Everyone in London you talk to complains about the stupidly high rents – which for many people have a suffocating effect and often forces them into joining the soul-destroying rat-race.
So it comes without surprise that when there is a whole building standing empty it will soon be packed with people who prefer to be free and not to pay rent at all.
One of those rare oases in the overpriced housing markets can be found in Stainsby Road in East London where for more than a year squatters have occupied a rather ugly looking example of bad 1960s council flat building crimes.
I find it really odd but also really amusing that the building hasn’t been demolished yet and replaced by another fancy up-market tower-block like the ones that have risen and are rising in the nearby area. It feels like the good has won over the bad for a little while.
The building stands in an incredible attractive spot – with the canal on one side and an unspoiled view over the impressive skyline of Canary Wharf on the other. I love the fact that this must feel like a hot nasty thorn in the money greedy heart of property developers who struggle to get these guys out of the building. It seems that squatters can’t be thrown out of the place that easily. A young dread-locked inhabitant told me that that it will probably take another year to empty the building.
Coming from East Berlin I’ve seen quite a few places occupied by squatters. Usually the buildings were rather old ones from around the early 1900s – often still baring the scars of the second World War after being neglected during 40 years of socialism in East Germany. Following the fall of the wall in 1989 and un-certain ownership issues many inhabitable place were standing empty and eventually taken over by clever free-minded people who didn’t like the idea of wasted housing spaces and paying rent.
Unfortunately due to Berlin being turned into Germany’s capital, tourist and business centre a rigid clean-up and property sales regime led by the government was introduced. And hence those breeding grounds for Berlin’s famous anarchy, punk and art movement have slowly been erased from the map during the last years.
When walking around the building in Stainsby Road I saw colourful signs of creative freedom with graffitis, funny signs and notes and sofas on the open roof. I met George an artist who moved into the place a couple of months ago to paint. I met Gara – a really friendly Hare Krishna guy who practises his drum for 14 hours every day sitting in a little dark corner underneath the rooftop.
But at the same time I saw indicators for everyone’s fear of losing this freedom. Every door is marked by the inhabitants with copies of legal papers warning everyone that an attempt of trying to remove the people would be a criminal act.
It will be interesting for how long this resistance in Stainsby Road will be able to fight off the developers. Maybe the current recession will give them a little breathing time but I am sure that – like in Berlin – they won’t stand a chance against the pressure and power of the money.