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

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