visitors to the building. Also in 2007, two urban planners were assigned by the City of Chemnitz to develop a framework for the quarter where the building is located (Freie Presse, 2009c, Reitbahnviertel, 2007b). Due to the function of the area around the building in question as a transit zone between city centre and university, the urban planners designed the area as “Quarter in motion”. Fitting their concept, they contacted the legalised squatters and in collaboration with several stakeholders they developed the concept “Experimentelles Karree” (experimental block) as a future prospect for the Reitbahnstraße 84. In November 2008 the City Council decided to support the project (Stadtrat Chemnitz, 2008). So the sudden turning point was all the more surprising, when the GGG in March 2009 withheld a license agreement for long-term use (Freie Presse, 2009b). In May 2009 the GGG announced their plans for the refurbishment of the neighbourhood in cooperation with the real estate company Keilholz GmbH. As a profit-oriented development the non-commercial concept of “Experimentelles Karree” was not intended to remain at the present location and correspondingly the participants of the project were briefed to move out of the building in Reitbahnstraße 84. They were offered alternative sites to continue their work but those have been rejected by the umbrella association “Verein Experimentelles Karree e.V. (hereafter called ExKa e.V.)” as unsuitable and inadequate (Freie Presse, 2009h). [...]
On the particular role of the Grundstücks- und Gebäudewirtschafts-Gesellschaft m.b.H. (GGG)
ith a housing supply of 33.000 apartments and 1.500 commercial rental units, the GGG is the biggest real estate company in Chemnitz and owned by the municipality of Chemnitz. For this reason the company is of outstanding importance for urban development and also officially acts as redevelopment agency. Some of the most important buildings in the city are owned by the GGG as well as, DAStietz (museum, public library and business), the former “Schocken” (future State Museum of Archeology) and Villa Esche (museum and restaurant). At the same time the GGG is in financial distress since the company has to shoulder past debts dating from the housing programme of the GDR. Therefore, for all of its dominant market position the financial scope of the company is in reality rather small. The situation is aggravated by the continued shrinking of the city as well as the demographic shift of the country in general.

Since Autumn 2008, and especially in spring 2009, the company was the focus of supra-regional media attention (Deutschlandradio, 2008, FAZ, 2009, Hung, 2009, Chemnitzer Morgenpost, 2009a, WDR Monitor, 2009, Welt, 2009). The reason for this was the application of subsidies from the federal programme “Stadtumbau Ost” (a programme for urban development in Eastern Germany; see Bundestransferstelle Stadtumbau Ost, 2008) for the discharge of debt, particularly by demolishing buildings from the 19th and early 20th century. (see endnote 2) This course of action is neither illegal nor unusual. The main difference was the quantity of demolished old buildings was higher in Chemnitz than elsewhere and as a municipal redevelopment agency, the GGG failed to develop an evident overall concept for urban renewal. The (medial) indignation was substantially caused by the fact that “Plattenbauten” have been renovated to some extent, even though ideally (not necessarily) large-scale demolition should be carried out from the outskirts towards the centre (“Rückbau von außen nach innen”; Sächsisches Staatsministerium des Inneren, 2006). Admittedly, in this context, urban consolidation is often mistaken as the demolition of “Plattenbauten” (Haller, 2004). But apart from the lower costs for the renovation of “Plattenbauten” it often remains unrecognised, that the residents of “Plattenbauten” often do not want to move and even less to the quarters deriving from the 19th century (Freie Presse, 2009f). It’s a debate on aesthetics to the disadvantage of living conditions and losing track of social reality.
The debate on the Brühl area is much more local. The GGG as owner of more than half of the area is also of special importance for this topic. The Brühl is a pedestrian area one kilometre north of the city centre. Popular since the 1970s, it lost its importance as central shopping area with the construction of shopping centres on the outskirts of the city in the 1990s. Most of the buildings became vacant, and investors did not show interest in the area, while the municipality was focussed on redeveloping the city centre. As recently as 2006, the GGG initialised a redevelopment plan for the Brühl. By dint of very low rents, alternative tenants and actors were the main target group of the concept as a means to revitalise the nearly completely vacant quarter. In succession, sporadic events took place, such as a Citizens’ Festival ran by the Residents Initiative, last time in 2007 (Bürgerhaus Müllerstraße 12, 2007) or the “Begehungen (Inspections)”, an annual art event, last time 2008 (Eocus e.V., 2009). Also worth mentioning is the „Klappstuhlinitiative (Folding chair initiative)“ which took place at least four times in 2008 and also without any official organising institution; the initiative attracted several hundred people who brought their folding chairs to the Brühl and (just) sat there, without any supporting programme (Dead Metropolis, 2008). Until 2009, only four tradesmen had settled within the pedestrian area who are lamenting on how little the GGG is willing to cooperate. One of them already moved out: Creativity and doing something on one’s own initiative is frustrated by the company, as the shop-owner expressed in a newspaper article (Freie Presse, 2009d). Vacancy still characterises the Brühl (see figure 7).

The conflict

The situation at the Brühl – as mentioned above, once projected and considered the future “alternative quarter” of Chemnitz – serves as a paradigm for the un-decidedness and lacking visions of the local government, as well as for the unofficial policy of the GGG, as limited to cut losses (Chemnitz-zieht-weg, 2009, ExKa e.V., 2009, Freie Presse, 2009a, Junge Liberale Chemnitz, 2009a). Because of the obviously thwarted concept for the Brühl, there is much scepticism the urban development may exceed trifle discussions and tampering symptoms, especially among those who could be remotely characterised as “alternative young people”. Against this background, Reitbahnstraße 84 is perceived by many as “last chance” (ExKa e.V., 2009) to establish participative modes of urban development. Even though there’s a lot of drama in this “now or never”, the arguments behind it can’t be completely dismissed out of hand. Migration is more than a rhetorical figure but a fact and an option especially for those who have the educational and financial background to move (Freie Presse, 2009a, Freie Presse, 2009d, Leipzig Almanach, 2009), the so-called brain drain phenomena.

Anyway, within the past years it has been obvious, that Reitbahnstraße 84 is not only a project of self-fulfilment for few squatters but attracting a large audience, maintaining a supra-regional network of political and sociocultural work (e.g.: NewYorck, 2008) and serving as a platform for the realisation of most diverse events and projects, e.g. the first Summer Academy in Chemnitz in 2009. The media response was wide and predominantly positive (in favour of the ExKa e.V. and neutral to sceptical towards the GGG). Since the initial squat in 2007 the Internet has already served as an important medium to discuss the tide of events concerning the project (indymedia, Chemnitz-zieht-weg, 2009, antifa.sozialbetrug, 2008, Deutsches Architektur-Forum, 2009, Reitbahnstraße 84, 2009). The Reitbahnstraße 84 has become also a political issue, at the latest by the decision of the City Council and local as well as (a few) state politicians from different parties, who are dealing with the issue (Der klare Blick, 2007, Grüne Jugend Chemnitz, 2007, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Chemnitz, 2009, Junge Liberale Chemnitz, 2009b, SPD Chemnitz and Vieweg, 2009, Freie Presse, 2009g). As already mentioned, the urban planners concerned with the quarter were supporting the project and as well the “Kulturbürgermeister (Head of the Department of Culture)” (Freie Presse, 2009e) and the urban planning authority of Chemnitz (information: anonymous, City Administration). According to Rocco Brüsch, the GGG did also support the project: they proposed to transform the project into a foundation and to tie it to the acquisition of the building. So why is the project about to fail if everybody is supporting it? At present, the conflict is stuck on the question of guilt. If it weren’t relying on one single source, this question couldn’t be answered. A certain congruence within the sources point towards the management level of the local authorities. Even more vague are speculations about vanities and trench warfare inside of the city administration. Be that as it is, the fact is a decision of the City Council, not followed by any implementation.

It has to be mentioned that certainly not everybody is supporting the project. But it is difficult to say just who exactly is against it. So far, there have not been any official statements, only lacking advocacy. But according to Rocco Brüsch, a petition against the project was started in the neighbourhood and has been forwarded to the GGG. Moreover, the building has been attacked by a group of people, most likely right-wing radicals.

The most serious problem is probably the communication difficulties among the different stakeholders. What seems to be a banal statement turns out to reveal much about the differing ways of thinking and practice. Several meetings of the stakeholders took place, but they have not provided lucidity. From the perspective of the ExKa e.V., the demeanour of the GGG is intransparent and erratic. From the perspective of the GGG, the grass-roots approach of decision making is taking too much time for effective negotiations, and as such it isn’t transparent. Each party accuses the other of negotiating from an untenable starting position and to persist in it. For instance, the ExKa e.V. accuses the GGG of trying to establish practical, but artificial constraints. Also the GGG is siding single-edged, still from the perspective of the ExKa e.V., and with the interest of the private real estate investor Keilholz GmbH. It is losing sight of its role as a municipal company and a redevelopment agency serving the public interest. From the perspective of the GGG, the problem constitutes itself completely different. For them it is out of all reason how they shall provide a license agreement for use on a property they no longer own. ExKa e.V. in turn expressly excludes to require any property but of the GGG.

Agreements on usage are in principle possible as illustrated by the fact that some individuals and initiatives belonging to the umbrella association of the ExKa e.V. have moved to other sites owned by the GGG. Against this background the GGG does not follow the reasoning of the ExKa e.V., the project cannot be continued if spaced out to several sites and its imperative connection to the building in Reitbahnstraße 84. It is also striking, that ExKa e.V. calls on the municipality to put pressure on the GGG to facilitate the continuance of the project while the GGG feels abandoned by the municipality, nota bene in favour of an effective continuance and organisation of the project.

Some conclusions

The Kulturpalast and Reitbahnstraße 84 in Chemnitz represent two examples of essentially diverse quality, why buildings may be seen as troublesome. Both are part of much wider public debates: The example of the Kulturpalast shows that listed monuments are not protected from demolition. But while the demolition of (more or less generic) 19th century buildings raises countrywide media attention, a building from the 1950s attracts much less attention. This holds for local and supra-regional attention alike, regardless of its importance or uniqueness. One main reason of this remarkable neglect can be found in the popular confusion of quantity (of years, thus the age) and quality in consideration of the suitability for preservation.

A second reason is the dispute on how to deal with the socialist past and how to evaluate its artefacts. The third reason is related to the second, but distinct: Buildings of a bourgeois history, even its minor legacies like stucco-plastered tenements, are estimated to be more valuable than relicts of popular or workers´ history. As I have already shown in the case of Halle (Seyfarth, 2008) this reevaluation of history is an ongoing process which can be traced back to the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, 19th century history is reappraised and aestheticised while inconvenient or less “spectacular” historical events and periods are more and more suppressed. History becomes heritage when it is perceived predominantly as ‘useful’, i.e. in attracting tourists or strengthening place identification of local residents. That is one main reason for conflicts about buildings and places: it is not their history but what (part of) story shall be told (and from which perspective). By contrast history is not useful in that sense being just the historians´ description of the past.

The former warehouse Reitbahnstraße 84 also dates from the 1950s but this is of no relevance in this case. In the end the conflict arose from differing notions of urbanity. Hauser and Kamleithner describe different notions of urbanity, one of which is the lively street as a dense cognitive situation, characterised by the anonymous mass, a plurality of impressions, and moments of shock (Hauser and Kamleithner, 2006). This concept of urbanity was prominently described by Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin. It means taking notice, but not taking care is depicting the liberal city of the 19th and 20th century. The notion of public space as a space of communication, interaction, and debate has become fashionable in the second half of the 20th century, especially since the 1980s. It emphasizes the notion of democracy and participation as being at the base of today’s cities. This notion of urbanity is contradictory to another historic notion of urbanity. As Hauser and Kamleithner point out, in the 18th and 19th century the occupation of public space was an indicator for a state of underdevelopment. But this 18th/19th century notion of a “civilised city”, functional and orderly, has never completely vanished and is currently the logic of suburbia. In contrast to that city centres are supposed to display an atmosphere of maximum bustle by means of shopping facilities and events (Hauser and Kamleithner, 2006, p126). Nevertheless this bustle should remain manageable, the orderly bustle of commerce. From this perspective, contemporary city centres appear as an amalgam of notions of urbanity: lively, but not shocking, a sanitised variety, but not accepting heterogeneity or difference.

The participants of the project Reitbahnstraße 84 obviously favour the notion of the city as a public space of communication (see figure 8). The policies of participative urban development serve as a framework of action. But even if city administrations have integrated the notion of participative models to be part of urban development strategies, in most cases they are not ready for implementation. A model of participation that includes citizens acting instead of contributing expertise in round table discussions and alike interferes with the concept of representative democracy. So if participational models are incorporated from local administrations up to the European Union, the question of legitimation remains (for open questions on the implementation of participation, see Schmidt, 2008, Spennemann, 2006).

Not only in the case of Chemnitz, but generally, a need for clarification is no longer negligible: if urban development strategies intend to include participation, what kind of participation is meant to be implemented? What are its limits? How to deal with the heterogeneity of cities and contested spaces as “Experimentelles Karree”? A certain perplexity on this issue is undeniable: On the one hand, there is the wish to regulate urban space to keep it as orderly arranged as possible while on the other hand, lively streets and some mixup are held to stimulate business and create an exploitable atmosphere (e.g. for tourism). The “creative class” and “young professionals” are highly esteemed as driving forces to boost the future (economic) development of the city, but there is little understanding about the complexities of (such) social networks. Last but not least, banning the dissenting and “not enchanting” from the city (centre) may accord with notions of urbanity from the 18th century. But while these efforts were taken to improve public health, it is dubious if any improvement is accomplished through contemporary efforts of this kind.

(Zum gesamten Forschungsbericht -> klick!)

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