By Viola Zuliani
Cover pic: Francesco Stancati
“It was a special and unique place in Berlin. It is not only the house that has been wiped out, but a community that hosted anyone who was in need”, says Emma, one of the last people to have lived in Liebig 34, a building that had been squatted by an anarchist-queer-transfeminist collective in the heart of the German capital.
Liebig was evicted on October 9th 2020, marking the end of a thirty-year occupation experience and leaving more than 40 people homeless. Over the years, the collective has seen many people coming and going while the house kept on changing and evolving, adapting to the changes in society; it was home to cisgender, lesbian, trans, non-binary, and people coming from all over the world. Often, what they had in common was the fact that they were excluded from mainstream society simply because they did not meet the established canons.
The most important activity carried out by Liebig was to welcome people that didn’t have any other place to go: “Until last year we had a ‘guest room’ ready to welcome anyone who had nowhere to go”, says Emma, “They could stay a couple of weeks and in the meantime, we would have taken care of finding someone who could help them.” The people knocking on Liebig’s door had often been abused by their partners or were going through hardships due to housing policies and discrimination based on class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
“The house was occupied in 1990, like many others in Berlin”, since after the fall of the Wall, there was an abundance of empty buildings. For the first 20 years, it was an occupation, then the current owner bought the property from the municipality. “He didn’t want us to continue occupying, but he wasn’t willing to sell either. So we signed a ten-year contract, which ended in 2018,” says Emma. In the last two years, the collective had tried in every way to save Liebig but in the end had to give in: last October, 5000 police officers showed up at their doorstep and Liebig’s story was over, amidst bulldozers and the noise of dozens of pots banging outside the windows. Liebig was certainly a cornerstone of the Berlin squat tradition and the fight against gentrification as well as an experiment of intersectionality. It was not perfect, indeed, as Emma says, the path was long, full of obstacles and internal conflicts. “In the beginning, the house was only inhabited by cisgender women and mostly white lesbians”. Not everyone agreed to widen the circle. “Even in circles considered to be leftists or feminists, we often witness phenomena of misogyny or homophobia. Then, over the years, we decided that we would no longer tolerate any discrimination against trans and non-binary people ”.
Thus Liebig has become what it was until the eviction: a self-managed hausprojekt [name indicating legalized occupations in Germany, ed] in which there were no cisgender men. This is not because they are not in need, but because women and LGBTIQ + people face oppression from multiple fronts and, often, there are no places dedicated to them, exclusively.
Trans people or sex workers, for example, are constantly discriminated against for their physical appearance and sexual orientation, or for the simple fact of not having a regular employment contract. This is also reflected in the search for housing: in a gentrified and densely populated city like Berlin, finding a house can be impossible and many are forced to live on the street.
In addition to being an LGBTQ + friendly space, Liebig was open to people of all ethnicities. However, this characteristic has not always been realized: “Berlin is an international city and Liebig reflected this diversity but it was, for the most part, made up of white people”, says Emma, admitting the difficulties encountered in trying to create a space that was recognized by everyone as a point of reference.
Many organizations encounter the same criticality. “Liebig has helped us understand these issues more easily than other activists: living with other people 24/7, you have many more opportunities to share, to confront, to reflect,” says Emma.
The mere existence of a place like Liebig offered an opportunity for enrichment for the whole neighborhood; the collective, in fact, reciprocated this sentiment and considered the creation of a virtuous community in the neighborhood to be of primary importance.
Liebig was a social space open to the whole community and a great number of activities, such as workshops, artistic workshops, and sports activities which were organized within the house. There was also a space for kids and many of the activities were created for them. “Many children were born and raised in this house,” explains Emma. “We also managed a bar and a ‘kitchen for everyone’, where it was possible to eat with a small donation or for free. We also started a food-sharing service: we bought food from different supermarkets and shared it with the neighborhood. It was a colorful space full of diversity. ”
Regarding the future of the people who lived in Liebig, Emma responds, suddenly lowering her voice, between one sigh and another: “In a few hours everything we had built up in years of commitment was destroyed”. This historic occupation, along with everything she carried with her, was wiped out from the community, the neighborhood, and the map of Berlin. “For now we are living somewhere provisionally, but the common thought is: I just want to go home.”