Friday, December 30, 2022

Germany in Autumn #3: The “Trout Farm” and the Free Party Scene in the ‘90s

Image from the anti-gentrification street opera "Laura Tibor"

Third post from my recent German trip to research the effects of the squatting movement in Berlin and Hamburg. What matters now is archival stuff – the famous “Queeruption” squat of the Tuntenhaus, the epochal free party scene in squatted East Berlin after the fall of the Wall. All of it well remembered decades after its end in museum exhibitions and books. As always now, links are at the bottom of the post.

Repression has capped the squatting movement in Germany. Nothing like the 2021 mini-wave of squatting in Amsterdam seems possible in Berlin or Hamburg. A simmering rage exists against the continually rising price of housing. Recently it was expressed in a protest opera, “Laura Tibor”, a highly produced street production that envisions a socialist utopia… which is definitely not coming to pass.
The exhibition “Tuntenhaus Forellenhof 1990: Gay Communism’s Short Summer” was easily the best recollection of Berlin’s squatting history I saw during this trip. A multinational labor of love, this show at the Schwules Museum recalled the several-month occupation of buildings by gay activists (called “Tunten”, roughly ‘queer’). The brochure (link below) sets the squatting action in the context of the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – called die Wende, when East German anarchists and their Westie comrades squatted in the Friedrichshain district.

Tunten at play, 1990. Photo by Michael Oesterreich

1990 was a moment of hope for the left – (Nelson Mandella was freed, the US-backed Nicaraguan “contras” surrendered) – and growing fear among gays – (Keith Haring died of AIDS in February; retroviral treatments don’t come along until ‘96). Berliners were seized by a sense of euphoria at the possibilities. Adventures began.
The Tuntenhaus occupations grew to 12 buildings on Mainzer Strasse after May 1st of that year. The squatters named it the Forellenhof (“Trout Farm”). Predators lurked; Nazi skinheads squatted buildings as well, and carried on a lethal gang war against the Tunten.
During this wild interregnum, before the two Germanys were integrated, Tunten met and breakfasted in a common room recreated in the exhibition. This heart of communal life was built as a set after a few moments in the documentary film. “The Battle of Tuntenhaus” (1991) was made by queer US filmmaker Juliet Bashore. The film shows the strong community of differently loving people, and the threats they face, including “everyday fascism”, the hatred of many neighbors. And street fights.
The era is evoked in the Schwules installation: “to ward off the expected nazi attacks, there were homemade shutters of fine-mesh chicken wire…. A typewritten telephone tree was stuck on the wall, for the ever-menacing emergency.” Details were added by participants who remain alive. (Among them is the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, recently celebrated at the NYC MoMA.)

Tuntenhaus dining room reconstructed at Schwules Museum

Library, bookstore, cafe, bar, communal houses – definitely Autonomen. What in the end was an entire squatted street with a dozen houses was evicted in an epic street battle. The state, as predicted, had ended it.

“It” was a realization of communist ideals by a bunch of queers. Curator Bastian Krondorfer writes, “communism – queer or otherwise – is like a shy deer. Sometimes it appears in a lonely clearing at dusk, before we pick it up, it has disappeared into the thicket of the forest.”

For the exhibition, discussion events returned Juliet Bashore to Berlin. SqEK comrade Andrej Holm, onetime Berlin city housing minister. The “trout farm” and the many other squatted communities throughout Berlin during the late 20th century is a history taken very seriously today.
After the evictions, many Tunten moved to Kastanienallee 86, with its metal "facade exhibition" reading "Capitalism standardizes, destroys and kills”. The Tunten met again in the cellar nightclubs of former East Berlin. It was in these dives, holes and palaces that techno dance music arose, another key outcome of the culture of the squatting movement.

In considering the after-effects of squatting in Berlin, a broad view of the movement culture is needful. So I’ll back up now to theory, and say that just as in the time of the Happenings in the 1960s, the form of the art event itself became a creative medium during this period.
In a 2014 interview Neala Schleuning, author of Artpolitik, a book on "social anarchist aesthetics", spoke of Theodor Adorno’s concern that artists stay “aloof of any kind of capitalist aesthetics.” In Adorno’s notoriously twisty conception, the social context of creative production is embedded in the form of art. “The liberation of form,” Schleuning quotes, “...holds enciphered within above all the liberation of society…. form… represents the social relation in the artwork”.
The artwork’s autonomy – its freedom from spectacular capitalist culture – carried “the dream of revolution into art and into the confrontation with contemporary society”.

Book cover ("Dream and Trauma") shows the aftermath of the Mainzerstrasse evictions

This became clear for me in reading artists’ texts from the catalogue of the 2013 show “Wir sind hier nicht zum Spaß!” (We’re not here for fun), focussed on collective and subcultural structures in Berlin in the ‘90s. (I copied the English translations from the book at the NYiB library; artists weren’t identified in those, so I give the page numbers.)
The Tuntenhaus was the more raucous and spectacular part of a vast and variegated cultural landscape in Wende Berlin. For the animators of that free party scene, Berlin was an urban landscape in which authority was temporarily confused. Suddenly and unexpectedly unified, Berlin was “two very strange halves” (p. 128). With so many abandoned buildings in the East ripe for inhabiting, there was a feeling that this city was where it was happening in western Europe.

Crews of artists began to throw psychedelic parties in industrial wastelands, working with music, light, images and more. Their tactic was, “we throw an illegal party somewhere.” “It was the summer when almost anything seemed possible. The Western system wasn’t yet imported in the East, and the Eastern system had fallen apart completely”.
There were huge empty apartment buildings open for squatting, most with public spaces. Allowed to continue, the squatted streets “could have evolved into something like Christiania in Copenhagen – or perhaps something completely different” (p. 129).
As state-run factories closed down, immense stores of materials and machines became available. One artist scored 50,000 glass lamp tubes and made “techno chandeliers”. They later opened a shop with all their scavenged booty, the Glowing Pickle (p. 130).
One U.S. artist present during those days, Christine Hill, applied the same procedure to the residues of a business in Soho,NYC. Her “Volksboutique Small Business” took up the remaining inventory of my favorite classic old stationery store, Joseph Meyer. She then ‘inhabited’ the stuff in art gallery installations.
‘Shebeens’ and impromptu bars popped up all over Berlin during the ‘90s. “This attitude of squatting places,” one artist wrote, “of not using an already available location but transforming some unknown place by improvising a bar and a PA for just one night – that was the mixture that electrified us. Our motto was: ‘Pop up and vanish!’” (p. 132).

“At the same time, money was not an issue at all. It was always spent for the cause – to keep the luxury alive, which we ourselves have created” (p. 133).
Photo by Mattia Zoppellaro from an article on the free party scene of Berlin in the '90s at

This isn't the "fully-automated luxury communism" of accelerationist "Lenin-goes-to-Silicon-Valley" types. It's a no-rent utopia that actually existed in a momentary vaccuum of capitalist control.

With the turn of the century the free party scene, like the squatting scene, came to an end with a return to order along Western capitalist lines. Squats were evicted. Buildings were sold off and flipped, and stiff rents imposed. Big business started to sponsor the free parties. “From a group functioning without money it changed into who’s important in the new game? Who should you kiss up to in order to become important, to finally make money with what you’re doing?” (p. 142).
Profiteers can’t keep their fingers off of fun. (Are nightclubs even possible without mobsters?) This is the same dynamic of appropriation Aja Waalwijk reported happened to the free festivals organized by groups in Amsterdam in the early 1970s. (See "On Nomads and Festivals in Free Space", House Magic #4 Spring 2012).
Perhaps the fate of the commercialized techno music rave culture is symbolized by the Love Parade. It began in Berlin's open space in 1989, became massive, and ended in 2010 with a crowd crush disaster in Duisberg. Just this year it has partially returned in July with the Rave the Planet parade in Berlin. Billboard reported that long-time organizer, the DJ Dr. Motte, “called for an unconditional basic income for artists and for Berlin’s club culture to be listed as intangible heritage by UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural agency”.
UBI for artists only? Why not for everyone? To unleash widespread popular creativity and civic consciousness, free from the enforced discipline of labor, aka wage slavery. The Institute of Radical Imagination, based in Italy, has proposed just that in their "Art for UBI (Manifesto)”. For when parties become free again in a post-work world.


“Oper über Gentrifizierung in Berlin,” 2021 – performed on the street!5774848/

Der Protest Oper film, 2022
Die Oper gegen den Ausverkauf der Stadt!

Michael Oesterreich(?), "Tuntenhaus Forellenhof 1990: The most anarchic summer Friedrichshain has ever seen", 19 October 2022; by a participant

PDF of the Schwules Museum’s comprehensive “Tuntenhaus” brochure (ENG & GER):
Broschuere_Forelle_A5_44c_32S.indd – Final_Broschuere_Forelle_A5_44c_32S

Juliet Bashore, "The Battle Of Tuntenhaus Parts I & II" (1991; 45 min.)

Geronimo, Fire and flames: A history of the German autonomist movement, 5th edition, 1997/translation PM Press, 2012
free download –

Christine Bartlitz, Hanno Hochmuth, Tom Koltermann, Jakob Saß, Sara Stammnitz, Traum und Trauma. Besetzung und Räumung der Mainzer Straße 1990 in Ost-Berlin (2020); this is not the only book on the subject

Tuntentinte (queer ink) blog, named for the ‘90s zine

Blog of the Tuntenhaus at Kastanienallee 86

catalogue of exhibition, “Wir sind hier nicht zum Spaß! Kollektive und subkulturelle Strukturen im Berlin der 90er Jahre”, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, 2013.

Aja Waalwijk, "On Nomads and Festivals in Free Space", House Magic #4, Spring 2012
Online as: house-magic-4.pdf – [Squat!net], and elsewhere

Love Parade

"Art for UBI" (Manifesto) is a platform around on the role of art and art workers in the struggle for social justice and a transition towards post-capitalist forms of life

Monday, December 12, 2022

Germany in Autumn #2: Picking Amongst the Textual Ruins

"No Power for Anyone" -- cover of the Ton Steine Scherben songcomic

This is the 2nd post in the account of my visit to Germany in Fall of 2022. I’m looking for the traces of squatting in EU cities, returning to the trail I followed in my work with the SqEK group from 2009 to 2016. In this I tell of my visit to a squatted institution in Berlin, the search for Peter Missing, and rave geek Tobi’s big new book “Please Live”. I connect with old artist comrades Wolfgang Staehle and Philip Pocock, and ruminate about others.

For my second day of research in Berlin, I visited a comrade living in the old Bethanien hospital complex. Among its several projects, NYiB houses a Collective Library and poster archive. There I learned of some important recent books and historical exhibitions that have come along since I last paid attention.
New Yorck im Bethanien adjoins the Georg Rauch Haus, one of the earliest Berlin squats. They have their own song – "Hau ab: Rauch-Haus-Song" ("Get lost”; “Das ist unser Haus!") by the band Ton Steine Scherben. The band is beloved, and I picked up a graphic comic book done around their lyrics. When I passed by, the Rauch Haus was still very colorful with its graffiti slogans and encrustations of political posters.
It’s tricky to get hold of comrade X. He asked me to install Signal, an encrypted messaging app. This wasn’t so easy, but it was worth it, an excellent meeting in which X showed me several important sources.
“Comms” in general on this trip turned out to be quite a problem. Expat U.S. artist Peter Missing only uses Facebook messenger. I don’t have FB on my cel phone. We set up an appointment to meet, and Peter wasn’t there. “Something came up…” It was a trek out there, and fruitless. I tried to catch him on the swing back from Hamburg to the airport in Berlin. Again, no dice. “Today I realized I have to be at a funeral.”
Peter Missing is the squatter artist par excellence. He was in the thick of the movement in NYC in the ‘90s, fronting a band called Missing Foundation notorious for a graffiti slogan of an upside-down martini glass and the epigram “Party’s Over 1933”. Later he moved to Hamburg, where he also squatted. (I saw his martini-glass tag there in 2010.) I last saw him in the yard of Kunsthaus Tacheles, the giant Berlin art squat before it was evicted in 2012. Ten years on, Peter Missing is painting large-scale murals in his dense colorful jigsaw puzzle style. He did one recently for the Berlin Urban Nation street art museum. Finally, he said, “mail me your questions”.

(A recent screed of his is stuck at the end of this blog post.)
Comrade X showed me his recent essay in Rebellisches Berlin: Expeditionen in die untergründige Stadt (Gruppe Panther, 2021). He also had the book Tacheles: Die Geschichte des Kunsthauses by Stefan Schilling (2016), which is o.p.. The Urban Nation library couldn’t find their copy when I visited in spring.
The biggest book find at NYiB was Bitte Lebn (Please live), a new fat tome edited by Tobias Morawski. I met Tobi when he did Reclaim Your City in 2014, a slim book on political graffiti in Berlin. Tobi then was involved in a party-production group called Mensch Meier. I got the idea that he’d given up working on political graffiti and was down for making music business money, like that guy in Amsterdam.
But it looks to be more than that – “We are a venue,” MM write, “A platform. A collective. We are all about grassroots democratic solidarity. We are Mensch Meier. And you are, too, when you are here.” Yes, they do music, and more. The name seems to come from song by the Ton Steine Scherben group, a talkin’ blues about an Everyman. The MM gang is mostly into techno & rave. Their website is splendidly designed.
Rave people and culture played a central role in squatting during the 1990s, a story which, unlike anarcho-punk, remains still to be told. ETC Dee, another SqEK comrade, was a DJ with a free party tribe which roamed Europe during those years.
I had a visit in Berlin with expat Canadian artist Philip Pocock. He’s been posting photos from the early 1980s squatting scene (see my last “Occuprop” post). Philip is still hiding from Covid, but he emerged into the open air for a while to talk. Philip recalled his days amongst the squatters. Some of their buildings fronted directly on the Wall, and they would ‘entertain’ the East German border guards in their towers with public sex acts and rooftop jazz concerts.
Philip is a photographer who has burrowed deep into technical processes. He regaled me with his past art adventures, which included a globe-trotting expedition to survey the equator. One of collaborators he worked with was Wolfgang Staehle, founder of the early online community The Thing.

Image from "AI Realism Qantar" by Almagul Menlibayeva in "The Thing Is" exhibition

When I caught up with him, Wolfgang was in the midst of a new Thing exhibition, “The thing is…”. He and Caspar Stracke hosted me for a book talk about my new memoir (see the related blog: “Art Gangs”). The best part of that was a video jam of old ‘70s and ‘80s cable TV work rescued by the XFR Collective and posted on Viel spass!
Berlin buzzes with a multitude of art projects, many riding the border of starkly present political issues. It’s a serious town. In addition to the multi-sited Thing exhibition (I only had time to glance at one of them), I caught a book talk by Jacopo Galimberti on the artists of the Autonomia movement. The meat of his talk was strictly art historical. He had interviewed artists who worked on Autonomist journals, examined their archives, etc. His iconographic analysis connected radical grahics with classical themes, much like the "many-headed hydra", an emblem for the people – the rabble – in revanchist 18th c. discourse.
So far as a classic art historical analysis of the squatting movement artists goes, I can't follow that path, although I hope someone does. Nearly all of the artists who paint in and on the exterior walls of squatted buildings are anonymous. Of course they all have names. This work builds rep for street artists, but it's an underground I don't know. Bitte Lebn may open some doors on this question when I get around to studying it.
For my "Occupation Culture" book (2015) I recounted direct experiences with squatters and squat researchers. This trip I focussed on remnants. There are quite a number of anniversary publications of squat projects which I have yet to sort through. Berlin, like NYC, has been about processing its radical pasts for quite a while now. Opportunities for experiment and innovation when foreclosed still become archival products and events. And tourist attractions.

As for literal remnants of the period – (even exactly what is that? i.e., how to periodize, another classic historical question) – I saw one last giant steel sculpture still standing in Goerlitzer Park. In ‘86 there were many of these monstrous metal constructions to be seen, rising like transformers throughout the park. Where did they go? Were they "squatter art"?
I was told that Josef Strau was set to make a history about them for a show in Berlin in '04 (“Now and Ten Years Ago”, Kunstwerke, Berlin) but he decided against it. That show was also intending to draw a line between NYC and Berlin in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I loaned ABC No Rio materials to it. But the focus shifted (curatorial shit happens), and the catalogue remained unpublished.
Some textual remains sit on Stephan Dillemuth’s rabbit-hole of a website, “Society of Control”. He and Strau worked together on the important artists gallery project Friesenwall 120 in Cologne in the ‘90s, laying the ground work for the genre of the artists research exhibition.
Christine Hill, an artist with Ronald Feldman Gallery, had one of her first shows at Kunsthaus Tacheles, called “Hinter den Museen” (Behind the museums), in 1991. She was an early “services” artist She told me of wandering with her little red wagon amongst the Berlin squats in those days when I sought her advice at her ‘office’ in the gallery.

Tacheles in ruins
Tacheles when I passed it in October. Artists long gone.

On this trip, both Philip Pocock and Wolfgang Staehle told me they knew artists who’d been closely involved in the Berlin squats. More work to do, in my follow-up visits.
This is pulling up threads from a pile of rememberings, like digging through my boxes and coming upon scattered notes that seem to hang together. Artists have taken inspiration from squats, have worked and lived in them, but it’s a thread of art history which hasn’t been picked out – in fact, it’s been suppressed.
Which is why I go on.

NEXT: Tutenhaus and the “Communism of Love”; Hamburg, the “Dangerous Neighborhood”.


Collective Library and poster archive at New Yorck im Bethanien

Tobias Morawski, “Reclaim Your City” (2014) - PDF Free Download

Mensch Meier


Rave culture: “My city: Berlin with Andreas Schneider”, who runs the analogue synth mecca Schneiders Büro in the city. The post includes a video about Schneider's analog synthesizer shop

Josef Strau

NYC texts on Stephan Dillemuth’s website “Society of Control”

Martin Beck in conversation with Stephan Dillemuth about the Cologne gallery project Friesenwall 120

Christine Hill

Stephan Dillemuth, "Shnitzelshanke back from storage", image from Society of Control website. The yard of Tacheles is visible in lower left.

“IN THE DEAD CENTER OF BERLIN =oranienburgerstr ==== the old berlin is gone circa 1990 - present ; but the memories are burned into our subconcious / tacheles kunsthaus (photo} /===== and the new berlin is set up to kill culture / and force people into submission / the rents will be the final nail in the coffin this'' capital ''city we all knew in 1990 this time would circle around ...# unfreindly place # dead energy # babies puppies & yuppies # unliveable prices # a place to waste time # only tags survived # sitting in cafes for no reason”
– Peter Missing, Facebook, December 2022