While squatting is well rooted in some communities and countries, there hasn’t been any tradition of squatting in Iceland. Following the economic collapse in October 2008, people are being kicked out of their houses because they cannot pay the doubled or tripled mortgage while across the street another house stands empty because to many houses were built in the economic boom… so some have been wanting to raise awareness about squatting as a protest against a system that they feel is not working correctly (to put it mildly).
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Almost next door to Hallgrímskirkja, an old beautiful house was left unmaintained for a very long time and was beginning to rot down. The owner didn’t get permission to tear it down to build some new and fancy shop, so he left it rotting there probably hoping that he would get permission to tear it down if it got disgusting enough.
A group of anarchists and activists decided to squat the house and fix it up mostly to use it as an open social space for like-minded people.
They started out with painting over old graffiti and the ancient paint on the walls, and then made their own paintings and drawings of flowers, strange characters and anti-capitalistic slogans, to set an appropriate atmosphere.
All the tools and paint used was donated by people in the neighborhood or others who had some rests they could give away or brought themselves to do their own share of paintwork.
The sign reads “Are building up. Don’t tear down.”
One of the many good traits of this particular house was a “barn” in the backyard. It was really messy and disgusting when the house was squatted, having mostly served as a party-outhouse or something by the neighborhood kids, but the squatters cleaned it up, painted and decorated the walls and later used it for their “free shop.”
I was sitting inside the squat talking with this group of people (from Canada, Germany, Britain and Iceland) when a woman knocks on the door, we let her in an she looks around and looks somewhat fascinated or at least intrigued by the cozy (but somewhat messy) style in there, and asks us if there’s room for one sofa more. “It’s really ugly” she adds, “But it was really in-style some 20 years ago”. We all agree, saying”hell yes!”, she tells us her address and asks us to drop by in an hour or so. We walked over to her place at the predestined time and she told us that she needed to get rid of some more furniture, we happily accepted and carried it all a few blocks over to the squat (a good opportunity for the guys to show their off their strength to the girls) and prepared for a calm and nice evening in the unheated squat.
I think that the mutilated shopping cart is a strong icon for post-consumerism.
One of the squatters sits outside the house smoking, in a slight drizzle and sunshine.
The bedroom, in the top floor of the three-story house, a message on the door that reads “Police violence will never stop us”
The free-shop at it’s early stage. A free-shop is a shop where no money is exchanged, and you can take and/or leave what you want and no score is kept.
The squat came in really handy for anarchists from other countries who were traveling and needed a place to stay. Quite a few people stayed there for some days, at one point there were 4 persons from 3 different countries staying there.
One of the squatters playing music in something of a concert, but he asked us not to applaud, so as not to “crush the atmosphere between the palms our hands”. It was probably among the best atmospheres I’ve felt in a “concert”.
As the house had been abandoned for some time, there was no electricity or heat (most houses in Iceland are heated with geothermal water), so it could get really cold sometimes.
People’s Kitchen is a tradition of bringing together vegan food and cooking and eating it together, and the squat was used for that event a few times.
But somehow, there was lack of ambition and people started losing interest in having any activities there, and as the summer came to an end the unheated house was way very cold. Most of the original group had other things to attend and the house had been more or less taken over by very young kids ditching school.
The free-shop (after being moved to the “barn”) was even destroyed by someone with unknown motives.
Then it all ended one day when some of the kids were playing with fire inside the house and the top floor caught on fire. The fire department showed up and put out the fire and luckily no one got hurt, but the police then boarded up the doors and windows and closed down the house.