Contested space : squatting in divided Berlin C. 1970 – C. 1990
Mitchell, Peter Angus
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This thesis examines the history of urban squatting in East and West Berlin from c. 1970 to c.1990. In doing so, it explores the relationship between urban space, opposition and conformity, mainstream and alternative cultures, as well as questions of identity and belonging in both halves of the formerly divided city. During Berlin’s history of division, illegal squatting was undertaken by a diverse range of actors from across the period’s political and Cold War divides. The practice emerged in both East and West Berlin during the early 1970s, continuing and intensifying during the following decade, before the traditions of squatting on both sides of the Berlin Wall converged in 1989-‐90, as the city’s – and Germany’s – physical division was overcome. Squatting, this thesis argues, provides an important yet little studied chapter in Berlin’s – and indeed Germany’s – post-‐war history. What is more, it provides an example of the ways in which, during the period of Cold War division, Berlin’s and Germany’s symbolic meaning was not only contested between East and West, but was, within the respective societies, also re-‐interpreted from below. Drawing on a broad range of archival sources, this thesis compares and contrasts the experience of squatters on both sides of the Berlin Wall, and the ways in which the respective polities responded to this phenomenon. Broadly similar paradigms of urban renewal, this thesis argues, account for not only parallels in the temporality but also the geography of squatting in East and West Berlin. In both Berlins, this thesis demonstrates, the history of squatting was interconnected with that of domestic opposition and political dissidence. Moreover, squatting contributed to the emergence of alternative urban lifestyles, which sustained comparable urban sub-‐cultures on both sides of the Cold War divide. Perhaps counter-‐intuitively, this thesis argues that, East Germany’s apparatus of control notwithstanding, the relationship between squatters and the authorities in the GDR was generally more consensual than it was between their counterparts in West Germany and West Berlin. The thesis not only points to the limits of the totalitarian model of interpretation when applied to late Socialist society in the GDR, but also questions the dominant historiographical trend of studying the two Germanys in isolation from one another. Taking its cue from a number of influential scholars, this thesis asserts the importance of incorporating the experiences of both East and West Germany into a narrative of the nation’s divided past. Through identifying and analysing the overarching variable of urban squatting, this thesis attempts to develops a perspective that regards the post-‐war history of East and West Germany as part of a wider whole.