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Unauthorized demonstration against the eviction of the Koch area

A piece of autonomous Zurich makes room for affordable housing. The current residents don’t like that.

Hundreds of affordable apartments will be built on the Koch site in the coming years, here is a photo from 2013.

Dominic Steinmann / NZZ

The young woman with her face masked raises her fist in the air. “Whose houses?” she shouts into the crowd through the megaphone. “Our houses!” the masked people around them answer. They carry their messages through the city on banners. “Everything is occupied,” says one. “Not in the mood for eviction”, on another. Or simply: “Expropriate!”

The declaration of war is clear. Music rattled through the streets from the mobile loudspeakers. “We’re gonna let it burn,” sings out of the speakers.

Cheap apartments are not enough

Around 300 people from alternative left circles demonstrated in Zurich on Saturday afternoon for more freedom in the city. The unauthorized demonstration led from Lindenplatz in Altstetten via Albisriederplatz to Lochergut. Tram, bus and car traffic around the route was severely restricted for about two hours.

The background to the action was the impending eviction of the Koch area in Zurich-Altstetten. There, the city, together with cooperatives, wants to build 325 affordable apartments for 900 people. They should be ready for occupancy by 2026. In mid-February 2023, around one hundred squatters have to clear the area so that construction work can begin.

The demonstrators are fighting against this development. In a manifesto published online, they call for “effective measures against the housing crisis” in Zurich and the “expropriation and collectivization” of urban living space. More cheap apartments – like those that are to be built on the Koch site – are not enough for them. They are also critical of interim uses.

Rather, they demand that the city continue to tolerate autonomous spaces and squats. “We are not demanding the legalization of these spaces, but the recognition of their necessity,” says the manifesto. The clearing of the Koch area should not be the end of the autonomous squatter scene.

All against the yuppies

Several left-wing groups joined the demand to keep the Koch-Areal in its current form at the demo on Saturday. Accompanied by police forces, who were on the spot before the move began, the activists combined their concerns with all kinds of criticism of the system.

“In capitalism there is no room for freedom” is written on a flyer from the Zurich Revolutionary Youth. Entire neighborhoods would be cleaned up so that large companies and bigwigs in public spaces would not feel disturbed by young people. “We want places where we can move and develop without capitalist logic and state control.”

The revolutionary construction, also on site, recognizes in capitalism the cause of the housing crisis, the energy crisis, the climate crisis, the corona crisis “and many more”. Therefore, the group marched at the front line of the demonstration.

A common enemy of all groups can also be found quickly: the yuppies. They, the privileged high earners who flooded the cities in the course of gentrification. “Our streets, our quarters, away with the yuppies, away with the ‘goo’,” chanted the parade on the way to the city center.

A young man in sweatpants watching what is happening in front of a hairdresser’s window does not seem impressed. “Dude, they’re all yuppies themselves,” he says to his friends.

Three occupations in one month

The demonstration in Altstetten is the preliminary climax of a series of protests about the imminent end of the occupied Koch area. In the past month, around three houses in different parts of the city were occupied: the “Alte Post” in Seebach, a residential building in Altstetten and an office building in Wipkingen.

“Rich parents for everyone”: the occupied house in Wipkingen before the police operation on Tuesday.

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The latter is empty again after a police action last week. The squatters, who called themselves the “Family Fleck”, speak of an “eviction”. The police, on the other hand, speak of a “control action”. What is certain is that the “Family Fleck” left the house in time – and the police officers in full gear, to their own surprise, only found empty rooms.

All three squatter groups explicitly referred to the Koch evacuation as the trigger for their actions.

An actual PR campaign

At the head of the move, no one wanted to give the NZZ any further information on content-related questions. A young man who was handing out flyers made a friendly reference to the website. This has now become a central part of the scene’s communication strategy.

The occupations, the cat and mouse game with the police and Saturday’s demonstration were publicly staged by the squatters on their social media channels. In addition to Twitter, Instagram and Telegram accounts, there is also a dedicated website (only in operation since September), a dedicated slogan (“Everything is good for you”) and professionally designed flyers.

The call for the demonstration was also made with a carefully staged video: banners are painted on it to ominous music and posters are pasted in the dark. An advertising sticker specially designed for the campaign can also be seen briefly.

The goal of this PR campaign seems to be to make the autonomous squatter scene more visible again. So far, those involved have succeeded. The actions of the last few days and weeks have generated attention. Even those who don’t read a newspaper may have heard about the demo on Saturday because of the traffic restrictions.

The scene uses the stage to signal confidence. On Saturday evening, after the demonstration, her telegram channel said: “We will never let ourselves be expelled! Let’s stay and liven up this downtown! We take urban development into our own hands!»

However, such actions will hardly change anything about the long-planned evacuation of the Koch area. The project has broad political and public support. After all, there will soon be exactly what the squatters originally demanded: cheap apartments.


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