Freedom News

Germany: Fighting for the Autonomous Youth Centre

It’s 50 years since the energy of the post-’66 student rebels, which sparked a wave of squatted autonomous social centres across West Germany, reached Wuppertal. The most well-established of the centres that followed, Wuppertal Autonomous Centre (known as the AZ), has existed on Gathe Street for 23 years, but is now in a fight for its life as a far-right Turkish nationalist mosque group allies with a gentrifying city council to force them, alongside many others, out of the neighbourhood. In the below feature, first written for anarchist paper Tacheles, the collective talk a bit about their history and the battle at hand.

In 1973, the radical youth center movement that had swept through Germany spilled over to the industrial city of Wuppertal. Participants from the time recall that an important motivator to open their own spaces was an event by Berlin Rauch Haus squatters. Rock band The Shards were also staying in Wuppertal at the time, and after a concert in Schusterplatz, the city opera house was occupied to emphasize the demand for self-governing youth centers.

On May 19th 1973 the initiative for a self-governing youth center called ISJ was begun and four months later on September 17th over 100 young people occupied an old villa in Zooviertel to demand one – it was the first squat in Wuppertal since the end of the second world war. Even though police quickly cleared the old villa and took the squatters to court for “trespassing” the demand for a self-governing center could no longer be stopped – until recently.

Other initiatives, such as Haus e.V. in Langerfelder Strasse and in Spitzenstrasse, emerged in the years that followed. Over the last 50 years there have been countless struggles for self-governing and autonomous centers, including occupations in the Adlerbrauerei, Reichsstraße and Hedwigstraße, the pub in the Taubenschlag, the Autonomous Centre (AZ) in Uellendahler Strasse, and the occupied Munofabrik on Hochstrasse. Then in 1990 the AZ on Wiesenstrasse followed – and finally in 2000 the AZ moved to the corner of Markomannenstrasse and Gathe streets, where the Wuppertal Autonomous Centre is still located today.

But self-governing structures and centres continue to be in danger of being flattened by the city, state and capital in 2023. Even if the autonomous center is an integral part of Wuppertal’s political and social life, it is threatened with being pushed out of Gathe to make way for a gigantic Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) project. The 6,000 square-meter area would feature a DITIB-run mosque, retirement home and kindergarten.

Although the application was rejected twice by Elberfeld district council by a large majority, the city council voted in favor on March 6th this year and thus in favor of the demolition of the autonomous center.

Erdogan’s Outreach Program

DITIB, an arm of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), is relatively notorious for its links to the regime of far-right Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from which many people in Turkey and northern Syria suffer greatly.

The umbrella organization, which runs more than 900 Turkish-Islamic mosque communities in Germany, shares a president with Diyanet, and the religious attaché of the Turkish embassy and the staff of the consulates have a say in DITIB communities. In addition, Diyanet controls the training of DITIB imams, and while The Directorate of Religious Affairs is subject to government financial oversight its Foundation is exempt from this scrutiny. Mosques abroad and a large part of the youth work of the directorate are handled by this very foundation.

In Turkey Diyanet has more employees than the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and since 2010 the agency has expanded its influence beyond religious institutions. In particular, children, youth and family work are increasingly in its aegis. Accordingly, it is not surprising that similar initiatives can also be observed in Germany. In Essen, for example there were attempts to install a youth welfare agency, and DITIB is also talking about taking on “cross-generational responsibility” on the street.

A few years ago, due to numerous scandals, it became controversial to implement large construction projects with DITIB, but this attitude no longer seems to be up-to-date, at least in Wuppertal. But which of the allegations made against it has DITIB, in particular DITIB Wuppertal, been able to credibly dispel?

Enabling the far-right

Locally there has been no shying away from joining forces with fascist Turkish paramilitary organisation the Gray Wolves, and DITIB has held several joint demonstrations with the Gray Wolves in the past. At the beginning of the year, DITIB Wuppertal invited historian Mehmet Işık, who relativises the genocide of the Armenians and justifies war crimes by Ottoman troops.

[Ed’s note: The Gray Wolves is one of the largest active far-right paramilitary organisations in Germany, and has been linked to repression of both Erdogan oppositionists and pro-Kurdish groups across the country. Isik is a controversial imam who described Ottoman-era secret police force Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa as a “standard-bearer of law” fighting against the “Vatican”, “Zionists”, “Crypto-Armenians” and “other enemies and traitors … within the framework of the “Thousand Years War between Crescent and Cross.”]

In the press, the city of Wuppertal and its representatives repeatedly emphasise and praise their dialogue and cooperation with the Wuppertal DITIB community. However, the public remains in the dark about the content of this lively exchange.

It is clear that not all who visit the mosque at the Gathe are supporters of Erdogan or share his visions. However, the major project that the Wuppertal management of DITIB is aiming for at the Gathe speaks its language clearly.

Alliance of convenience

The city of Wuppertal meanwhile hopes that the DITIB project will result in an “upgrading” of the Gathe, raising rents and pushing the associated crowding out of more than just the autonomous center.

With the city council’s decision, a fight is resumed that seemed to have been settled for a long time. The struggle to have an autonomous center in Wuppertal. The city has now canceled this apparent peace! With the city council’s decision against the AZ, it is clear what has been hinted at for a long time – the city wants to have the AZ on the Gathe torn down; without even having made a real offer for an alternative building. So far there hasn’t been more than half-baked lip service.

But there will not be a day without an autonomous center in Wuppertal. The fight against the DITIB project at the Gathe is far from over. On different levels and with different perspectives the fight is continuing.

For maintaining the AZ at the Gathe and for a Gathe for everyone.

AZ stays at the Gathe!

We cordially invite you to fight this battle with us, because there may still be a chance to save the AZ at the Gathe. Let’s join our struggles and take them to the streets together.”

~ Autonomous Center Wuppertal

This is an edited and expanded machine translation of a piece in the most recent issue of Tacheles. Any issues let us know!

Pics: Fight-dance weekend for the AZ, from

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