|Alternative culture in Bern|
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There was much social unrest in Switzerland in 1980, most noticeably among radical leftists. Zürich’s Autonomous Youth Centre (AJZ) – intended as a police-no-go building where young people could run their own entertainment free from mainstream commercial and social pressures – was violently suppressed, and a similar AJZ movement in Bern which took over the Reitschule (an abandoned city-owned former riding school near the train station, also known as the Reithalle) was also evicted by the police. The situation simmered until late 1987 when, following the eviction of the riverside Zaffaraya community, thousands demonstrated in the city centre, a large group re-squatted the Reitschule and, perhaps most significantly, retailers reported a ten-percent loss in profits over the Christmas shopping season. In the face of such a groundswell of discontent, the police and city council adopted a damage-limitation policy, and left the Reitschule squatters to their own devices.
Despite problems with violent anarchist gangs in the early 1990s, the Reitschule – now an arts centre and activist collective – has come to be highly valued by alternatively minded Bernese, and has even gained a certain official legitimacy while remaining in a curious legal grey area. Its cinema, for instance, is licensed with the council but the bar next to it is illegal; the concert venue pays its taxes, while the adjacent café is packed with dope-smokers. Unlike the similar Rote Fabrik movement in Zürich, the Reitschule co-operative has consistently rejected proposals to accept funding from the city council, sticking tight to its counter-cultural principles (“No violence, no sexism, no commercial exploitation”) by raising its own money through ticket sales, bar profits and an extremely popular annual fundraising party. Through effective word-of-mouth networking, it’s been able to stage gigs by British, European and American bands and DJs, raising its profile still further, yet to this day, the police don’t venture into the complex, turning a deliberate blind eye to such a self-contained concentration of – mostly very innocuous – lawbreaking. It’s a rundown, heavily lived-in place and an obvious honeypot for drug dealers (who are barred from entry, but nonetheless gather outside), yet these days is quite safe. More to the point, it’s become an icon of opposition to the city council, which has been trying for years to turn it into a multistorey car park and supermarket. A huge graffito as you approach reads Reitschule bleibt autonom (“Reitschule still rules itself”). In a remarkably effective and purposeful demonstration of communal self-gov
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