When strolling through the Schanzenviertel in Hamburg for the first time last year, I was surprised to run into an imposing but hideous looking, worn down building covered in graffiti and political messages. It looked pretty grim and abandoned and half torn down. There were some people, looking like bums, laying or resting on the front steps.
The building was completly cluttered in graffiti, endless scribbles with black markers and paint, and new and halftorn old posters stapled over even older posters.
Sure, the whole area is pretty laid back and bohemian and there’s quite a lot of graffiti, but it is not dirty nor is it messy. Among all the cute and well taken care of restaurants and cafes, design shops and alternative scenic atmosphere this stuck out like a sore thumb.
So I quickly snapped below photo with my camera.
I remember how me and my friends curiously discussed why it hadn’t been demolished yet. While standing there, strangely fascinated by the sight in front of us, we came to the conclusion that it was just a matter of time until it would happen. We thought it was like one of those abandoned buildings that got bombed in the war and that had neither been demolished nor renovated, the kind you still can see here and there in the former east Germany.
Little did we know about the fascinating history of the place.
Shortly thereafter, I found out that it was the famous Rote Flora, and that it has a long history of squatting and been a hot topic among local Hamburg politicians.
Rote Flora was built in 1888 and was originally a theatre called Tivoli. Later it was used for operas and concerts. It got closed during World War II but reopened again, and used as a cinema in the 50s and 60s, before it got turned into a grocery store.
Rote Flora, year 1900. Photo: Bildarchiv-Hamburg/AFB
When the store got closed in 1987, music producer Friedrich Kurz came forward with plans of turning it into a musical theatre again.
And that’s when trouble began.
The plan was met with massive negativity and protests from the Schanzenviertel’s shopkeepers and inhabitants, many students and artists, fearing that the presence of a theatre would change the area and increase the apartment and shop rents.
But despite the protests, parts of the building was demolished in 1989 to make way for the theatre, resulting in violent encounters between protesters, militant groups and the police. Eventually it urged the investors to abandon their theatre plans.
Locals wanted to renovate the now vacant building and surprisingly the City of Hamburg gave them a lease on the building, which then was renamed Rote Flora. However, the lease turned out to be very short-lived (only three months) before it got declared obsolete by the City of Hamburg. This was in November 1989.
And that’s when the squatting begain.
The City wanted the Rote Flora to be torn down to make way for new apartments, and ordered the squatters out. They refused. Police were called in, but the occupation continued. During the 90s several negotiations between the city and the squatters and sympathizers were held but fell through. Rote Flora became a hot political topic and used in elections in Hamburg.
It was only in 2001 that the conflict was defused, when Klausmartin Kretschmer bought the building from the City of Hamburg. Kretschmer then declared that Rote Flora would remain in the hands of the squatters.
Today Rote flora is used for art exhibitions, cultural and political meetings, block parties and flee markets. The front of the building is used as a billboard for political messages, which change every few weeks.
How to get there: U3, S21 or S31 to Sternschanze.
Official Site for Rote Flora