You are on page 1of 23

This article was downloaded by: [Francine Nunes]

On: 25 July 2015, At: 22:42

Publisher: Routledge
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered
office: 5 Howick Place, London, SW1P 1WG

Territory, Politics, Governance

Publication details, including instructions for authors and
subscription information:

Rights to the Neoliberal City: The Case

of Urban Land Squatting in Creative

Inge L. M. van Schipstal & Walter J. Nicholls

Sociology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Published online: 19 May 2014.

Click for updates

To cite this article: Inge L. M. van Schipstal & Walter J. Nicholls (2014) Rights to the Neoliberal
City: The Case of Urban Land Squatting in Creative Berlin, Territory, Politics, Governance, 2:2,
173-193, DOI: 10.1080/21622671.2014.902324
To link to this article:


Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the
Content) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,
our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to
the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions
and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,
and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content
should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sources
of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,
proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or
howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising
out of the use of the Content.
This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any
substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,
systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Conditions of access and use can be found at

Territory, Politics, Governance, 2014

Vol. 2, No. 2, 173193,

Rights to the Neoliberal City: The Case of Urban

Land Squatting in Creative Berlin

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

(Received October 2013: in revised form January 2014)

ABSTRACT This paper asserts that activists can carve out a political space between cooptation
and autonomy in neoliberalizing cities but that strategic options vary according to the micro-political spaces activists operate in. This assertion is examined through an in-depth ethnographic
study of two trailer encampments in Berlin. These trailer encampments occupy previously abandoned wastelands in Berlin and have strong ties to the squatter movement. The dominant discourse of the creative city has served as both constraint and opportunity. Activist-residents in
both camps are conscious that their abilities to maintain their communities require them to
present themselves in a way that coincides with the dominant creativity discourse of the city.
Both have fashioned their own discursive frames and introduced events that demonstrate how
they contribute to making Berlin dynamic and creative. However, the encampment in the conservative district faces more severe constraints than the one in the left-wing district. These constraints have favored a strategy that stresses identication with the governing urban norms. We
conclude by arguing that using creativity as a strategic frame may provide rights for some, but
also reproduces a neoliberal model of citizenship that rights need to be earned by demonstrating
deservingness in the city. Those lacking cultural resources have greater difculty asserting their
deservingness of rights and therefore face greater risk of marginalization and displacement.
EXTRACTO En este artculo se arma que los activistas pueden crear un espacio poltico entre la
cooptacin y la autonoma en ciudades neoliberales, pero que las opciones estratgicas varan en
funcin de los espacios micro-polticos en los que trabajan los activistas. Se examina esta armacin mediante un exhaustivo estudio etnogrco de dos campamentos de caravanas en Berln.
Estos campamentos de caravanas ocupan terrenos previamente abandonados de Berln y tienen
fuertes vnculos con el movimiento de okupas. El discurso dominante de la ciudad creativa
ha servido para poner limitaciones pero tambin para brindar oportunidades. Los residentes activistas en ambos campos son conscientes de que para poder mantener a sus comunidades, deben
mostrarse de una forma en la que coincidan con el discurso dominante de creatividad en la
ciudad. Ambos han elaborado sus propios marcos discursivos y han introducido eventos que
demuestran cmo contribuyen a convertir Berln en una ciudad dinmica y creativa. Sin
embargo, el campamento en el barrio conservador sufre limitaciones ms estrictas que el del
barrio de ideologa izquierdista. Estas limitaciones han favorecido una estrategia que hace hincapi
en identicarse con las normas que rigen el espacio urbano. Para terminar, argumentamos que al
utilizar la creatividad como un marco estratgico, se pueden otorgar derechos a algunos, pero
tambin se reproduce un modelo neoliberal de ciudadana en la que los derechos en la ciudad se
ganan al demostrar que se merecen. Las personas que carecen de recursos culturales tienen ms
dicultades para defender que se merecen tales derechos y, por consiguiente, corren ms
riesgos de sufrir marginacin y desplazamiento.

Author details: Inge L. M. van Schipstal, Sociology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Walter
J. Nicholls, Sociology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Emails:;
2014 Regional Studies Association


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

RSUM Cet article afrme que les activistes peuvent se tailler un espace politique entre la cooptation et lautonomie dans les grandes villes en voie de nolibralisation alors que les options stratgiques varient selon les espaces micropolitiques au sein desquels oprent les activistes. On
examine cette afrmation partir dune tude ethnographique dtaille de deux parcs de
maisons mobiles situs Berlin. Ces parcs occupent les zones friches Berlin qui avaient t abandonnes et ont des liens forts au movement des squatters. Le discours dominant de la grande ville
cratrice sest servi la fois de contrainte et dopportunit. Les activistes-habitants des deux parcs
sont conscients du fait que leurs capacits dassurer la survie de leurs communauts ncessitent
quils se prsentent dune manire qui va de pair avec le discours de crativit dominant de
la grande ville. Tous les deux ont cr leur propres cadres discursifs et ont introduit des vnements qui dmontrent comment ils contribuent la dynamisation et la crativit de Berlin.
Cependant, le parc situ dans le district conservateur affronte des contraintes dautant plus
svres que les contraintes auxquelles fait face le district de gauche. Ces contraintes ont favoris
une stratgie qui souligne lidentication avec les normes urbaines en vigueur. Pour conclure,
on afrme que lemploi de la crativit comme cadre stratgique pourrait fournir des droits
pour les uns, mais aussi reproduit un modle nolibral de la citoyennet o les droits doivent
tre mrits en ville. Il savre plus difcile pour ceux qui nont pas de ressources culturelles de
dmontrer quils mritent ces droits et par la suite ils font face un risque plus important de marginalisation et de dplacement.
KEYWORDS urban land squatting creative city
political geography
social movements

right to the city

legitimation strategy

The literature on neoliberal urbanism and the post-political city suggests the declining
possibilities for transgressive politics in European and North American cities (SWYNGEDOUW, 2009). Accumulation by dispossession has meant that private property rights
have squeezed out alternative understandings of individual and collective rights
(HARVEY, 2005). The pre-eminence of private property rights has been coupled with
neoliberal norms of citizenship (HINDESS, 2002; ONG, 2006; SCHINKEL and VAN
HOUDT, 2010). The good urban citizen is conceived as a person who can make a contribution to the economic vitality of the city. The right to have rights (ARENDT, 1973;
BENHABIB, 2004; SOMERS, 2008) in the neoliberal city depends on demonstrating value as
economic subjects. They must earn the right to be considered deserving citizens rather
than this right being bestowed upon them by birth or residency (VAN HOUDT et al.,
2011). Those failing to demonstrate their value often become targets of discipline
and/or banishment. They may protest their marginalization but their lack of recognition
as rights-deserving human beings renders their claims into the noises of an inarticulate
mob rather than the voice of a legitimate political subject (DIKE, 2004).

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Rights to the Neoliberal City


Within such a context, how is it possible that certain activist groups continue to exert
their right to stay in the city? This paper explores this question through a close study of
trailer encampments (Wagenburgen) in Berlin. These are settlements on squatted public
lands made up of countercultural radicals. While the Berlin government has embraced
a market-driven land use policy and a creative city agenda, these squatted settlements
have continued to sustain themselves in central areas of the city. By providing a concrete
space where Berlin activists connect, talk, and organize, the trailer encampments play a
strategic role in sustaining Berlins radical political milieu. The trailer encampments are
by no means unique. Indeed, social centers and squats have continued to operate in
many European cities in the face of land commodication, criminalization, police
repression, cooptation, and stigmatization (SQUATTING EUROPE KOLLECTIVE, 2012; MARTNEZ LOPZ, 2013). Through a detailed study of the Berlin case, we hope to shed some
light on the possibilities and perils facing activist communities in neoliberalizing cities.
This paper suggests that politically hostile environments reduce the margins of maneuver for urban activists but they do not necessarily shut them down. Even in the most
inhospitable contexts, discursive and institutional cracks open up and provide some
groups small, niche openings to advance their cause (NICHOLLS, 2013). Following on
the work of NOVY and COLOMB (2013), we suggest that the creativity discourse has provided trailer encampments such an opening in the face of constant displacement threats.
However, we also suggest that the strategic options facing activists vary sharply according
to the political opportunities found in borough-level electoral districts: left-wing districts
provide activist-residents with allies in local government and a supportive population for
encampments. In this context, activist-residents have developed an in-between strategy
that draws both on dominant creativity discourses and their credentials as authentic radicals. By contrast, right-wing districts provide few allies in local government and relatively low levels of support from its inhabitants. In this context, activist-residents of
the encampments have fewer strategic options available to them. They are more
likely to pursue a strategy of identication in which they strongly embrace a creativity
discourse and distance themselves from their radical past. They are more inclined to
remake themselves into good creative citizens who deserve the right to stay in the city.
While the paper highlights important strategic differences between these strategies, we
also stress commonalities: they both draw upon the language of creativity to assert
their right to stay in the city but they do so in different ways and with different levels
of intensity. This presents a dilemma because using the creativity discourse reinforces
the neoliberal idea of citizenship that rights should be accorded to those with the
capital (cultural in this instance) to make a contribution to the city. Those without
certain cultural capital and attributes are therefore viewed by default as less deserving
of the right to stay in the city.
The paper is composed of four parts. Part one outlines a general theory of neoliberal
urban citizenship and identies the kinds of opportunities and openings within this kind
of citizenship regime. Part two provides a general description of Berlins discursive, political, and institutional structure. Part three lays out the case illustrating the identication strategy. Part four presents the case on the in-between strategy.
Neoliberal urban citizenship

Critical urban scholarship suggests that the breakdown of territorial Keynesianism and
increased inter-urban competition spurred greater dependency on markets. Local ofcials have been compelled to develop policies aimed at attracting investors and middle

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

class residents to live and visit their cities (MAYER, 1998, 1999; PECK and TICKELL, 2002;
BRENNER, 2004). Local ofcials have experienced greater pressures (real and perceived)
to prioritize groups that would expand revenue ows, create jobs, attract more investors,
and reduce costly welfare expenditures. Contributors to the economic vitality of the city
because of their skills, money, and/or cultureare deemed more deserving of urban
rights. Others are likely to be framed as drains and threats to the community. This
prompts urban governments to adopt measures to either discipline or banish them,
depending on the degree of risk they pose to the urban community (ISIN, 2002; WACQUANT, 2004; DIKE, 2006). Neoliberal citizenship also entails a shift in the moral and
normative underpinnings of citizenship (SCHINKEL, 2008; SCHINKEL and VAN HOUDT,
2010; TONKENS, 2011). Individuals are obligated to take on more responsibility for
their own welfare requirements (RACO and IMRIE, 2000, p. 2188). The good citizen
assumes responsibility for their own lives and becomes an active member of their community. Those who assume responsibilities for their lives and actively engage in civic and
economic life are deemed more deserving of rights than those who passively depend on
the welfare state. Thus, rights are no longer conferred by birth or residency. Rights must
be earned by demonstrating a contribution to the community and conformity with its
values, moralities, and norms (VAN HOUDT et al., 2011).
FLORIDAs (2002, 2004) intervention helps to provide local policy-makers with an
archetype of the good urban citizen. In his view, the good urban citizen belongs to the
so-called creative class: a group of active, responsible, and creative members of the community whose conduct generates environments brimming with buzz and collective effervescence. According to Florida, members of this class possess values and resources that
improve civic and economic life and attract more creative people to cities. Moreover,
the geographic concentration of creative people attracts high-value rms seeking a
well-educated, dynamic, and innovative workforce. PECK (2012) argues that the creativity
discourse has not necessarily precipitated substantial changes in actual practices or policies,
but rather provided local ofcials with the language and rationale to frame pre-existing
neoliberal policies. In discussing the case of Amsterdam, Peck notes that
urban creativity represents a largely symbolic, but nevertheless consequential, metapolicy. As such, it is utilized in order to rebadge and reframe extant commitments, legitimating soft economic-development policies in a (global) context in which municipal administrations have been subject to far-reaching responsibilization . (2012, p. 464, emphasis

The discourse of urban creativity has therefore provided city ofcials with a discursive
framework to justify preferences for creative (upper middle class) over less creative
(working class or unemployed) residents.
Municipal governments have responded by attracting creative people to their cities but
also by privileging civic associations with middle class members, norms, and discourses.
This has contributed to the embourgeoisement of urban civic life (UITERMARK, 20131).
Local governments provide important levels of nancial, political, and symbolic
support to organizations and associations (community, social movement, professional
organizations, among others) that adhere to the values and cultures of the upper middle
class. For example, in his study of immigrant organizations in Amsterdam, UITERMARK
(2013) showed how municipal subsidies in the 1990s shifted sharply from working class
immigrant associations to professionalized middle class immigrant organizations. The
leaders of these latter organizations employed language and displayed cultural dispositions
that cohered with the citys normative embrace of middle class values (diversity, individualism, civility, and entrepreneurialism) and, they eschewed the working class values of

Rights to the Neoliberal City


Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

older immigrant associations (anti-racism, collectivism, class struggle, and socialism).

Moreover, the process of supporting associations and organizations on the basis of their
adherence with middle class values can change the normative underpinnings of urban
civil society, as organizations with specic goals, discourses, values, and modes of operation become more prominent than others (MAYER, 2000; RACO, 2007; BLAKELEY,
2010; KRUEGER and BUCKINGHAM, 2012). When urban inhabitants come out and
become active in public life, they often join these organizations (community gardens,
neighborhood associations, and recreational groups) and learn about the values of urban
life through them. These grassroots organizations help teach newly activated inhabitants
what constitutes a good citizen, who has the right to make rights claims, and what are the
best methods to express rights claims in the public sphere. In this way, organizations that
adhere to dominant discourses and norms help socialize their members in urban political
life and inuence their political subjectivities (FRASER, 1990; ONG, 1996; CRUIKSHANK,
1999). The embourgeoisement of the grassroots therefore helps to inculcate urban inhabitants
into the norms and moralities of neoliberal citizenship.
Finding openings and developing strategies in the neoliberal-creative city

Within the context of neoliberal citizenship, contentious and critical activism by marginalized groups is constrained but not impossible (PRUIJT, 2004; UITERMARK, 2004; PICKERILL and CHATTERTON, 2006). Political systems contain countless contradictions and
such contradictions produce small, niche-openings for some activist groups in possession
of strategic attributes (NICHOLLS, 2013).
The creative city discourse and agenda presents a denite constraint, but it also provides a niche-opening for some urban activists (HARVEY, 2001, 2012; NOVY and
COLOMB, 2013). Inter-urban competition contributes to aesthetic homogenization. As
the idiosyncratic charms of European cities fade (CASTELLS, 1996), they lose the qualities
that made them attractive places for capital and people. Maintaining a vibrant urban
culture has become an important means to maintain a citys competitive edge and distinction in the face of growing homogenization (NOVY and COLOMB, 2013, p. 6). The
implication of this is that urban policy-makers around the world are now explicitly targeting the off-beat, alternative, and underground subcultural and artistic sectors
in their local economic development, place-marketing strategies and urban policies
(COLOMB, 2012, p. 143). As culture and creativity become priorities for the economic
development of cities, activists with access to cultural resources are well positioned to
leverage those resources to improve their negotiating hand with city ofcials. The
growing dependency of cities on culture therefore transforms the cultural resources of
some activists into strategic attributes to assert their rights to the city.
We suggest that cultured activists may enjoy some leverage in these cities but whether
they can use this leverage to challenge the local government depends on the specic political and discursive opportunities available to them in local electoral districts (e.g. boroughs, local councils, arrondissements, etc.) (TARROW, 1998; KOOPMANS and STATHAM,
1999). Similar activists with similar levels of cultural resources are likely to employ different types of mobilization strategies according to the opportunities/constraints found in
their political districts. We focus on three elements that make up mobilization strategies:
(1) the discursive frames used to articulate activist arguments; (2) the networks cultivated
by activists to enhance their mobilization capacities; and (3) the methods used by activists
to create and reproduce their own groups.
Urban activists in politically conservative districts are less likely to have allies in government and are less likely to have support from the local population. In such a context,

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

activists with cultural resources may have some leverage to negotiate with ofcials but
not enough external support to amplify their negotiating power in the district. If their
primary goal is to avoid displacement, their strategic options are limited to political
identication. Such a strategy consists of crafting arguments, support networks, and a
group that reinforces conformity with the governing goals and norms of the city.
Claims do not necessarily question or destabilize existing norms of urban rights and citizenship. Instead, they stress that they earned these rights because of their identication
with established governing norms. They are good, responsible, creative, and contributing members of the urban community and therefore they deserve a right to the city. By
contrast, in left-wing political districts activists may have allies in government and enjoy
support from a public that is amenable to leftist discourses. Deploying their cultural
resources in a more supportive context enables them to amplify their negotiating
powers with city ofcials. Activists in such a context enjoy larger margins to pursue
what we call a strategy of political in-betweenness. By nourishing their credentials as
both cultural producers and authentic left-wing activists, they enhance their claims
making capacities by enlisting government support and mobilizing supportive leftwing allies in their district. Their opportunities and leveraging capacities allow them
to maintain one foot in (engage in on-going negotiations with the government) and
one foot out (engage in critical protests of certain government policies).
The cultural resources of activists therefore provide them with some leverage to
sustain themselves but their strategies for making rights claims vary by the political
and discursive opportunities found in local political districts. Within the same city, we
can nd similar activist groups with similar cultural resources pursuing different strategies
to assert their rights to the city. Whereas some groups can maintain a certain degree of
autonomy, others internalize the discourses and norms of the governing regime and
become important relays of governmental power in urban civil society. These latter
groups are able to stay open in the city but this comes at the cost of remaking themselves
into good, responsible, and creative citizens of the neoliberal city.
In spite of differences between them, activist-residents in both districts are presented
with a similar dilemma: On the one hand, facing many constraints and neoliberalizing
trends, creativity and culture provides urban activists with one of the openings to
assert their continued right to the city. On the other hand, asserting rights on the
basis of their cultural contributions, activists inadvertently contribute to the reproduction
of the neoliberal city. Deservingness of rights is contingent on their abilities to produce
spaces amenable to middle class cultural dispositions and contribute to the citys placemarketing strategy. Moreover, they reinforce the neoliberal idea that rights need to
be earned by activating forms of economic and cultural capital (SCHINKEL and VAN
HOUDT, 2010). In a context where culture becomes a dominant way to exert a right
to the city, those people (poor, disabled, recent immigrants, elderly, etc.) lacking the
appropriate culture may have greater difculty gaining resonance for their own rights
claims. As the possession of middle class culture becomes a legitimate way for obtaining
rights to the neoliberal city, those lacking this culture are rendered into undeserving subjects (noise rather than voice). Unless they can reveal their cultural value (e.g. street
artists), they face greater risk of dispossession, marginalization, and repression.

The activist groups under study are the so-called Wagenburgen or trailer encampments,
which are located on squatted wastelands all over Berlin. Camps consist of a number
of wagons, trucks, and mobile homes that are used as permanent dwellings. In 2009,

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Rights to the Neoliberal City


the city counted 12 Wagenburgen, housing at least 316 people (ABGEORDNETENHAUS

BERLIN, 2009). The members are part of the left-alternative (squatters) scene and their
energy is directed towards forming free spaces where alternative economies and activities
can be pursued.
The rst case that we studied was die Windrose2 in the former conservative district of
Treptow-Kpenick. The Windrose community is the home of 2030 individuals who
all built or arranged their own wagon, cohabitate in a well-organized manner and host a
wide array of cultural events. The second case, Der Siebensprung, is located in the leftwing Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district. This community houses approximately 30
people and hosts a weekly communal dinner and lm evening that is open to the
public. We chose to compare these two encampments because our interest lies in examining whether local political contexts shape strategies for asserting a right to the city.
One of the most challenging tasks in this research was to gain access to the encampments. Camp residents were not eager to talk initially, for reasons varying from being
tired of publicity to fear that their privacy would be invaded. Participant observation
was performed in the form of voluntary work at various events and a two-week residency in one of the encampments. All camp residents were informed about the
nature of the study. After working a few shifts and regularly visiting the camps, trust
had been built and 17 in-depth interviews were conducted with members of the
trailer encampments accordingly. Participant observations and open-ended interviews
enabled us to detect the ways in which the three components of the strategies
(frames, networks, and group making) were formulated and enacted by each of the
encampments. These sources were supplemented with an analysis of activist documents
(yers, posters, badges, and leaets) and local newspaper articles. The content analysis of
documents helped us to trace the ways in which activist-residents constructed their
public arguments for a right to the city. Flyers and posters made by camp residents
were checked for the words creative, creativity, open, children, neighbors and
neighborhood to nd out which camps adhered to the creativity discourse. The
local newspaper articles were used to dene what claims the trailer communities
made in the public sphere.


Constraints and opportunities

Berlin has been governed by a black-red coalition (Christian-Democrats [CDU] and

Social-Democrats [SPD]) since 2011 (BODE, 2011). Both the center-right and centerleft parties have largely accepted many of the core principles of competitive, neoliberal
governance. Moreover, the CDU have favored repressive measures regarding urban
social movements. The CDU won the rst common elections of unied Berlin in
1990 and went on to form a coalition with the SPD in 1991. The decade that followed
presented trailer encampments with a particularly hostile environment because the government placed a ban on squatting. This repressive environment resulted in an increase
in evictions (HOLM and KUHN, 2011) in general and marked an important constraint on
the trailer encampments in particular. The only remaining legal option to inhabit public
property was to buy or lease a site from the borough. For the majority of trailer encampments, however, their limited revenue restricted the pursuit of this option. 2001 marked
an important turning point in the city with the establishment of a Social-Democrat and
Left Party coalition which lasted until 2011. This provided a somewhat more hospitable
environment for urban activists.

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

While the government shifted to the left in the 2000s, Berlins large long-term debt
bound it to the previous governments economic policies. As of 2013, the city continues
to have a debt of 61 million euros (STATISTISCHES BUNDESAMT, 2013). The city has
embraced policies to stimulate new sources of revenue and it has also sought to privatize
vacant municipal lands. In 2001, the city council established the Liegenschaftsfonds (property-fund), which aimed at selling vacant urban lands that were not earmarked for
immediate development. Local districts have been obliged to sell land to the city government of Berlin who can then resell those properties to private investors. For local district
ofcials in need of revenue, this provides an important opportunity to identify and sell
off strategic lands in their jurisdictions. The Liegenschaftsfonds has made the city into a land
entrepreneur in its own right. It employs its authority to buy lands at a reduced cost,
assemble, and deliver these lands to private markets, and employ its leverage to maximize
the returns on its investment. In addition to providing the city with new revenue, this
process has created strong incentives for district and city ofcials to privatize properties
and prioritize private property rights. This has increased the pressures on the trailer
encampments by reducing the physical space available to them while also undermining
the legitimacy of claims based on collective property rights.
Since the 2000s, political ofcials in Berlin have also embraced the creativity discourse
and agenda. Authorities have created projectslike PROJEKT ZUKUNFT (1997) and the
network CREATE BERLINthat aimed to promote the creativity of the city
(LANGE et al., 2008, p. 536). Berlins city council also launched a website that promotes
the city as a creative hub: Berlin is the epicenter of power and yet symbolic of freedom
and autonomy, hosting both high art and counterculture (BE BERLIN CAMPAIGN, 2011). The
mayor of the city explains the economic rationality for embracing the creativity strategy:
Berlin has to be the city of talents. We want to be attractive for creative people from
scientic, cultural and economic elds. [ ] My goal is to make Berlin into one of
the top addresses for the creatives of the world in the next ve years, because they
bring along growth and employment accordingly. [ ] Visitors should become inhabitants! (Klaus Wowereit, in EBERT and KUNZMANN, 2007, p. 65)

This mayor has played an inuential part in the creatication of Berlin (LANGE et al.,
2008, p. 535). According to one source, voters credited him with enhancing Berlins
image as hip, tolerant, cultural city [ ] and under his watch the city has increasingly
become a magnet for artists, fashion designers, writers and high-prole exhibitions
(CROSSLAND, 2006).
The prominence of the creativity discourse and agenda has provided a small but
important opportunity for alternative urban movements because they have been recognized as key contributors to the citys hip culture (VIVANT, 2010; NOVY and COLOMB,
2013). Berlins city council uses the slogan Berlin: poor but sexy and states that its precisely this mixture of established cultural institutions and experimental alternative scenes
that accounts for the special charm of Berlins cultural landscape (BE BERLIN CAMPAIGN,
2011). According to Antje Kapek, ofcial with the Green Party in the FriedrichshainKreuzberg district, the Berlin squatter movement has contributed in important ways
to the popularity of the city: some parties apparently still have not quite understood
that the attractiveness of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is inherent to the alternative projects
and forms of living that reside here (GRNER NEWSLETTER FRIEKE, 2009).
Berlin ofcials have therefore restricted squatting, privatized land, accelerated property speculation by establishing the Liegenschaftsfonds, and embraced the creative city discourse. This has contributed to shaping the political context of the citys squatting
communities. While activists in trailer encampments have faced eviction pressures,

Rights to the Neoliberal City


some politicians have come to recognize the importance of encampments and squats for
generating the alternative Berliner Szene. This has provided them a small but important
opening to assert their urban rights by virtue of their contributions to the citys attractive,
hip, and buzzy culture.

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

The unevenness of the local opportunity structure

On 1 January 2001, Berlins former 23 districts were fused into 12 districts (Figure 1),
each with 5 councilors (Bezirksstadtrte) and a district mayor (Bezirksbrgermeister). The
residents of the district vote for the district assembly (Bezirksverordnetenversammlung),
which in turn selects the district council. Whereas citywide elections dilute the electoral
weight of smaller and more radical political groups, district-based elections provide
greater opportunities because the spatial concentration of groups magnies electoral
The district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg counted 274,386 inhabitants in 2012 and
constitutes the vibrant heart of the left-alternative scene, housing many of the squats
and trailer encampments in Berlin. The Green Party, led by mayor Frans Schulz, is
the most inuential party in the district assembly and forms a coalition with the SPD.
The third and fourth largest parties are the Left Party (Bndnis 90 / Die Linke) and
the Pirate Party. Facing competitive pressures from its left-ank, the governing coalition

Figure 1. The division of districts in Berlin as of January 2001, the former division represented by
the thin lines. (Retrieved 23 January 2014 from:

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

of the district is compelled to maintain its left-wing credentials in this district. This political climate suggests that the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is a more hospitable
environment for urban activists than more conservative districts of Berlin. Mayor Schulz
has expressed strong support for alternative living and deems the trailer encampments to
be enriching the cultural and economic life of the district. We got this place [land for the
trailer encampment] thanks to the mayor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg: Schulz from the
Green Party. The police was outside of the gate, but then he said: Let them stay here for
now (Anton, Siebensprung resident, personal interview).
The district of Treptow-Kpenick has a more conservative political tradition. The
district assembly now consists of a coalition between SPD and the Left Party (Bndnis
90 / Die Linke), but center-right CDU dominated the district until 2011. The party
remains a major competitive force in the district and serves to check the more leftward
tendencies of the governing coalition. This context has presented squats and trailer
encampments with a less hospitable environment. Political leaders have been less receptive to countercultural movements, they did not enjoy broad support by the electorate in
the district, and such movements had not achieved a critical mass. In contrast to Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, the squatting movement was marginal and politically isolated
in Treptow-Kpenick. Being part of East Berlin during the era of the German Democratic Republic, the district was devoid of trailer camps whereas camps and squatter
settlements were more common in former West Berlin districts like Friedrichshain.
Facing these conditions, the Windrose activist-residents have had to work harder at
creating support among district residents and convince elected ofcials that they were
not a threat to the community but instead a contributor to its growth and vitality.
The membership of the Windrose trailer camp in Treptow-Kpenick has undergone a
change during its 20-year existence. In the early days, members were mainly interested
in sustaining its radical and alternative political spirit and not so much concerned with
preserving their spaces. The diverse makeup of the community (from dedicated activists
to drug addicts) and its particular vision of political struggle resulted in tense relations
with the surrounding area. Neighbors complained about loud music, waste, barking
dogs, and drunken stragglers. In this context, elected ofcials viewed the trailer camp
as a nuisance and a threat to neighborhood stability. Ofcials threatened the camp
with eviction on multiple occasions between 1992 and 1997. It was at this point that
camp residents realized that their distance from district residents and politicians made
them vulnerable to eviction. Moreover, some camp residents themselves grew tired of
the nuisance of the more deviant residents.
The Windrose has continued its efforts to challenge capitalist consumer society. It has
done this by promoting alternative living practices based on the principles of collectivism, sustainability, and experimental cultural production. Activist-residents have
sought to create a space that serves as an incubator for alternative ways of living, producing, and consuming. They believe that the capitalist system is at its limits and alternatives
are needed for a better world. While Windrose views itself as anti-establishment political
space in the city, it operates in a traditionally conservative district of neoliberal Berlin.
The abilities of camp residents to continue their existence as a viable political space
stimulated them to pursue a strategy of political identication. They justify their
urban rights by stressing their cultural contribution to the city. They have also cultivated
the support of gentrifying middle class residents and selected camp residents that conform

Rights to the Neoliberal City


to dominant norms and expectations. In this way, the strategy to stay in the city has
resulted in an active role of making camp residents into citizens who are not incompatible with dominant neoliberal-creative norms.
Framing the argument: good contributors to the creative city

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Windrose-residents claim to enrich the cultural realm by organizing a wide array of

events. These events include an exhibition wagon, childrens creativity workshop,
jazz concerts, punk concerts, communal dinners (Vok), ecological tours, seminars,
theatre shows, dance cafs, summer festivals, ea markets, poetry festivals, documentary
nights, etc. Their rights claims are directly tied to their abilities to produce cultural services in the city. According to Windroses eldest resident who goes by the nickname of
mayor, their argument rests on three basic claims.
The rst claim holds that a dynamic and creative city needs experimental spaces that
are publicly accessible and non-commercial:
A city that wants to be worth living in needs experimental places that are publicly accessible and where something is created for the public. It is necessary that a Platz that is run
in an experimental manner has low nancial charges. When the nancial charges are
high, it has to enter the commercial, with all the consequences. That uncannily
reduces the free space that I have for experiments, because I am just chasing money.
(Kuno, Windrose encampment, personal interview)

If the city wants to sustain the experimental qualities that make Berlin culturally unique,
it must carve out non-commercial spaces for cultural producers like the Windrose.
The second claim is that the district saves money because camp residents work voluntarily, musicians perform for free, and the camp receives no municipal subsidies. They
provide critical cultural services at no charge to the city.
Another cultural project would be subsidized with 100,000 euros. The project here
refuses subsidies and sets up the collective organization voluntarily. Thats the best
thing that can happen to a municipality! They save an immense amount of money
this way. (Kuno, Windrose encampment, personal interview)

Whereas a formal enterprise would cost a bankrupt city signicant resources, the Windrose and similar groups allow the city to retain its cultural edge at a very low cost.
Lastly, some Windrose-residents assert that their cultural work stimulates the
economy by attracting tourists. They are producers of the creative underground cityscape that draws tourists from around the world to Berlin and the district:
The district ofce is very much interested in our organizing of cultural events, it is our
main task. We will continue doing that and many tourists will visit the events as well.
Because of course, the district is interested in the fact that there is an attractive range of
activities for tourists in Berlin tourists bring a lot of money in the city. The Berlin
Senate thinks it is important that Berlin keeps its image of underground city in the future,
simply because it raises money and the city needs money. This is a reason why we survived on
this piece of land: because we tted perfectly in this underground concept. (Kuno, Windrose
encampment, personal interview)

The city needs to support the encampment in order to maintain its positioning in global
tourist markets. This results in a dilemma for the activist-residents. While serving this
function helps them to assert their right to stay in the city, the draw of more tourists
to the encampment disturbs camp residents and the surrounding urban environment.


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

Thus, activist-residents in the Windrose encampment consciously view their relation

with the city and their rights to the city in utilitarian and transactional terms. They have
earned a right to the city because they furnish key cultural services that add directly to the
citys economic bottom line. They produce cultural events in exchange for access to

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Essentially, its the service on return: We dont pay any rent, but therefore we have to
work here for a certain amount of hours and in this way we work for our rent so to say.
And that amount of money is being written in the districts budget as cultural expense
( ) You could say that the events and the culture that are being made here, has actually become the legitimation here. It has grown like that We dont pay any rent or
lease. The district decides on an amount of money, which they would actually like to
have as rent for the site. This sum is booked in the budget as cultural expense. Like
Furtherance Wagenplatz die Windrose. This is the deal so to say and it formally obligates everybody who lives here to do cultural work. So a certain amount of time per
month. (Emmy, Windrose encampment, personal interview)

Residents are aware that their right to stay in the city depends on fullling cultural
When we would not want to organize cultural events anymore, the district ofce
would denitely want us to pack our stuff and leave. We have to provide something
for the neighborhood when we want to stay here, because this site is not just a site
it is a site in the inner-city, which is situated on the waterfront, it is highly sought
after. (Kuno, Windrose encampment, personal interview)

The city and the Windrose are therefore bound to one another in a mutually benecial
transaction: citizens from the surrounding neighborhood can enjoy the cultural services
indirectly sponsored by the district, while the camp residents benet from living in a
high-value central location that enables them to spread and practice their alternative
ways of living.
Networks: building support from the gentrifying middle classes

Developing good relations with the residents of the district is a central part of the identication strategy. Resident-activists position themselves as good neighbors that contribute essential resources to a ourishing neighborhood and they conceive of the Platz as an
open and common space that needs to be made available to the broader community.
Rather than closing themselves off from their neighbors, opening themselves to their
surroundings allows them to connect to neighbors, perform key neighborhood functions, and build lasting political support in the district. Support from the districts
middle class residents can be used as additional leverage in their negotiations with political ofcials. This sentiment is reected in a saying coined by the senior activist-resident: The relation with the district is good when the relation with neighbors is good.
The rst step in this direction was made at the end of 1990s when the camps image
improved by changing the name from Trailer Fortress of the Windrose to Communal
Artwork Windrose. They sought to shed the stigma typically attributed to trailer fortresses. Windrose-residents also made the encampment accessible 24 hours a day and
created clear paths to provide pedestrians access from all sides. Two trailers have been
made available for guests: they can request to stay in one of them and experience
what it is like to live in the community. A playground for children has been constructed
in the middle of the terrain, which is often used by neighborhood families and children.

Rights to the Neoliberal City


Openness has been aimed at breaking down prejudices and showing that the encampment is an important part of a vibrant community and neighborhood.

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Why is it good that the place is open and public? Because it gives legitimation that we
can be here, it is a very big site and it doesnt belong to me and Id like to share it with
people. (Anna, Windrose encampment, personal interview)

While the Windrose holds many events that attract area residents, certain events have
become very popular in Treptow. During the summer, the Windrose organizes jazz
concerts on a bimonthly basis. This amounts to approximately ve concerts per year,
with each event attended by approximately 400 visitors. Most visitors are (upper)
middle class residents of the district and are not members of the left-alternative scene
of the Berlin. The discrepancy between these two lifestyles is very apparent during
the events, but it is not an issue for the visitors. They drink beer out of the bottle, use
the same wineglass multiple times, go to the wooden toilet that does not ush, and sit
on dusty plastic chairs. The romantic and bohemian atmosphere of the Platz enchants
many of the visitors. Many of the camp residents are not fond of jazz or of the people
their events attract but they recognize the importance of the concerts (and the accompanying revenue from the beverage sales) for their legitimacy and survival.
The Windrose also holds an annual summer festival, which has replaced the neighborhood street festival. This event has become an important part of neighborhood life.
It provides an opportunity for neighbors to connect to one another in an enjoyable and
culturally hip environment. This helps to produce a neighborhood identity associated
with Berlins countercultural feel. For many middle class gentriers, this identity is an
important part of their own stock of cultural capital. Living in a place with a hip identity
and reputation contributes to their own status position, giving them a direct interest in
supporting this and other Windrose events. Neighbors meet at the Platz, interact with
one another at events, and develop a common sense of identity that is integrally
linked to the Windrose. The Windrose in this instance becomes a major institution
within the neighborhood, providing a space for both socializing and nourishing a
strong place identity. By making themselves indispensable to the neighborhoods sociality and identity, Windrose builds support among the neighbors, making it politically
difcult for district ofcials to evict it from the district.
In addition to reaching out directly to neighbors, the Windrose also has fostered good
relations with reporters and producers of the Berlin press. These good relations allow the
Windrose to attract and shape media coverage of their most important events. Good
media relations allow them to steer how the media actually represents the camp and
its events to the broader public. Positive representations of the trailer camp improve
their image in the public imagination. Lastly, politicians are personally invited to have
guided tours of the site and events. At the Platz, politicians are welcomed with coffee
and cake. The invitations are aimed at creating a relation of trust with politicians,
many of whom have to be convinced of the reliability of encampment residents.
Most politicians in Treptow-Kpenick have developed a positive impression of the
Windrose and appreciate its activities in the neighborhood. This has contributed to
the extension of the lease-contract by ve years in 2011.
These efforts have contributed to changing public perceptions of the camp. The
Windrose is sometimes referred to somewhat derisively as the the petting zoo of the
Berlin trailer encampments because they have the reputation of being the most open
to the public. These efforts have contributed to a change in image of the camp.
Whereas trailer encampments were largely viewed as deviant and dangerous spaces in

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

the 1980s and 1990s, the activist-residents of this encampment have made it into a vital
center of hip cultural productivity for the city.
This transformation did not simply result from a change in the name and marketing
tactics. It required a substantial effort in building supportive networks among the socalled creative class. In the past Windrose residents mainly catered to likeminded radicals
who shared their own taste in music, politics, and fashion. They came to recognize that
building intra-group bonds would not help expand broader support for their project in
the politically inhospitable environment of Treptow. It only reinforced their political,
symbolic, social, and spatial isolation. They learned that they should look beyond
their own preferences and produce cultural products and services that resonated with
the tastes of the inhabitants of the district, who had high degrees of cultural and educational capital. When a local jazz venue was forced to close, the Windrose-residents
were asked to host the jazz concerts. These events grew to become the largest magnet
for visitors. This has not resulted in the abandonment of more radical activities and cultural practices but in their co-existence with events catering to their more bourgeois
You have to make sacrices and compromises, that is important, but you should not
lose your identity in the meantime. I can still organize punk concerts. I can also organize
critical political events on my Platz. That is not the problem. The only thing is, you
have to give away a part of the place to others. (Kuno, Windrose encampment, personal

Group making: selecting members who can produce culture

During the 1990s, the Windrose community consisted of an array of people, including
students, punks, political activists, and hippies. The important strategic changes
described above prompted changes in the makeup of the community and the adoption
of internal disciplinary measures. This has contributed to increasing the middle class
composition (embourgeoisement) of the community. Residents that acted aggressively,
were addicted to substances, or disregarded peaceful cohabitation with the other activist-residents were asked to leave the community. The members of the Windrose community also began to recruit new members in the 2000s, many of which possessed high
levels of cultural and educational capital. The shared habitus of new members with the
habitus of their neighbors made the pursuit of the creativity strategy more acceptable.
While new recruits continued to assert their distinction from the gentrifying middle
classes, their common class backgrounds helped bridge the gap.
The process of selecting good members has been ongoing. The norms of creativity
and openness are important criteria for selecting new members. The fact that the
Windrose has been successful for 10 years makes it a secure place to live. This has
increased its popularity, with many people seeking out residency in the community.
This results in the need to develop strict criteria to select the best people. Candidates
have to be creative (which means he or she can pitch ideas or is willing to help execute
the ideas of others), willing to dedicate a substantive part of his or her time to the
events taking place at the Platz (this comes down to about 20 hours a week), and foremost, he or she has to be able to get along with the other residents. The selection
process is intensive and can last several weeks. During the eldwork, the co-author
encountered a woman who was being considered for membership at the Windrose.
During the selection process, the candidate lived in one of the guest trailers and participated in activities and events. She felt that she had to earn a place in the community

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Rights to the Neoliberal City


by demonstrating her commitment to the community and its cultural projects. Candidates who demonstrate their aptitude for producing cultural products are given priority, reinforcing tendencies of group embourgeoisement. Its like this that everyone
who moves here has to agree on the fact that this is an open, public cultural
project. That is the basis of the project and everybody knows that (Anna, Windrose
resident, personal interview). This statement illustrates the drift in the encampments
political vocation. The older residents viewed culture and openness as a means to maintain an activist space in a difcult political environment. The newer generation perceives the production of culture as an end in its own right. The political and radical
vocations of the camp have slowly faded to a background ethos while its cultural
and civic virtues have been pushed to the fore. In spite of the general process of remaking the group, there remains an important level of diversity within it. Among the camp
residents we nd hard-core anti-capitalists living next to highly educated residents with
a preference for art and culture.
Adopting new methods of social control has accompanied the process of remaking
the group. The plenum was instituted as the principal means for achieving and enacting
a consensus among activist-residents. The plenum consists of weekly meetings where
daily affairs and future plans are discussed and made. This method of collective
decision-making has helped improve operations and legitimate decisions. However,
these improvements have been seen by some as a form of social control that marginalizes
alternative ideas that do not t with the group consensus. For several residents, the
plenum paralyzes the group by reducing the levels of freedom once enjoyed by camp
residents. In addition to the plenum, social control has been achieved thorough the
adoption of four basic rules to govern camp behavior: volume down at night, no
waste, no violence, and no hard drugs. These rules were introduced due to pressure
from the surrounding environment, as well as to serve camp-residents themselves.
Those members who failed to follow these rules were given warnings and, if their
improper behavior continued, eventually asked to leave the camp. The rules provided
the community with better methods to identify and restrain deviant behavior in the
1990s. The explicit expression of these rules became less necessary as camp residents
became more disciplined over time.


The Siebensprung trailer camp is situated in the leftist district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. In the context of neoliberalizing Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg provides social
movements with more favorable conditions. The Green Party in Friedrichshain and
mayor Schulz have expressed their sympathy with the local activist and countercultural
scene. There are two motivations for this. First, the strength of a left constituency and
competition from more radical left parties makes the governing coalition more susceptible to protests and public mobilizations. The availability of rich activist networks in this
district allows Siebensprung residents to mobilize them in those rare events when they
are threatened with eviction. Second, the local government is sensitive to the demands
of the activists because they enhance the districts attractiveness and diversity. In this
context, there is less need for Siebensprung residents to develop the legitimation strategies described above. Activist-residents have therefore developed a two-prong strategy
that consists of asserting cultural contributions to Berlin and mobilizing support from the
districts left-alternative scene.


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Framing the argument: good contributors but still radical

The rst part of Siebensprungs strategy builds upon Berlins efforts to capitalize on its
underground subcultural scene to attract tourists. This part of the strategy is consistent
with the Windrose, but it is executed with less intensity. They argue that their cultural
services and events reinforce the reputation and feel of Berlin, which in turn attracts
tourists to the city and to the Friedrichshain district. Activists and left-wing politicians
argue that tourists visit this district partly because of the presence of trailer encampments
and other alternative spaces that are open to the broader public. They provide an opportunity for strolling tourists to get a more direct feel of the underground culture of Berlin.
They have earned the right to occupy this space because they contribute to one of the
citys most important tourist attractions: its underground culture.
Siebensprung residents perform their cultural services by organizing a weekly, publicly accessible dinner. The meal consists of a high quality, three-course communal
dinner (Vok) that can be enjoyed for two to three euros. Everyone picks up a plate
and cutlery, pays at the counter, gets the food from the kitchen and nds a seat at
one of the tables around the replace. Drinks can be bought at the counter and afterwards guests are expected to wash their own plates. At dusk, a free lm or documentary
is presented on a big screen and sometimes a singer-songwriter performs. These events
are popular, with an average of 6070 people in regular attendance. They draw diverse
visitors, including squatters, tourists, activist friends, and neighbors. Siebensprung residents explicitly use the tourist visits to support their arguments that they are contributing
to the industry. While the weekly dinner events constitute their core activities, the Siebensprung also organizes an array of workshops on regenerative energy, lessons in arts
and crafts with recycled materials, tango courses, and a childrens circus. These various
workshops are ways in which the activists use culture as a way to achieve legitimacy
among the politicians and neighbors in the district.
We as a trailer community are part of the city and we contribute to the image of Berlin.
People come to Friedrichshain because there are trailer encampments. They cant visit
them intensively, but there is a public day, this Vok Wednesday. We organize non-commercial events, so that we can say: This Platz is public and it brings something good for the neighbors. (Amara, Siebensprng resident, personal interview)

One part of the strategy stresses their contribution as creative producers while the other
part depends on mobilizing Berlins left-alternative scene in times of political difculty.
When eviction pressure increases, allies and friends in the left-alternative scene are
reached through email and social media, yers, posters, and by word of mouth. The
Vok and lm nights also function as ways of sustaining contacts with other activists
and radicals in the scene. Solidarity has a high priority in the left-alternative scene and
different branches are connected by informal contact, which can be activated in times
of need. Protest actions against evictions comprise approximately 200300 people and
participants often dress in extremely colorful or dramatically black clothes. By stressing
their numbers, they bring across the message: You decide upon us and our friends and
we are with many, so consider it well (Josef, Siebensprung and Windrose ally, personal interview). Because mobilizing numbers is of great importance, maintaining good
relations with leftist activists in the district is a central part of their general strategy to
exert their right to stay in the city. Although the size of these mobilizations is relatively
small, their effect on the local government is extensive. The protesters are taken
seriously, because the local Green government is sensitive to their demands: the
recent effort to evict the Siebensprung and replace it with a sports facility has been

Rights to the Neoliberal City


postponed indenitely. Even though there is a spacious sports terrain 400 meters further
down the road, the need for sport- and leisure facilities in the district was used by conservative parties as a reason to evict the trailer camp. Here, the sympathy of the Green
Party and the mobilization of allies in the district contributed to the Siebensprungs (temporary) survival.

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Networks: building support to the public and to local activists

The Siebensprung has been fortunate because it has no direct neighbors. Complaints
concerning noise and nuisances are rare. The site is adjacent to a kindergarten. While
they originally had a distant relation with the activists, the employees changed their
view when they noticed that Siebensprung contributed to a substantial decrease in burglary rates. Furthermore, inhabitants of Friedrichshain are accustomed to the presence of
the left-alternative scene. The semi-openness of the camp has provided residents of the
district with an opportunity to visit and develop a positive image of life in the trailer
camp. This diminishes prejudice and negative stigmas associated with the site, which
has contributed to better relations between Siebensprung residents and other residents
of the district.
Siebensprung only reaches out to the press during rare occasions when it is threatened
with eviction. During such occasions a press campaign is set up which consists of inviting
journalists from magazines and newspapers to perform interviews and take photographs
of the camp. Activists have learned from experience that the tone of press coverage tends
to be more positive when journalists are invited to the camp than when they come on
their own. Lately, Siebensprungs weak press strategy has resulted in two negative articles
in 2012. Some residents have viewed this as a potential problem but there are no real
efforts to develop a well thought-out press strategy like that of the Windrose. The relatively hospitable political context and their strong connections to local activists have
reduced the need to take an active role in shaping public and political perceptions of
their camp. They engage in such activities but it is not viewed as central to their survival.

Group making: a loose community

There is less concerted effort to construct a disciplined group. According to one resident,
the central rule is to not enforce many rules, Our dogma is to be undogmatic (Wande,
Siebensprung encampment, personal interview). The Siebensprung community consists
of individuals who are free to decide their contributions to the group. Some go as far to
say that there is no such thing as a Siebensprung community at all.
We live together, we throw ourselves together and mobilize when it is needed and we
also think that everybody lives their own life. That is the way things go around here,
because you know There is no such thing as a community here. (Gretchen Siebensprung encampment, personal interview)

Also, when compared to the Windrose, there is a weak organizational structure and an
informal decision-making process. There is no joint discussion, which I like: every individual can do what he wants (Axel, Siebensprung encampment, personal interview).
The loosely tied structure of the group is reected in the absence of a xed plenum
and the lack of explicit rules regarding behavior. Since the prevailing dogma is to be
undogmatic, the Platz is home to people who identify with an unregulated, uncontrolled, and individualistic lifestyle. Plenums are only held when threatened by eviction.


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

The undogmatic philosophy resonates in how the actual group is constructed. Unlike
the Windrose, there are no strict criteria for joining or probationary periods for new residents. Everybody who wants to join is free to do so, as long as there is space and a trailer
available. If the newcomer bothers any member of the group and no solution is found,
the newcomer is asked to leave the community. This exibility in community making
and control reects the lack of interest in and the dispensability of complicated disciplinary techniques. The only consistent ways in which they discipline themselves is through
the weekly communal dinners and lm demonstrations. Residents have to serve drinks,
prepare a meal, and ensure supplies for their guests. This is also the principal event held
that allows them to make the claim that they are important creative contributors to the
district and the city.

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

The creative and cultural turn in urban policy provides activist groups with cultural
capital small openings to make their rights claims. However, the extent of these openings
and the leverage activists enjoy partly depends on the political-discursive contexts they
nd themselves in. This can result in different strategies by similar kinds of activist
groups. Our study identies two of such strategies pursued by trailer encampments in
Berlin. The encampment in the conservative district pursued a strategy of political
and discursive identication. It represented itself in ways that largely conformed to
the dominant discourse of neoliberal, creative Berlin as a result of the local, inhospitable
political context. The camp also sought to create connections to urban groups with high
levels of cultural capital through specially targeted events and other outreach efforts.
Lastly, it remade the group to conform to this strategic line, selecting residents on the
basis of cultural attributes and disciplining them (consciously or not) to play according
to the rules of the game. The strategy of identication has resulted in a certain embourgeoisement of the encampment, with its acts, words, and members contributing directly to
making the city an attractive place for hip middle class residents and tourists. By contrast,
the encampment in the left district has been less threatened by elected ofcials and
enjoyed greater support by left-wing constituents in the district. Such a context has
allowed them to employ an in-between strategy. They stress their important contribution
to the cultural makeup of the Berlin scene but they have also made a concerted effort to
maintain their mobilization capacities by reinforcing their solidarity and authenticity in
the radical activist networks of the city. They must strike a balance between creativity
and radical solidarity/authenticity. In this context, they are able to maintain their inbetween positioning rather than transform themselves into good and deserving subjects
of neoliberal, creative Berlin.
The use of culture and creativity as a basis for making rights claims raises an important
dilemma for all Berlin activists (encampments and squatters). The political-discursive
context of cities like Berlin favors strategies that stress the good cultural capital and
conduct of claimants. As VIVANT notes, the creativity discourse appears effective for
squatters to gain legitimacy to sustain the occupation, while the political anti-speculative
discourse is too radical (VIVANT, 2010, p. 129). When activists use the language of creativity and stress their unique cultural attributes, their status as deserving members of the
urban community stems from their abilities to make a contribution to the neoliberal
city. While this discourse enables them to ght for their groups right to stay in the
city, using it reproduces the idea that rights are earned on the basis of ones cultural
capital and contributions to producing a vibrant and hip urban culture (VAN HOUDT
et al., 2011). Those who have good taste and can produce good culture therefore

Rights to the Neoliberal City


have a greater right to the city than those who do not. As this strategy becomes more
successful among urban activists, other activists are likely to adopt it for their own
struggles. This elevates culture to a central theme for making claims to urban citizenship,
crowding out other discursive strategies to justify rights claims such as social justice,
equality, and basic human rights. As cultural capital becomes the legitimate basis for
making rights claims to the neoliberal city, people lacking the right kind of culture
(e.g. working class, poor immigrants, elderly, etc.) may nd it more difcult to sustain
their own rights claims. Unless these groups can reframe themselves as culturally
astute contributors to a citys hip cultural scene, they may have difculty in asserting
their right to stay and thrive in the creative and neoliberal city.

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Acknowledgements This article would not exist without the cooperation of the inhabitants
of the Wagenburgen (trailer encampments) in Berlin. Their openness and helpfulness enabled us to
get an idea of their history, motives, and situations. Furthermore, we would like to thank the two
anonymous reviewers and the editors of this journal for the insightful comments and constructive
criticism on earlier versions of this paper.

1. UITERMARK (2013) called this process civic gentrication. We employ the Marxian concept
of embourgeoisement in order to avoid conceptual confusion with the well-established urban
concept of gentrication.
2. Fictitious names have been given to the two Wagenburgen.

ABGEORDNETENHAUS BERLIN (2009) Drucksache 16 426 Kleine Anfrage, 02 June 2009. (available
pdf) (accessed on 03 December 2013).
ARENDT H. (1973) On the Origins of Totalitarianism. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, New York.
BE BERLIN CAMPAIGN (2011) City of opportunities. (available at:
15053) (accessed on 8 January 2012).
BENHABIB S. (2004) The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens. Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge.
BLAKELEY G. (2010) Governing ourselves: citizen participation and governance in Barcelona and
Manchester, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 34(1), 130145.
BODE E. (2011, November 25) Berlin City Government: SPD and CDU agree on a coalition.
(available at: (accessed on 12
January 2012).
BRENNER N. (2004) Urban governance and the production of new state spaces in Western
Europe. 19602000, Review of International Political Economy 11(3), 447488.
CASTELLS M. (1996) The Rise of the Network Society. Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.
COLOMB C. (2012) Pushing the urban frontier: temporary uses of space, city-marketing, and the
creative city discourse in 2000s Berlin, Journal of Urban Affairs 34(2), 131152.
CROSSLAND D. (2006, September 19) Is Germany ready for a gay chancellor? Der Spiegel. (available
at: (accessed on 26 February 2012).
CRUIKSHANK B. (1999) The Will to Empower: Democratic Citizens and Other Subjects. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
DIKE M. (2004) Voices into noises: ideological determination of unarticulated justice movements, Space and Polity 8(2), 191208.
DIKE M. (2006) Two decades of French urban policy: from social development of neighborhoods to the Republican Penal State, Antipode 38(1), 5981.

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015


Inge L. M. van Schipstal and Walter J. Nicholls

EBERT R. and KUNZMANN K. R. (2007) Kulturwirtschaft, kreative Rume und Stadtentwicklung

in Berlin, disP 171(4), 6479.
FLORIDA R. (2002) The Rise of the Creative Class (And How Its Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life). Basis Books, New York.
FLORIDA R. (2004) Cities and the Creative Class. Routledge (electronic resource), London.
FRASER N. (1990) Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy, Social Text, 25/26, 5680.
GRNER NEWSLETTER FRIEKE #12 (2009) (available at:
vielfalt-und-migration/artikel/gruener-newsletter-frieke-12.html#21) (accessed on 03 December 2013).
HARVEY D. (2001) The art of rent: globalization and the commodication of culture, in HARVEY
D. (Ed) Spaces of Capital, pp. 394411. Routledge, London.
HARVEY D. (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
HARVEY D. (2012) Rebel Cities. From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. Verso, London.
HINDESS B. (2002) Neo-liberal citizenship, Citizenship Studies 6(2), 127143.
HOLM A. and KUHN A. (2011) Squatting and urban renewal: the interaction of squatter movements and strategies of urban restructuring in Berlin, International Journal of Urban and Regional
Research 35(1), 644658.
VAN HOUDT F., SUVARIEROL S. and SCHINKEL W. (2011) Neoliberal communitarian citizenship:
current trends towards earned citizenship in the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, International Sociology 26(3), 408432.
ISIN E. (2002) Being Political. Genealogies of Citizenship. University of Minnesota Press,
KOOPMANS R. and STATHAM P. (1999) Political claims analysis: integrating protest event and political discourse approaches, Mobilization 4(1), 2032211.
KRUEGER R. and BUCKINGHAM S. (2012) Towards a Consensual urban politics? Creative planning, urban sustainability and regional development, International Journal of Urban and Regional
Research 36(3), 486503.
LANGE B., KALANDIDES A., STBER B. and MIEG H. (2008) Berlins creative industries: governing
creativity? Industry and Innovation 15(5), 531548.
MARTNEZ LOPZ M. (2013) The squatters movement in Europe: a durable struggle for social
autonomy in urban politics, Antipode 45, 866887.
MAYER M. (1998) The changing scope of action in urban politics: new opportunities for local
initiatives and movements, in WOLFF R. (Ed) Possible Urban Worlds: Urban Strategies at the
End of the 20th Century, pp. 148157. INURA, Basel.
MAYER M. (1999) Urban movements and urban theory in the late-20th-century city, in BEAUREGARD R. A. and BODY-GENDROT S. (Eds) The Urban Moment. Cosmopolitan Essays on the Late
-20th-Century City, pp. 209238. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
MAYER M. (2000) Social movements in European cities: transitions from the 1970s to the 1990s,
in BASAGNO A. and LE GALS P. (Eds) Cities in Contemporary Europe, pp. 131152. Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge.
NICHOLLS W. (2013) From political opportunities to Niche-openings: the dilemmas of mobilizing
for immigrant rights in inhospitable environments, Theory and Society, Online rst: DOI:10.
NOVY J. and COLOMB C. (2013) Struggling for the right to the (creative) city in Berlin and
Hamburg: new urban social movements, new spaces of hope?, International Journal of Urban
and Regional Research 37, 18161838. DOI:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01115.x
ONG A. (1996) Cultural citizenship as subject making: immigrants negotiate racial and cultural
boundaries in the United States, Current Anthropology 37(5), 737751.
ONG A. (2006) Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. Duke University
Press, Raleigh.
PECK J. (2012) Recreative city: Amsterdam, vehicular ideas and the adaptive spaces of creativity
policy, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 36, 462485.

Downloaded by [Francine Nunes] at 22:42 25 July 2015

Rights to the Neoliberal City


PECK J. and TICKELL A. (2002) Neoliberalizing Space, Antipode, 34, 380404. DOI: 10.1111/
PICKERILL J. and CHATTERTON P. (2006) Notes towards autonomous geographies: creation, resistance and self-management, Progress in Human Geography 30(6), 117.
PROJEKT ZUKUNFT (1997) (available at: (accessed on 04 January
PRUIJT H. (2004) Squatters in the creative city: rejoinder to Justus Uitermark, International Journal
of Urban and Regional Research 28(3), 699705.
RACO M. (2007) Building Sustainable Communities: Spatial Policy and Labour Mobility in Post-War
Britain. Policy Press, Bristol.
RACO M. and IMRIE R. (2000) Governmentality and rights and responsibilities in urban policy,
Environment and Planning A 32, 21872204.
SCHINKEL W. (2008) The Moralisation of Citizenship in Dutch Integration Discourse, Amsterdam
Law Forum. (available at: (accessed on 23 March
SCHINKEL W. and VAN HOUDT F. (2010) The double helix of cultural assimilationism and neoliberalism: citizenship in contemporary governmentality, The British Journal of Sociology 61
(4), 696715.
SOMERS M. (2008) Genealogies of Citizenship: Markets, Statelessness, and the Right to Have Rights.
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
SQUATTING EUROPE KOLLECTIVE (2012) Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles. Autonomedia, Brooklyn.
STATISTISCHES BUNDESAMT (2013) (available at:
Schulden310313.html) (accessed on 03 December 2013).
SWYNGEDOUW E. (2009) The antinomies of the postpolitical city: in search of a democratic politics
of environmental production, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 33(3),
TARROW S. (1998) Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
TONKENS E. (2011) The embrace of responsibility: citizenship and governance of social care in the
Netherlands, in NEWMAN J. and TONKENS E. (Eds) Participation, Responsibility and Choice: Summoning the Active Citizen in Western European Welfare States, pp. 4566. University of Amsterdam Press, Amsterdam.
UITERMARK J. (2004) The Co-optation of squatters in Amsterdam and the emergence of a movement meritocracy: a critical reply to Pruijt, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 28
(3), 687698.
UITERMARK J. (2013) Dynamics of Power in Dutch Integration Politics: From Accommodation to Confrontation. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam.
VIVANT E. (2010) The (Re-) making of Paris as a Bohemian place? Progress in Planning 74,
WACQUANT L. (2004) Punir les pauvres: Le nouveau gouvernement de linsecurit sociale. Agone, Paris.