One of the creative spaces inside the Binz.
On Friday morning, Zurich authorities entered the Binz, Switzerland's most infamous squat, with the intention of ending its seven-year run by turfing out every living soul they could find inside. However, when they turned up at 111 Üetlibergstrasse, they were in for a surprise – instead of being met by a horde of Molotov-wielding anarchists, they discovered a fully barricaded, but completely deserted building. Where had all the squatters gone?
This was not meant to happen. The bourgeois papers who cater to the fears of all the old, fat, rich, boring people in Zurich – and believe me, there are shitloads of them – had predicted fire, riots, street war. Instead, they found a fully vacated premises, completely still and silent but for a dog and a single stereo blaring Swiss radio.
The Schoch Family – as the collective living in the Binz had taken to calling themselves – had packed up and moved house to the Koch area of the Altstetten quarter of Zurich. This has not been received well by the owners of the squatters' new home, the multinational bank UBS. They are said to be "not amused". But then these are multinational bankers, they probably weren't even amused that time the Binz's ex-residents led a convoy blaring techno and hardcore through the centre of the city, led by one car carrying a huge, dancing shoe.
Razorwire barricades blocking access to the Binz.
So the squatters had gone peacefully, shocking those who'd labelled the Schoch Family as violent agitators after the riots following that rave-convoy protest. They left Thursday night, though not before blockading all the entrances with vehicles and scrap metal. As a testament to the quality of local Swiss newspapers, their coverage focused more on the blockades left behind than the peaceful closure of what had been one of Zurich's most unique and culturally significant public spaces. It could have ended far differently, but since the squatters chose to leave quietly, it's hardly registered in the public's imagination at all – most likely due to the lack of police going around blasting crusties with water-cannons.
Despite the anti-climax, our photographer still managed to get himself arrested after photographing a civilian officer. He was detained for an hour, before a police spokesperson cleared the matter up and the officer apologised, presenting a croissant as an olive branch.
This angry pooch didn't want to leave the Binz.
The clearing of the Binz was one of the last official acts of outgoing police superintendent Daniel Leupi. The timing of the planned mass eviction is hardly a coincidence, given that a day after it took place, Leupi's replacement, Richard Wolff – who's known to be more sympathetic towards the squatters, mainly because he used to be a squatter himself – was due to take up office.
In any case, as far as the Binz is concerned, the jig is most certainly up. The austere post on the Schoch Family homepage reads only: “Show's over, we're out.”
A squat in the Koch area of Zurich.
Over the course of seven years, squatters first created then defended their own cultural public space at 111 Üetlibergstrasse, offering opportunities beyond the legal framework of a Swiss society stiff and suffocated by regulations. It also provided an affordable housing and commercial space to its residents in a city that has seen its rental rates increase by more than 25 percent in the last 20 years. For the squatters, it was never about taking anything away from anyone, but rather about showing the absurdity of construction and housing politics in the city of Zurich.
As it was put by one anonymous squatter: “We see it as more anti-social to own living spaces and leave them empty than to occupy empty living spaces and make them available to people who want to operate outside of financial incentives and legal restrictions.” On Friday morning, Zurich lost more than just a refuge for creative thinkers; the city lost an irreplaceable part of its own history.
Inside the Schoch Family's new squat.
The squatters themselves made their exit relatively calmly. They came together the evening before the big move to have one last dinner and a small party to give their cherished home a final send-off. At 2AM, it all came to a close, and the squatters said goodbye with a fireworks display put on by their neighbours.
The end of the Binz is not, however, the end for Zurich's squatters. A large part of the Schoch Family began transporting their belongings, under the close watch of police drones, to the new place in Altstetten two weeks ago. They are optimistic that they have found a place where they can continue their fight against the wealth-serving and overbearing politics of Zurich, even if UBS would have preferred to start tearing the vacant building down this Friday and begun taking bids from architectural firms. In a move meant to deter squatters, UBS has already ordered all sanitary facilities on the grounds to be destroyed.
Only time will tell whether the squatters in the Koch area can anchor themselves for the long-term, or if they'll once again be moved on by those with more power. Rather than be deterred, the Zurich squatters actually seem more galvanised than ever after their exodus from the Binz. Or, to put it in the words of the Schoch Family: “We are away and yet still remain! BINZ REMAINS BINZ.”
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