The Sinking Squat

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Eighty people dressed up in Halloween costumes squatted the Hunzerheem building in Groningen three years ago. They were not planning to live in there, but the squat is still alive. Now it is about to give its last breath.

Text of The Sinking Squat

  • The SINKING

    SqUAT

  • We entered the Hunzerheem building from both sides on the squatters nationwide day of action three years ago. We occupied the building because we wanted to show people that the anti-squat law was not working, says Marinus who was one of the original squatters.

    Three years ago the Dutch government came up with the anti-squat law. Since then squatting has been illegal in the Netherlands and it has given rise to an anti-squatting industry, with firms renting out buildings at much reduced monthly rates to stave off unwanted tenants.

    At that time only seven anti-squatters were living on the ground floor of Hunzerheem build-ing, but there were altogether 200 rooms in there. This was an example that the anti-squat law was inefficient because so many rooms were empty. It was time for some action.

    We were not looking for any drama but it ended up the other way. One girl who was liv-ing in the anti-squat saw the people dressed up in creepy Halloween costumes entering the building. She started to cry and called the police.

    The police was used to squatting at that time.

    They checked whether the place was indeed lived in by the squatters. In legal terms, this meant there must be a bed, a chair, a table and a working lock on the door which the squatter can open and close. Another thing was that the building had to be empty for more than a year so it could be squatted.

    Everything turned out to be fine because the squatters had all the necessary things with them and the Hunzerheem building had been empty for more than four years. After twenty minutes the police was gone and the drama was over. The squatters started to discover the place.

    It took us two or three hours until we got to the rooftop. At that moment we realized that we had actually conquered the massive building. But we were not expecting to live in there, he says.

    The squatters thought that the building was just too big and the police would kick them out after two weeks.

    But we are still here. I have lived in the Hunzerheem building for three years now, Marinus says.

    The SINKING

    SqUATEighty people dressed up in Halloween costumes squatted the Hunzerheem building in Groningen three years ago. They were not planning to live in there, but the squat is still alive. Now it is about to give its last breath.

  • Mark Bennett has lived in the squat for more than two years

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    Hunzerheem is located nearby the Groningen Noord station, in Populi-erenlaan. It really is a huge building, one of the biggest in that area. From distance it doesnt look like a squat house but the signs on the windows that refer to squatting and anarchism tell that the building is a not a retirement home for old people anymore.

    If you want to get in you need to ring the bell and somebody may come downstairs and open the door for you. Or you can wait until one of the tenants goes in and ask whether you can join them.

    The anti-squatters are living on the ground floor and the squatters on the top floors. The dust-smelling stairway goes up to the ninth floor.

    There are rooms on every floor and all of them are exactly the same size expect on the first and ninth floor. We use the first floor as a space for workshops, for example repairing bikes says Mark Bennett, who has lived in the building for two and a half years.

    Acccording to Marinus, the squat is a mixture of people and the average age of the tenants is around mid twenties. Everybody who lives in the squat is involved in some project that helps the community.

    We are looking for people who think that squatting is a good thing and they are willing to give something back to the community. Not only for the people inside but outside as well. The other thing is that you are some kind of a reasonable person. We dont want junkies here, he tells.

    Hunzerheem used to be home for 45 peo-ple but now there are 25 to 30 people living in there. Many squatters have started to move away and look for other places to live because they are going to get evicted on February. Last time the eviction date was set on November, but they received a letter saying that they got more time.

    It was a nice surprise, I think nobody was expecting for that to happen. Now people have more time to look for a new place and we can

    A corridor that leads to give-away shop in the squat Policemen are not welcomed warmly in the ACAB bar

    The water tanks in the kitchen Anarchist library has a lot of zines and books

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    still have the restaurant, bar and dj studio here. It is quite unique to have so many things in one place. This is like a younger version of the Oude RoomsKatholieke Ziekenhuis in Gronin-gen which is now declared a legal squat. Most of the initiatives here work very well, especially the Kale Kip restaurant which is the selling point, Bennett says.

    Trees drop their shadow to the second floor rooftop where a lazy house cat is taking a nap. During heavy rainfall the rooftop is flooding, so the squatters be-came with an idea to collect water from there. It is quite important because there is no running water in Hunzerheem building.

    The layer of stones and a small drain on the rooftop filters the water that falls down to seven thousand liter tanks which are standing in the kitchen.

    When it rains hard the water that comes down to the tanks is clear. You can use it for showering or flushing the toilet. But of course it

    is not drinkable so we have to buy the drinking water, Bennett says.

    The creativity when it comes to collecting water doesnt stop there. They have also built a system for pumping the water out from the nearby pond.

    The problem is that the system keeps breaking almost everyday. It is a real labour of love, Bennett continues.

    Organizing the basic needs for living certain-ly needs some thinking in an illegal squat but at least they have a steady supply of electricity in Hunzerheem.

    The funny thing is that no-one has ever paid a bill during our stay here. We have actually asked the owner of the building if we can pay for electricity, but to be honest, we are happy with this situation.

    The central heating of the building is not working so most of the tenants use electric heaters in their rooms. A stove, which is heated with construction waste wood, warms up the Kale Kip restaurant on Sundays.

    The Kale Kip restaurant menu An empty room in the seventh floor

    DJ Tauchyon spinning records in the DJ studio Mark Bennet has lived in the squat for more than 2 years

  • Sunday evening is usually the busiest time in the squat. A lot of people who dont live in Hunzerheem come to en-joy the food that is served in the Kale Kip restaurant. Like everywhere in Groningen, you are most likely to see German psychology students there.

    The restaurant might be the only one in Gro-ningen that serves strictly vegan food. It means that no animal products are being used when the food is cooked. There is no regular staff in the kitchen: the food is always prepared by volunteers.

    The Hunzerheem squat is a communal cen-tre. We want to share things with people. The Restaurant takes care of itself but sometimes it is hard to find people to volunteer to cook and work but it always seems to work out. Anybody can volunteer in the restaurant, Bennett tells.

    The volunteers keep themselves busy in the kitchen. The carrot soup ends up to be spicey when red chillis are added to it. Jonathan is mixing a large pan full of rice and vegetables with a spoon that is almost the size of his head. Grienmeel pudding is served for dessert. The

    whole three dish dinner costs only four Euros.The restaurant is not about making profit.

    Extra money goes back into the building. For example we buy new cooking equipment for the kitchen, Bennett says.

    Volunteers serve the food to the tables, drinks are sold on the bar and candles give the dinig room a cozy atmospehere. After finishing the meal everybody washes their own dishes. A sign next to sink says: in anarchism we all share dishwashing.

    We try to have a proper anarchy here. The are no leaders, authorities or bosses in the squat. Marinus says.

    But it doesnt mean that everybody who lives in the squat are anarchists. For example, I dont consider myself an anarchist, Bennett adds.

    On Wednesdays the ACAB bar, which is on the third floor of the building, comes alive. The walls are painted on red and black and there are ropes hanging from the ceiling. Big dogs lay on the floor. The bartender is rolling a joint.

  • The decoration of the bar gives a hint of the political context of the squat. It says Groningen tegen nazis on the wall which means Gronin-gen against nazis. There are paintings on the walls that can be described as anti-facist and anti-capitalistic. The Babylon system is falling down in the apocalyptic pictures.

    The ball is bouncing wildly on the table foot-ball game that stands on the corner of the bar. The miniature players have St. Pauli shirts on, which is a Hamburg based football team known for their anti-facist and anti-racist supporters.

    The air is thick with bass. DJ Roofless and DJ Tauchyon, who are part of the local Beats and Breaks soundsystem, are mixing hard electroni-cal music in the dj studio which is in a room next to the bar. The mix show is broadcasted live on Nautica internet radio every Wednesday.

    There used to be a movie theatre in the squat as well but one of the tenants, Jan, says that it is pretty much dead now.

    We used to show films here, but people are not interested in having movie nights here anymore. Many people are moving away from the squat now and that explains why the cultural events in the squat have became quieter, he says.

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