Brugges and the Donkey Squat – not a love story (2)

Then the people´s kitchens, the bike workshops and arty gatherings had to stop. The fun seemed over in 2011 when the local authorities made the owner of the house take legal steps against the squatters.DSC_0142

“The Donkey” is still there, in Ezelstraat 68. It pays rent now and is officially an atelier. It even had to change its facade – the Hundertwasserpaintings had to make space for a neutral white to fit in its normalised environment in a shopping street.
The colours inside the house remained: when you walk through the cosy courtyard and go through till the end untill you reach a tunnel – like the one when Alice hunts the White Rabbit into Wonderland, but red.DSC_0116
It leads you to a massive abandoned building whose walls are literally all covered with paintings. You can walk through it like through an exhibition or take a seat in one of the abandoned rooms with human traces.DSC_0119

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Brugges and the Donkey Squat – not a love story (1)

DSC_0124It is very plausible to say that the city of Brugges in Belgium did not fall in love with its tiny squatters movement. Brugges is a city of ancient facades, tourism, chocolate, consumption, noble expensive restaurants and boat trips on canals. Different from Gent, where the squatters movement is thrillingly thriving, where empty buildings get frequently turned into well frequented bars and social centres – and stay for at least some months untill they reappropriate a new space, Brugges was not particularily blessed by this type of activity.
However, a few years ago the empty house in the Old City centre in Ezelstraat 68 surprisingly got transformed from inside and outside. Arty people moved in with their tools, their paint, their canvases, ideas and spray cans – and called themselves the Donkey Collective (Ezelstraat means Donkey street). The boring white facade of the house changed and got colours – Hundertwasser style. A transformation process also got hold of the inside of the house. Not only because it got filled with workshops, free shops and events but also because the house is in reality much bigger than it seems from the outside and offers a lot of space for extremely creative expression …DSC_0128

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L´Oukaze – a new autonomous space in Begles (2)

L´Oukaze is not only a space where those in lack of a safe home can find shelter and accessible resources to cover their primary needs in life but it is also a space of activities, music, workshops… it is a space where you can find sawing machines in the attic and where people organise demonstrations against gentrification.

Yet, the struggle for autonomous spaces seems easy and comfortable from inside the peaceful L´Oukaze. The washing is drying in the sunny garden and people are sat chatting around a big table under a tree. DSC_0029

The local authorities of the small municipality of Bègles are not used to the phenomenon of squatting. They are confused and surprised – which is a reason why L´ Oukaze is still there and is not facing violent eviction – unlike the squats in the city centre of the town of Calais in France, for example. Here their appearance in the city centre made the local press describe them with all available hostility as a spreading disease.

In Bègles the local authorities sent the squatters an amusing letter with a notice that “their property” is squatted. There is a massive difference between how squats on the outskirts and squats in the centres are treated and whether and how they face eviction and repression.

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L´Oukaze – a new autonomous space in Bègles (1)

Five people meet in and feel political affinity – and loads of energy. They open a new legal squat in Bègles, a suburb of Bordeaux … and are allowed to stay; even untill next spring as it seems now!
A utopian story of the birth of a new autonomous space. Let´s see what the Oukaze has become now, several months after it came to life in february.
The gate to the new squat which is in a massive beautiful old villa with a garden is closed. It is metal black, on the outside you see flyers and little pieces of street art – and inside you will see even more of it. There is a bell and you can shout as well. It´s easy to enter, someone will always open.
The entry to the magic villa is made acessible with a ramp, words of welcome are written on it. And inside you will see dark wooden floors, loads of stencils, pictures, decorations, banners – all put together it makes it feel like a very cosy art gallery, all ready for interaction with the oevre, all ready to be changed and cosy comfy seats inviting the spectator to stay and become part of it.
But this is just downstairs. Upstairs there is room to come and stay and rest and sleep as well. People who have no other home are welcome here. And they can just take one of the rooms and make it their home. “Many migrants were sleeping here in the past. The house was really full with people and it became a bit too much. So a few months ago we tried to regulate the flow of people a little bit to make it a safer space” says one of the squatters as he shows guests around. …

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Freedom Press – books, advice and more (2)

The bookshop is squeezed into a tiney alley – no eye cathcers, no advertising signs.
On the wall of the building: a massive portrait gallery of anarchist writers and thinkers.DSC_0056
The entrance has been relocated around the corner recently. In February the bookshop has been firebombed by fascists and a fire caused damage to the books. It took the volunteer staff of the bookshop only few days to re-open the shop, clean and sort out the books.
The London Coalition Against Poverty, the advice centre for squatters, the Solidarity Federation and Corporate Watch all have their offices in the same building and spin a tight network of solidarity to the bookshop…DSC_0061
The latter one has to move for the coming months to a small room up the narrow wooden stairs that now contains all the books having survided the fire – and its surprisingly quite a few!

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Freedom Press – books, advice and more (1)

Most probably the easiest way to access books about anarchist history, theory, worker´s struggles, … the latest anarichst pamphlets, Zapatista coffe and advice on squatting and prisoner´s support at once in London is to go to the Freedom Press bookshop.
How happy Peter Kropotkin would have been about the U.K.´s biggest anarchist bookstore is subject to historical speculation. Him and his friends founded Freedom Press of which the bookshop is an offspring way back in 1886. Since then the lifes of people involved in the bookshop and the publishing group have not ceased to be exciting:
Vernon Richards – arrested for publishing an article undermining “the affections of members of His Majesty’s Forces” in 1945, Colin Ward – who in his youth worked as a journalist reporting on the squatter´s movement, Charlotte Wilson – memeber of the think tank Fabian Society who resigned as a result of the debate about organising the group as a political party … and many, many other revolted political subjects. The Freedom Press bookshop was fire bombed by fascist several times in its history but still resists and exists in Angel Alley, London.

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Vegan Public Livingroom (2)

How to make the stickiest vegan chocolate cake? How to make a thick vegan crème fraiche? Vegan Tiramisu? No problem. The volunteers in the Pogo cafe cook and bake for life and taste.
Next to the counter there is a board with people´s names and free slots to take “shifts”. During a shift there is a chef cook, a main assistant and people who just chop fruit, tofu and veg … just because a non-hierarchical gastronomic system hasn´t been figured out yet. Work in progress.
The money made through selling vegan salads, soups, sandwiches, cakes and sweets is used solely for ingredients and paying the rent. The stated mission is to bring affordable vegan food to the people.
When the shift is over the volunteers hang out on the soft sofas in the cafe, read books from the shelfs of their tiny but meaty;-) bookshop, play games and cook food with things from the volunteer fridge which contains older and skipped food – vegan of course. Some stay over and sleep on the couch to wake up when the first shift starts and continue to make food. The transition from the vegan public livingroom to the vegan cafe and vice-versa is organic.DSC_0050

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