Saturday, December 20, 2008

Spuistraat Squats

Through a lucky series of events, we had a cup of tea on Spuistraat in one of the last remaining squats in Amsterdam. From the early 70's until the mid 2000´s, Amsterdam had a loud and vibrant culture of occupation. A liberal interpretation of property rights and an unusually open period of police communication resulted in a code of laws that benefited the young people who entered and repaired abandoned buildings.

In recent years however, a series of lawsuits and standoffs with the authorities had caused a decline in the number of squatted houses, until finally just this one block of apartments remained. Like the other squats on Spuistraat, the building we visited had been vacant for some 20 years before being occupied. The three-story home had been completely cleaned up, pigeons and rats were removed, timbers replaced, brickwork patched, and the house was painted inside and out by artists from around the world.

Sjoerd, the bouncer/squatter/graffiti artist who explained all of this to us hinted that he knew of a few more sites scattered around the city, but they had all adopted a low profile in the hopes that it would keep them alive a little longer.

Sjoerd was proud of what he and a few dozen colleagues had accomplished, but was philosophical about the general nature of squats. "All housing is temporary." he said, "You may sign some kind of contract, but no one keeps a home forever. Squatters just get more aggressive notice when it's time to move on."

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