European cities are tightly packed brick to brick with buildings. Some ancient blocks lean sideways as if centuries of wind have tried to blow them down. Amongst these countless shelters stand some that have been forgotten. Buildings made empty by better digs across town, economic collapse, civic redevelopment, nasty smells, boredom of that same old view, gone fishin’, etc. often lay empty for years, but have no fear, the squatters are here! Squatting communities are thrifty nomads who make the most out of discarded real estate. Their buildings are as diverse as the occupants: chapels, ornate fire stations, factories, schools, and office buildings. All are emblazoned with the squatter’s symbol, a circle with a lightning like arrow climbing diagonally up and bursting towards the sky. Often cities will allow squatters to stay for years if the structure is up to code and drugs aren’t flying out of the chimney. With room to breathe squats stretch into vibrant social havens hosting art happenings, freak out music shows, and co-op style “people’s kitchens.”
Last weekend some pals and I hopped in the car and zipped to Antwerp for the Scheld’apen Festival. This two-day celebration of celebrating was held at a squat that’s been jumping roadblocks to successfully survive for nearly a decade. The old, utilitarian building has become a fully operational music venue. All weekend it bumped with sweaty bands and experimental films. Outside, the gorgeous tree sheltered yard glimmered with smiling creative souls enjoying some fringe fun. A bbq blazed with satay while plates sagged under the weight of fresh salads. The hands down highlight of the festival was the Singing Tulip (http://www.tulip-die-singende-tulpe.de). A mushroom stood on the outdoor stage playing a lovely keyboard. The audience smiled. From the distance came the melancholy strains of a deep voice. The Singing Tulip strode slowly from behind the crowd and weaved his way to the microphone. Dressed in a blue, one-piece jumpsuit and crowned with a golden tulip he sang strange and captivating songs teetering on the cliff of romance and tumbling into the cavern of despair. ‘Twas a fine show for any flower.
These flickers are all mind you a hazy blur in my mind but I assure you it all happened. Someday I will sketch illustrations of this party from my tiny chamber atop the distant mountain. If you would like mimeograph copies of these drawings please send a self addressed stamped envelope to the future. So yup, squats rock steady. Next time you’re cruising down a European block and see a beautiful building spiced up with graffiti look for the squatter’s symbol and you might discover something far out.
(from summer 2005)