Daniel Richter Leads Massive Artist Protest in Hamburg

Daniel Richter Leads Massive Artist Protest in Hamburg
This past weekend, almost 200 artists, under the leadership of prominent German artist Daniel Richter, occupied a dozen long-empty, deteriorating buildings in Hamburg's historic Gängeviertel district that have been marked for demolition, setting up artist studios and galleries.

The protest, covered widely in the German press, was meant to call attention to the lack of subsidized workspaces for artists in Hamburg and also to fight against the impending destruction of the Gängeviertel (which loosely translates to "alley quarter"), 80 percent of which is set to be torn down to make way for new office and living spaces.

Last week organizers invited local artists to take part on a Web site established to announce and cover the action, saying, "This weekend ... more than 200 artists, creatives, eccentrics, and crazy people will conquer the Gängeviertel with their paintings, actions, and music. ... Come to the alleys and be part of the last great adventure in Hamburg. We will demand that the city save this quarter from finance insanity and preserve real quality of life here."

Richter himself publicly criticized the Hamburg government's cultural policies, according to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, particularly its support of such "mass entertainment" as Harley-Davidson and cherry blossom festivals, saying, "That's the same old tasteless type of consumption and mass entertainment, and it's not cultural policy." He also criticized the government's purchase of a private ship collection that's to be made into a museum, saying that if the government can spend €20 million on that, it should also support actual artists.

According to the Hamburger Abendblatt, Richter also said the reason so many local artists go to Berlin is not necessarily because they prefer the capital to Hamburg; instead, they're seeking affordable spaces in which to work.

Hamburg Culture Senator Karin von Welck responded that Richter, who splits his time between the two cities, spends so much time in Berlin that perhaps he doesn't know what's actually going on in Hamburg, and invited him to speak with her personally about the matter, the Abendblatt reported.

But the government has responded positively nevertheless, stepping forward to help out the artists, if not the buildings. Culture Senator Karin von Welck has offered to provide 30 rooms for the artists by the end of the month, and told a German radio program that a private sponsor has come forward to fund studio space as well.

The fate of the Gängeviertel seems sealed, however. Up until about 1900, the district was the most densely packed part of the city, mostly made up of harbor and contract workers. But in response to decay and high crime rates, the city began to tear down the area around the turn of the century.

"Once again, a piece of old Hamburg is rotting before our eyes," two preservationist organizations said in a statement. "Once again we lack the courage to fight against the decay of a district that's among the most important architectural landmarks of our city."