Thursday, January 7, 2010
EOTW - OTSWYL
OTSWYL stands for On The Street Where You Live, which I hope could be taken on as the new EOTW series (seeing as no-one's come up with a Q this week). When the 'Spill was quite young we had a 'Where I listen to my music' spot, but I would like to know about where you live in more general terms. I'm not expecting anyone to renounce their anonymity or reveal their postcode, but I'd be interested to know how we all live - whether in a chocolate box village, in a trendy part of town, as part of a nuclear family, in a commune, whatever...
As many of you know, I live with my 2 kids in a city in northern Germany. The place we live - see the piccy above - was originally a charitable foundation for widows of good standing who had fallen on hard times - this was back in the 1850s. It's also been used as an old people's home, it housed reconstruction workers after the war (the right wing was hit quite badly) and at some point in the 70s it was used for student flats, the university being just round the corner. A squat was organised when it was announced the buildings were to be torn down (so the university could get another car park!), and with the encouragement of local politicians the Mieterselbstverwaltung was born. That's a very long word which basically means we're an autonomous community: we decide who moves in here, we determine our own rent (has to cover costs, obviously, but no-one is allowed to make a commercial profit from it), we see to any building work that needs doing (restoring the roof on the right wing, for example) and are responsible for the upkeep of the buildings and grounds.
'We' are 70 people, plus partners and children (currently 12 children and 6 visiting grandchildren), a dozen different nationalities, jobs ranging from storyteller to senior doctor, from electrician to scrounger. We are home to a tango dancer, an accordeon player, a guy in a band whose entire repertoire consists of howling at the full moon. Our chapel is used by the Ethiopian and the Egyptian Copt communities - although it was until recently Greek Orthodox. We host the Glockenschlag Festival every May, and organise another, smaller festival in summer with emphasis on entertainment for the whole family (I'm in charge of the children's programme, which always involves a lot of noise, a lot of running about on our wilden Wiese or overgrown wilderness and a campfire toasting bread on sticks). We're a green oasis slap bang in the middle of town (there's a university high-rise right behind us), and you can walk through the park to the city centre shops in about 20 minutes (15 if your legs are long!) or meander the whole way down to St Pauli and the waterfront.
Sometimes I hate living here. The buildings are badly insulated, so we're currently freezing cold, and you hear a lot of noise from your neighbours - coughing, laughter, domestic disputes, the band Eisenvater working out their new songs in the flat next-door to mine (unless it's drowned out by the four lanes of traffic surrounding us, of course); also, everyone knows everyone else's business. Sometimes I long for a flat where the windows and doors shut properly, where there's a caretaker to call on if anything needs fixing, where I need do no more than casually nod to the people I pass on the stairs. But in summer it's great - the kids can play outside, and you can move from garden to garden, from coffee to beer and always have someone new to chat to. I am sure I would miss the sense of community if we ever had to leave here...
...Which, incidentally, is on the cards. I was hoping we could stay here until my kids finish school, but the university needs room to expand and would like to turn this complex into an IT centre by 2016. There's no official decision as yet, and we're fighting to be able to stay. I'll keep you posted!