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Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
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3:47 pm
Brugges and the Donkey Squat – not a love story (2)

Then the people´s kitchens, the bike workshops and arty gatherings had to stop. The fun seemed over in 2011 when the local authorities made the owner of the house take legal steps against the squatters.DSC_0142

“The Donkey” is still there, in Ezelstraat 68. It pays rent now and is officially an atelier. It even had to change its facade – the Hundertwasserpaintings had to make space for a neutral white to fit in its normalised environment in a shopping street.
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The colours inside the house remained: when you walk through the cosy courtyard and go through till the end untill you reach a tunnel – like the one when Alice hunts the White Rabbit into Wonderland, but red.DSC_0116
It leads you to a massive abandoned building whose walls are literally all covered with paintings. You can walk through it like through an exhibition or take a seat in one of the abandoned rooms with human traces.DSC_0119

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Wednesday, September 18th, 2013
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3:57 pm
Brugges and the Donkey Squat – not a love story (1)

DSC_0124It is very plausible to say that the city of Brugges in Belgium did not fall in love with its tiny squatters movement. Brugges is a city of ancient facades, tourism, chocolate, consumption, noble expensive restaurants and boat trips on canals. Different from Gent, where the squatters movement is thrillingly thriving, where empty buildings get frequently turned into well frequented bars and social centres – and stay for at least some months untill they reappropriate a new space, Brugges was not particularily blessed by this type of activity.
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However, a few years ago the empty house in the Old City centre in Ezelstraat 68 surprisingly got transformed from inside and outside. Arty people moved in with their tools, their paint, their canvases, ideas and spray cans – and called themselves the Donkey Collective (Ezelstraat means Donkey street). The boring white facade of the house changed and got colours – Hundertwasser style. A transformation process also got hold of the inside of the house. Not only because it got filled with workshops, free shops and events but also because the house is in reality much bigger than it seems from the outside and offers a lot of space for extremely creative expression …DSC_0128


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Monday, September 16th, 2013
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1:18 pm
L´Oukaze – a new autonomous space in Begles (2)

L´Oukaze is not only a space where those in lack of a safe home can find shelter and accessible resources to cover their primary needs in life but it is also a space of activities, music, workshops… it is a space where you can find sawing machines in the attic and where people organise demonstrations against gentrification.

Yet, the struggle for autonomous spaces seems easy and comfortable from inside the peaceful L´Oukaze. The washing is drying in the sunny garden and people are sat chatting around a big table under a tree. DSC_0029

The local authorities of the small municipality of Bègles are not used to the phenomenon of squatting. They are confused and surprised – which is a reason why L´ Oukaze is still there and is not facing violent eviction – unlike the squats in the city centre of the town of Calais in France, for example. Here their appearance in the city centre made the local press describe them with all available hostility as a spreading disease.

In Bègles the local authorities sent the squatters an amusing letter with a notice that “their property” is squatted. There is a massive difference between how squats on the outskirts and squats in the centres are treated and whether and how they face eviction and repression.


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Thursday, September 5th, 2013
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5:04 pm
L´Oukaze – a new autonomous space in Bègles

Five people meet in and feel political affinity – and loads of energy. They open a new legal squat in Bègles, a suburb of Bordeaux … and are allowed to stay; even untill next spring as it seems now!
A utopian story of the birth of a new autonomous space. Let´s see what the Oukaze has become now, several months after it came to life in february.
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The gate to the new squat which is in a massive beautiful old villa with a garden is closed. It is metal black, on the outside you see flyers and little pieces of street art – and inside you will see even more of it. There is a bell and you can shout as well. It´s easy to enter, someone will always open.
The entry to the magic villa is made acessible with a ramp, words of welcome are written on it. And inside you will see dark wooden floors, loads of stencils, pictures, decorations, banners – all put together it makes it feel like a very cosy art gallery, all ready for interaction with the oevre, all ready to be changed and cosy comfy seats inviting the spectator to stay and become part of it.
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But this is just downstairs. Upstairs there is room to come and stay and rest and sleep as well. People who have no other home are welcome here. And they can just take one of the rooms and make it their home. “Many migrants were sleeping here in the past. The house was really full with people and it became a bit too much. So a few months ago we tried to regulate the flow of people a little bit to make it a safer space” says one of the squatters as he shows guests around. …


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Monday, May 20th, 2013
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11:37 pm
Freedom Press – books, advice and more (2)

The bookshop is squeezed into a tiney alley – no eye cathcers, no advertising signs.
On the wall of the building: a massive portrait gallery of anarchist writers and thinkers.DSC_0056
The entrance has been relocated around the corner recently. In February the bookshop has been firebombed by fascists and a fire caused damage to the books. It took the volunteer staff of the bookshop only few days to re-open the shop, clean and sort out the books.
The London Coalition Against Poverty, the advice centre for squatters, the Solidarity Federation and Corporate Watch all have their offices in the same building and spin a tight network of solidarity to the bookshop…DSC_0061
The latter one has to move for the coming months to a small room up the narrow wooden stairs that now contains all the books having survided the fire – and its surprisingly quite a few!


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Tuesday, May 14th, 2013
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6:18 pm
Freedom Press – books, advice and more (1)

Most probably the easiest way to access books about anarchist history, theory, worker´s struggles, … the latest anarichst pamphlets, Zapatista coffe and advice on squatting and prisoner´s support at once in London is to go to the Freedom Press bookshop.
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How happy Peter Kropotkin would have been about the U.K.´s biggest anarchist bookstore is subject to historical speculation. Him and his friends founded Freedom Press of which the bookshop is an offspring way back in 1886. Since then the lifes of people involved in the bookshop and the publishing group have not ceased to be exciting:
Vernon Richards – arrested for publishing an article undermining “the affections of members of His Majesty’s Forces” in 1945, Colin Ward – who in his youth worked as a journalist reporting on the squatter´s movement, Charlotte Wilson – memeber of the think tank Fabian Society who resigned as a result of the debate about organising the group as a political party … and many, many other revolted political subjects. The Freedom Press bookshop was fire bombed by fascist several times in its history but still resists and exists in Angel Alley, London.


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Saturday, May 4th, 2013
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4:29 pm
Vegan Public Livingroom (2)

How to make the stickiest vegan chocolate cake? How to make a thick vegan crème fraiche? Vegan Tiramisu? No problem. The volunteers in the Pogo cafe cook and bake for life and taste.
Next to the counter there is a board with people´s names and free slots to take “shifts”. During a shift there is a chef cook, a main assistant and people who just chop fruit, tofu and veg … just because a non-hierarchical gastronomic system hasn´t been figured out yet. Work in progress.
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The money made through selling vegan salads, soups, sandwiches, cakes and sweets is used solely for ingredients and paying the rent. The stated mission is to bring affordable vegan food to the people.
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When the shift is over the volunteers hang out on the soft sofas in the cafe, read books from the shelfs of their tiny but meaty;-) bookshop, play games and cook food with things from the volunteer fridge which contains older and skipped food – vegan of course. Some stay over and sleep on the couch to wake up when the first shift starts and continue to make food. The transition from the vegan public livingroom to the vegan cafe and vice-versa is organic.DSC_0050


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Sunday, April 28th, 2013
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2:58 pm
Vegan Public Livingroom (1)

Some years ago the Pogo cafe in Hackney, London was a worker´s co-op. Some people behind the counter and in the kitchen would get payed some money, others would volunteer.
They would make vegan sweets and dishes, sell homemade soup and anarchist books. Then happened what is in the Pogo-milieu referred to a “the historical coup”. It was an argument about skipped meat in the freezer.
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As a result those volunteers and payed workers on the top of the informal hierarchy that had developed in the community cafe over the years left the Pogo. A new crew of people took over the daily business and made the Pogo cafe a place for militant veganism, home-made soup sold in recycled bottles and road protest info-nights.DSC_0047


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Saturday, April 20th, 2013
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8:35 pm
Psychatric Hospital Bordeuax – le H.P. (2)

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It is totally silent around this anonymous block of flats next to the highway on the outskirts of Bordeaux. To find the H.P. one has to know that it exists. The entry is an inconspicuously looking door that most people enter only for one purpose: dancing while releashing their crazy enrgies.

Every week the H.P. attracts around 300 young people for an entrance fee of one or two Euros that goes towards the bands. Most of them don´t know that the H.P. is a squat but all of them act as if they felt that the H.P. is a place where social norms of interaction have to be liberated from mentally oppressive patterns: they make a grimasse when dancing and jumping, they do pantomimes, talk to those they don´t know and dance in a big wobbling circle.

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After the party, when the sun rises and the last dancers are tired, the place is kept neat and tidy by one person who lives above the dance floor. No one knows his name and even fewer people have ever seen him.

The invisible squatter was according to some also the creator of the large paintings on the walls that picture people who look incredibly stiff.102_8247


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Friday, February 15th, 2013
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1:34 pm
Psychiatric Hospital Bordeaux – Le H.P. (1)

H.P. in French is short for psychiatric hospital. There are several of them in Bordeaux. But one of them has no doctors and nurses. It has no beds or waiting rooms, no registers and does not require a health insurance. Le H.P. is in a huge building parts of which got squatted three years ago by artists to open ateliers in deserted flats.
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Some of the flats are now also squatted for living, in some of them there are parties happening every now and then, some of them are quiet working spaces and some of them are galleries or open spaces for Art Symphosiums … but this is kept rather secret.

The most prominent part of the H.P. is a huge room that is used as a dance floor …


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Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
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1:12 am
Tradition bordelaise – L´Athénée Libertaire: stories from an anarchist library in Bordeaux (3)

It is down to these collectives to organise a monthly programme for the Athénée Libertaire and to print it on flyers through the printing collective. The programme then gets distributed in cinemas, theatres, bars, clubs, shops, ateliers and living rooms in Bordeaux.

The people who tend to spend the highest amount of time inside the Athénée are those who run the cooperatives: the librarians, the beer brewers and the printers. It is mostly a different group of people who organises the readings on Marius Jacob, an anarchist burglar who lived in France a century ago,
or discussions with a regional group called “blind angle” who is active against police violence,
or fundraisers in the shape of punk concerts for example.
All those regularily attract an audience big enough to fill the Athénée.

The same, more or less stable, audience likes to hang out in the library which is open on wednesdays and saturdays only but offers a large selection of zines in French and sometimes Spanish and tall shelves stuffed with books on anarchist history, political thoughts, philosophy and autobiographies.
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If one wants to find information on community organising, politics of act and bottom up projects in Bordeaux and the area, the huge notice board right in the entry of the Athénée Libertaire is probably the best place to go. But in daytime there are rarely people around to talk about it.


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Sunday, February 10th, 2013
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9:20 pm
Tradition bordelaise – L´Athénée Libertaire: stories from an anarchist library in Bordeaux (2)

This space was created by militant anarchists fifty years ago to host political activities in and around Bordeaux. Probably the “activities” hosted back then were quite diferent from the concerts, book presentations and public discussions happening in the Athénée Libertaire now.
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“Fifty years ago the people who would meet up here would actually make plans how to go out and take physical direct action against the state because this was a save place. Nowadays the Athénée is more concerned with “cultivating” anarchist culture – if you know what I mean…?”, says a frequent visitor to the centre. He is part of one of the very various groups who participate in and maintain the space.

There are several ant-racism groups, loosely organised anarchists, a cooperative print shop, the anarchist library and the beer brewery cooperative who both occupy considerable parts of the building.


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Thursday, February 7th, 2013
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12:52 am
Tradition bordelaise – L´Áthénée Libertaire: stories from an anarchist library in Bordeuax (1)

The street du Muguet is one of the tiniest in Bordeuax. In between of the ancient sandy facades it can appear to be no more than a crack. Nevertheless, at the end of the street du Muguet there is something that is more than a crack in the facades: it´s a crack in the dominant narrative of how society should be organised.
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The entrance of the anarchist library, co-op and socio-cultural centre L´Athénée Libertaire is squeezed between walls of bigger houses. It has a big black gate that is often locked during the day when no one is inside. It is impossible to gain another acess to what lies behind the gate and yet the Athénée Libertaire aspires to be an open space.
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A space which exists in Bordeaux since the 1960ies …


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Monday, February 4th, 2013
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12:25 pm
Clockworks – the lonely squatter (3)

The people who squatted the Clockworks in 2010 promoted “living off the grid” and organised some accoustic music nights, some workshops, some skill shares, some ateliers and repaired the roof – like every exemplary squatter´s collective.

picture: Kelly O´Brian

picture: Kelly O´Brian


However, back in 2010 the Clockworks were run by a collective not by a single individual. The “Clockworks Collective”`s energy to defend the space, to transform it into a small creative scene and to show their presence in the public debate over the faith of the historical building probably saved the existence of the squat in Derby.
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Roughly one year ago the energy that transformed the old decaying building into an experimental space for self-sustainable urban living and creating suddenly left the Clockworks. Only the lonely squatter and memories of a more active past remained. You can see the traces of this past everywhere in the building: the self made solar panel and clay stove, the sophisticated way of making light and heating water, the beautiful murals and empty atelier spaces … the Clockworks is a space that would welcome new squatters and project with open arms. “But there is nothing going on in Derby. There is nothing to fill the Clockworks with any more.” the lonely squatter says. Eventually he might move on to a bigger city, where more energy is – unless someone new comes along and is willing to recreate the Clockworks. He will be waiting for a while …


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Tuesday, January 29th, 2013
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12:33 am
Clockworks – the lonely squatter (2)

The lonely squatter has two dogs and although he currently does not move much away from the Clockworks he is constantly travelling…
To places where electricity is not a matter of course, where lifetime is not structured by institutions and their demands, where one wakes and sleeps in accordance with the rhythm of the sun.
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There was a time, back in the 19th century when clocks were produced in the workshop in and behind the squatted house. The building itself is much-much much older though – as old as the 18th century or even older, as indicated by the wood carvings on the walls inside.

When the company that made its clocks in the small city of Derby (that was not a city back then) moved out of the house because it made enough gains to operate from bigger and more prestigeous premises, it left the old Clockworks decaying for decades.
It did not get the attention of the English Heritage but also did not get demoslihed to be replaced by a car park or shopping mall as it is usually the history of many ancient buildings unsuitable for generating financial profit for its private owners.

Then, in the beginning of 2010 the house got squatted and entered a new phase in its long life …


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Sunday, December 30th, 2012
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5:49 pm
Clockworks – the lonely squatter (1)

picture by Kelly O´Brien

picture by Kelly O´Brien

A squat is a place where (creative) energy was put in to make it come into existence because it involves a lot of opposition and reinvention of dominant narratives and patterns of (daily) life. Instead of “wake-drink coffee-go to work-sleep” other patterns such as “wake-paint murals-eat skipped fruits and biscuits-build a clay stove-sleep” become possible in these spaces. But when the energy that created the squat or other places where alternative narratives become possible evaporates the place and its possibilities do not remain the same…
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Derby, in Derbyshire again, this is where this scene is taking place – a tiny city with industrial heritage. You can walk across Derby in five minutes but yo should stop at the Clockworks. On a busy shopping street there is a tiny gate that separates the cheap jewelery shops, the cash points and Tescos from a magic bubble between some abandoned backyards. This is the Clockworks; it´s currently housing one indefatigable worker for a less consumerist and more creative world.


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Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
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6:32 pm
Wild Derbyshire (3)

Veganism, countryside, community: Good things. If everyone did that all of a sudden, if Wild Peak would replicate all over the world, it would look much better, no doubts.
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Yet, at the present moment, of course it is not enough to do this to change the world or make it a better place for everyone. At some point people who have been involved in all the other things that have to be done aiming at social and global justice tend to get tired and move on – to communities on the countryside. They create nice relaxing and healthy places – good sustainable places to visit for tired activists and other people. (Environmental) activism is still possible here – but in a different way than for people who live in cities or settlements. It requires more networking, past experiences and travelling.
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Somehow moving to a commune on the countryside after years of activism shows that the latter one is not “sustainable” for many activists – when it comes to getting older or having families for example.

Meanwhile life in Wild Peak is lively and family-like despite the coming winter. The heating system is almost in place.


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Sunday, December 9th, 2012
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6:17 pm
Wild Derbyshire (2)

… now they all live in a house that they are refurbishing at the same time. There are eights adults and two kids, visiting friends and work-weekends every once in a while to make people from the city come to Derbyshire and help with construction work.
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Some of the people in the Derbyshire commune which is called “Wild Peak” live in yurts, others live in caravans while the house is getting refurbished and prepared for winter.
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There are horses on the land, a pond next to the house, several barns that will be converted into living space and raised beds planned on the land because the soil is not fertile…


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Friday, November 30th, 2012
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7:41 pm
Wild Derbyshire (1)

Many people have the dream to move to the countryside. Buy some land, make a commune, grow some veg! For many people who have decided to be serious about it it is a long way to arive there.
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A living example of this attempt to move to the countryside with a group of people and create some level of self-sustainability is currently blossoming in Derbyshire, UK.

More than five years ago two couples started to think about their very own small utopia. With a bunch of other people they sought to buy a piece of land in Derbyshire and after years of struggle with bureaucracy managed to get there …


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Monday, November 26th, 2012
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12:12 am
Eco-works (2)

One has to ring one of the few volunteers to come to the Ecoworks, which is a site of several allotments with a self-made clay hut, compost toilets, foil tunnels and soon a glasshouse. No card no access. But once one has managed to enter the allotment site, there is a sign pointing at a small gate, behind which the beautiful and productive garden is situated.

Everyone can come here to volunteer and take some fruit and vegetables home – or just sit under the apple tree and enjoy the view from the hill. Those volunteers who were getting a bit of money through external funding to work with people with mental health issues in the garden and do outdoor community work were also making lots of projects on the site – such as building the clay hut for several years with a varying group of lay visitors. Everywhere in Europe severe spendng cuts are imposed on social welfare and especially community projects such as the Ecoworks. It will not be easy to maintain the existing infrastructure …


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