Berlin’s oldest squatters takea stand for their social club

Updated 04 August 2012
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Berlin’s oldest squatters takea stand for their social club

SOME of Berlin’s most senior squatters are nearly a century old, but age is not stopping the scrappy bunch from fighting impending eviction from their cherished social club.
The cash-strapped authorities in the former communist eastern district of Pankow have said they need to cut around five million euros ($6 million) from their budget and plan to close public facilities to do so.
Among the sites hit is a villa on Stille Strasse, the home of despised Stasi secret police chief Erich Mielke in the 1950s and now a beloved gathering place for some 300 pensioners to play chess, learn English, dance and socialize.
The stately old place is surrounded by mature trees and, most recently, draped with banners reading “Hands off!” and “This house is occupied”.
“We always told them we were prepared to occupy the building for the cause. The politicians didn’t believe us,” club president Doris Syrbe, 72, told AFP.
The Pankow administrators say it would cost 2.5 million euros to renovate the site, which has been used as a clubhouse for nearly 15 years. Maintenance costs reach 60,000 euros annually.
The district now aims to sell it out from under the grey-haired patrons on Berlin’s buoyant real estate market. But the senior citizens say they will not take the city’s announcement lying down and since early July have hung out the banners and taken turns occupying the gracious old mansion all day and night to ensure no one locks them out.
“The house was to be closed for the summer and we were afraid of not being able to return after the holidays,” Syrbe said. Although Pankow has offered alternative meeting places, the pensioners are having none of it, saying the other options fail to offer the facilities needed for them to continue their fitness classes, for example, or to accommodate all the current members. “We were ready to move but somewhere in the neighborhood, and everybody together,” Syrbe said.
“We refuse to be split apart,” added the retired telecommunications engineer. They have also taken their campaign online to the social mobilization site Change.org and collected more than 4,900 signatures.
The seniors aim to hand a petition with 10,000 names to officials in the district administration at a council meeting later this month.
A 29-year-old representative from US-based Change.org said she wants to get the elderly activists to deploy Twitter as well and was checking to see if their mobile phones were equipped to use the microblogging site.
Officials have meanwhile cut off service to the landline telephone at the centre.
“You can’t make a claim to a telephone paid for by the district in an illegally squatted house,” town councilor Lioba Zuern-Kasztantowicz told local media, citing the acute need for budget cuts to justify clearing the space.
House-squatting has a long tradition in Berlin. During the Cold War, young activists in the West of the city demonstrated their disgust about property speculation by taking over buildings.
When the Berlin Wall fell, the practice spread into the eastern districts.
The average age of the rebels on Stille Strasse is about 70, however, with some well into their 90s. They say they are entitled to a peaceful, publicly financed place to paint, play cards and sing in a choir.
“We’re not ready for hospice care,” said a defiant Syrbe.
The group has taken inspiration from the international Occupy movements, and maintains a well-oiled media operation, neat camping beds in the rooms of the house and impeccable cleanliness.
The neighbours have been largely supportive, coming by with an encouraging word or a freshly baked cake to keep up morale. Many of the seniors say they have been touched by such signs of solidarity, particularly from young people.
Sven Schwabe, 26, who studies social movements at the University of Duesseldorf in western Germany, raced across the country when he heard about the Pankow project.

 


R&B star Alicia Keys to host 2019 Grammy Awards

Updated 23 min 21 sec ago
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R&B star Alicia Keys to host 2019 Grammy Awards

  • Alicia Keys will replace James Corden, British-late night comedian, who hosted two years in a row
  • Numerous female performers are contending for the awards this year

LOS ANGELES: American singer and songwriter Alicia Keys will host the Grammy Awards next month, she announced Tuesday, one year after the gala came under fire over diversity concerns.
Keys -- herself a 15-time Grammy winner -- will be the emcee for music's biggest night, which this year features a diverse slate of women and hip hop artists as leading contenders.
"I know what it feels like to be on that stage, and I know what it feels like to be proud of the work that you've put in and to be recognized for it," Keys said in a video posted on social media.
"I feel like it's the perfect opportunity for me to give the light back and lift people up -- especially all the young women that are nominated," she added.
"To me, it feels like sister vibes."
Keys replaces James Corden, the British-late night comedian who has hosted the awards the past two years.
Since releasing her blockbuster album "Songs in A Minor" in 2001, classically trained pianist Keys has sold more than 30 million records and become a successful film, television and Broadway producer.
Her appointment as Grammy host comes after the Recording Academy -- which organizes the event -- faced backlash that the show is consistently too male and too white.
Academy head Neil Portnow said in May he would step aside when his contract expires later this year, after he triggered outrage after saying women artists should "step up."
"A dynamic artist with the rare combination of groundbreaking talent and passion for her craft, Alicia Keys is the perfect choice as host for our show," Portnow said in a statement.
Rap superstar Kendrick Lamar is leading the Grammy pack with eight nominations, propelled mostly by his work on the "Black Panther" soundtrack.
Women performers also boast a heavy presence in top categories after being largely snubbed a year ago.
Rapper Cardi B, pop diva Lady Gaga and folk-rock singer Brandi Carlile all nabbed key nominations for the show, which will take place on February 10 in Los Angeles.