Interview with Ivo Schmetz
Can you tell us a bit about EHBK and the origins of OT301?
We are a group of artists that came together 12 years ago in another squat - two wings of the OLVG hospital that we lived and worked in for about 1,5 years. After the eviction we squatted the old film academy and the OT301 / Vereniging EHBK was formed.
The OT301 was a squat for quite a few years before we signed a contract and became a broedplaats. A few years later we bought the building so now we, the Vereniging, own it.
During all those years we have worked as a group to offer affordable work / living space to artists as well as a stage / gallery / building for experimental music, dance, theatre, film, art, workshops and performances.
How many squats and squatters are in Amsterdam / the Netherlands?
Hard to say... There are still quite a few groups of squatters but as we all know the government banned squatting. It gets harder and harder in a money-driven economy / society to create free space.
Which are the most famous squatted venues in Amsterdam (previously or current)?
We should mention De Silo, Vrieshuis, Kalenderpanden and OLVG among others. Now, I would say ADM, Schijnheilig, Villa Friekens and Societeit de Sauna (which unfortunately burned down).
Are you still involved with the squatting community in Amsterdam? Do you attend kraakspreekuur meetings?
I talk and try to help many people but I am not that involved in the squatting world anymore - I am very busy with the OT301 at the moment.
How does the community react to the Anti-squatting (Anti-kraak) company and the Squatting Ban?
It is one of these things that is decided by people who take decisions based on economic factors. They speak about free Amsterdam and the importance of culture and creativity but they don’t realise that these need to be fed by new initiatives, ideas, artists and experimentation.
If you chase down subculture, it will be hard for culture to develop so it will only be a matter of time before the city becomes boring and conservative - I want to see Amsterdam as an old, wise man with a young heart but I’m afraid it will look like an old, grumpy man who thinks only about money and short-term solutions.
It’s a shame that a city like Amsterdam doesn’t see the value of good, creative, inspired squatting.
Will the Squatting Ban affect Broedplaats Amsterdam?
No, I don't think so. Broedplaatsen beleid is initiated by the city and is an alternative to squatting.
However, squatters find a building and create an organisation. It’s an initiative by creative people whereas a Broedplaats is a building filled with creative people that don’t care about the building, because they just rent a space. So, they are not organised in the same way squats are and thus, can’t replace them. I believe the city needs both.
How has squatting transformed the identity / culture of Amsterdam?
Hard to say because I don't know how it would have been without the squats.
For many people squatting means nothing. In fact, some see squatters as lazy people that don’t want to pay but that is like saying that all Moroccans are trouble makers. Easy to say but to a great extent unjustified.
It is important to realise that there are different groups of squatters:
› The politically oriented
Old-school squatters who are against leaving buildings empty, capitalists and yuppies in general.
› The creative / artistic
Artists who need a place to work, organise alternative events and develop new things.
› The tourists
They come from other countries and stay because squatting is “easy.” Usually these are the ones who don’t care about anything and gave squatters a bad name. I am not implying that all of them are behaving like this but I have seen quite a few.
In general, squatters have (at least partly) shaped Amsterdam and the Netherlands into what they are today. They gave space to numerous artists, musicians and free thinking people, attracted foreigners and organised great events.
Most people do not know or realise that the squatting community is responsible for great things / initiatives including Paradiso, Melkweg, broedplaatsenbeleid, antisquating, Robodock festival, Ruigoord and all those bands and DJs that started playing in squats because they weren't good enough for big clubs and venues.
How has squatting transformed the housing sector (economy) in Amsterdam / the Netherlands?
House owners are alert; now, they know that leaving buildings empty and waiting for their value to go up is not an option. Also, anti-squat organisations were formed, the famous Broedplaatsen beleid and many more..
Are there other squats in Europe?
There are squats all over Europe but is has been more difficult in other countries to squat buildings. Holland has always been quite flexible and tolerant - too bad we are losing this mentality.. Sometimes I feel like we are going backwards instead of forward.
Are squats a form of subculture?
I believe squats are where subcultures grow.
How "socially acceptable" is to live in a squat?
Some might think you are a lazy, dirty parasite, others don’t care as long as it doesn't affect their own lives, while others like squatters because they have been doing it themselves or know people that do it.
Personally, I think squatting is not for everyone. You need to be adventurous, creative, strong.. You should not care about what people think of you and above all, you have to be able to live without much luxury. Think about water for example; you (and the vast majority of people) take it for granted but this is not always the case when you live in a squat.
For me it was very important to be squatter and it has shaped my personality in many different ways.