Cologne: SPD and Pro-Köln polarize against Autonomes Zentrum (AZ)

Autonomes Zentrum Köln

Cologne’s local politic posse is seeking again the conflict with Autonomes Zentrum. After the prevented eviction in April this year, the squat gained a legal use contract for an indefinite period of time with the owner, the Sparkasse Köln-Bonn (a savings bank). Since then, the former canteen located in the KHD industrial complex in Köln Kalk, has been used legally.

In its last meeting, the district council then virtually determined the demolition of the building by submitting an urgent application whose flimsy and only argument is the “desperate need” of the neighbourhood for a further park (Grünfläche) with adjacent parking lot, for recreational purposes and the improvement of living quality, in place of the autonomous cultural centre. The urban planning for the whole area and the street where the squat is located in particular, is supposed to be discussed in an open citizens council in December. Just that only that version without AZ is going to be presented and discussed, the other alternative including the AZ is not going to be considered. This citizens council shall therefore just legitimize the eviction and demolition of the building. Its outcome is already determined.

Meanwhile, district major Markus Thiele (SPD) is stirring up resentments against the squat. Immediately after the prevented eviction in April, he initiated a citizen council where residents has been invited to issue complains against the AZ and the situation produced by the attempted eviction, that lasted for four days. Gutter press adopted those complaints in their coverage and delivered straight arguments for the right-wing demagogues of ProKöln. ProKöln is now mobilizing for a demonstration on the 19th of November, against the AZ and against “left-wing extremists and criminal foreigners in Kalk”.

The pain of legalisation

It has been silent around the AZ Köln during the last months. After the prevented eviction in April, AZ activists signed a use contract with the owner of the squatted and formerly abandoned building. The squat has been defended for 4 days with massive support and manifold resistance and finally the owner, Savor, a subsidiary company of Sparkasse Köln-Bonn, agreed to sign a preliminary contract for rent-free and indefinite usage.

The final contract agreements have been delayed until end of August. During that time, necessary fire and security requirements have been fulfilled, water pipes have been reconnected, the roof has been partly fixed, the concert rooms have been isolated, free-shop and free-library have been reopened, as well as the cinema, ateliers, rehearsal rooms or a bike kitchen, while other construction sites in and around the building are still work-in-progress. In addition, several inspections of TÜV and safety engineers took place, as well as a structural analysis of the building. The results further emphasized the general safety in and of the building for continuing usage. The final use contract has then be signed on August the 25th, 2011. In principle this contract is indefinite but can be cancelled on selling of the building. A three month period of notice will come into effect then.

Selling of the building probably in November

An exact date of selling has not been clear during contract negotiations. This is changing rapidly at the moment. Cologne’s local newspaper Kölner Stadtanzeiger announced that a comprehensive proposal for buying real estate properties and shares of Sparkasse Köln/Bonn is going to be presented to the city council [1]. This proposal has a volume of 172 million Euro and is probably going to be agreed upon at the council meeting on the 24th of November this year. The city as new owner could then either adopt the current contract with the AZ or cancel it. The latter case would again rise an eviction threat through the police, issued by local politics.

SPD and CDU want the enforce the demolition

The AZ strived for a dialog with all relevant political parties and invited them for discussions in September. There, the SPD (social democrats) representative didn’t show any willingness to enter into dialogue at all. Instead, SPD and CDU (Christian democrats) produced a conjoint application that demands the demolition of the canteen. They issued their application one day prior the last district meeting. In a sense this is noteworthy because a political coalition in Kalk exists mainly between SPD and the Green party and not between conservative Christian democrats and “left” social democrats.

Meanwhile, the cities administration issued an initial urban planning proposal for the area around the AZ including two suggestions: one with AZ surrounded by a park and one without the AZ but a slightly bigger park and additional parking lots [2]. Those proposals were supposed to be discussed at the citizens council on the 7th of December 2011. With the successful application of SPD and CDU, the first proposal is not going to be considered and the survival of the canteen “is not going to be pursued further”. The citizens council will now just discuss the demolition of the building.

SPD walks on eggshels and the thin red line of major Rothers

Similar flashbacks lead back into 2010 and earlier this year. In 2010, Cologne’s major Jürgen Rothers and his party (SPD) neglected discussion due to the illegality of the AZ occupation [3], while in March 2011, during the last eviction attempt, SPD head dos Santos argued that the squatters allegedly had not been willing to consider a legal frame for the AZ [4]. Since a legal status has been gained as an outcome of the prevented eviction, district major Markus Thiele (SPD) claims now that an extension of a nearby school can only be conducted without the AZ. Since it is clear that the school’s extension is not conflicting with the squat at all, a new demand for additional green areas in the neighbourhood supposedly requires the demolition of the AZ. The political posse is therefore ignoring the existing proposal that includes the AZ and better argues with citizens interest for more green areas and repeatedly highlights existing conflicts between residents of the immediate neighbourhood and the AZ. To play safe, the political posse better does not give the people of Kalk the choice.

While in April district major Thiele told the Stadtanzeiger: “We have to learn from Stuttgart 21 and need to include the citizens in the early stages of planing” [6], it is now obvious that SPD and CDU plan to perform an alibi citizens council in order to fool everyone with pseudo participation. If this would not be enough, SPD is trying to sell the citizens council as a generous offer for discussion to the AZ. It remains unclear what there is to discuss, as well as it remains shady what colognes major Rothers meant when he claimed lastly: “the thin red line for discussion is still not dropped” [7]. Where there has not been any willingness for discussion nothing can be dropped, one could think.

Riots at the district council

SPD appears surprised and indignant about the “unacceptable disturbance of AZ activists” [8] during the last public district council meeting. They seemed to think that they could silently decide about the demolition of the building. That such a single sided initiative on part of politics did not remain uncommented had been clear, at least to the media that appeared in numbers – including a photographer of RTL who could take photos and recordings all the time while AZ activists had been accused of offending the prohibition of taking photos and recordings during public meetings.

On that day, the district council meeting was packed with more then 60 supporters. Initially, district major Thiele ignored the attended activist in the first place and extensively shared birthday congratulations with his colleagues before he amusedly pretended to be surprised by the apparently large interest in local politics. While AZ supporters became more and more uneasy, Thiele proposed to pull the urban planning issue for the area around the squat up the agenda.

Speeches of SPD and CDU followed, swaggering about the importance of the school extension and the necessity of green areas in the neighbourhood but not even mentioning their demolition proposal. They reacted only after heated interjections and requests to comment on their proposal and to finish their show. More interruptions by “AZ stays” chants followed, accompanied by heavy crosstalk that finally led to a long interruption (about 45 minutes) of the meeting. Eventuelly, SPD and CDU decided for their proposal.

Media coverage concluded later that the “Autonomen” (the autonomous) are supposed to play according to “democratic rules” [9] [10]. What they meant is: shut up and accept when others do not consider necessary to talk to you and just decide over your head about the demolition of the building, where you put your heart, your energy and effort into for the last one and a half years. RTL took the biscuit in their coverage titled: “They accost, they rampage and they smear – a whole neighbourhood!”. Even though an interviewed police representative unexpectedly reported that there has been no accuses of annoyance or disturbance related to the AZ, the RTL commentator speculated in best media practice that residents probably resigned and therefore would not call the police any more [11]. An exemplar of objective media coverage and a straight argument for the right-wing demagogues of ProKöln.

ProKöln organizes a demonstration against “left terror”

Just a few days later, the self-appointed “citizens-movement” (Bürgerbewegung) issued a call for a “mass demonstration against the left-autonomous centre” through Kalk. Kalk is a pretended stronghold of ProKöln where only “left extremists and criminal foreigners make problems”. The racists of ProKöln are currently enforcing their efforts with a large banner on their website, a flyer with a petition for collection of signatures against the squat, supposedly distributed in Kalk in an edition of 10000 items. They mobilize against “left terror” in form of “graffiti, vandalism and petty crime”, whose origin must be the AZ. They even try to hype their demonstration as a NRW (North Rhein-Westphalia) and country wide demonstration against “left violence” and the “new RAF-terror”.

Apparently, ProKöln came to an agreement with Cologne’s police about the demo route: they want to pass the neighbourhoods main street, Kalker Hauptsr, then perform a small rally at Kalk Post and continue further to the route’s destination at Wiersbergstraße immediately in front of the AZ [12]. The police is currently denying at least the two rally locations. We are going to see who is carrying out disinformation politics.

In the meantime, the planning for counter activities have been started. Several alliances and neighbourhood initiatives announced their protest against the march of the racists. A broad alliance is mobilising against the demo with the slogan “Shut Down kalk”. More calls and information are going to be published soon. In any case, this day could be noted by every anti-racist, anti-fachist and any one who feels solidarity with the AZ and wants to express it.

What’s next?

What is next going to happen with the Az? Finally, is merely depends on the willingness of Cologne’s politicians to enter discussions in order to find a reasonable and peaceful solution or to enter into confrontation again. What is actually clear is that there is nothing to expect from politics at all. The users and supporters of AZ are certainly not leaving peacefully. Several activities for the preservation of the squat have been planned during a well attended general assembly at begin of October. More on this soon [14]. The fight for the AZ is now entering a new round.

Whatever they say, AZ Cologne will stay.
Squat the hearts of the cities.

[1] Kölner Stadtanzeiger, 10.10.2011: „Verhandlungen über Verkäufe“

[2] Official urban planning proposals for Wiersbergstraße in Köln-Kalk.

[3] City News, 1.7.2010: “Stadt Köln bezieht klare Position zur
Besetzung in Kalk“

[4] Kölner Stadtanzeiger, 29.3.2011: „Polizei kritisiert Räumungsabsicht“

[5] Express, 3.4.2011: „Der Frieden von Kalk“,2856,8288462.html

[6] Kölner Stadtanzeiger, 18.4.2011: „Deutliches „Ja“ zur Kalker Industrie“

[7] Pressemitteilung des AZ: AktivistInnen des Autonomes Zentrums
besuchen “Tag des Ehrenamtes”

[8] Statement of SPD Kalk about the urban planning for Kalk-Süd and the
district council meeting on the 29th of September 2011.

[9] Kölner Stadtanzeiger, 4.10.2011: „Kein Herz für Randale“

[10] Kölner Stadtanzeiger, 4.10.2011: „Autonome mischen Politiker auf“

[11] The RTL coverage is not available any more online.

[12] Citations and informations related to the “Demonstration against
the Left” have been taken off the website of ProKöln.

[13] Call: “Shut down Kalk” – „Kalk macht dicht“

[14] More information will be published on our media channels
az website: