A Story of Punk & Resistance: The Battle for Ungdomshuset
An account of the fierce battle in defense of the autonomous social center in Copenhagen
In March 2007, the international punk movement lost one of its strongest and oldest institutions: The Ungdomshuset autonomous community space, located in central Copenhagen, Denmark. Until then, the Ungdomshuset had stood for nearly 25 years as an important rallying point for independent youth culture, both literally and symbolically, and home of one of the strongest anarcho-punk communities in Europe. Not only was Ungdomshuset an important feature of the local community, but it served as a meeting point for like-minded folks from around the world.
The eviction that happened on March 1st, 2007, spearheaded by a fanatical right-wing Christian cult called the Faderhuset, was carried out during the largest police action in Denmark since World War II, and viewed by many as being part of a larger attack on autonomous spaces taking place across Europe. While the riot police in Copenhagen were overwhelmed by the strong reaction on the ground, it was obvious that the European governments have been planning for such an event for quite some time; with border controls and travel restrictions quickly thrown in place to prevent Ungdomshuset supporters from arriving outside the city. As this issue made it to the press, other autonomous spaces in Europe have been threatened in 2007: The Blitz in Oslo, while celebrating their 25th anniversary was temporarily occupied by riot police for 7 hours on April 27th, the Køpi squat in Berlin was set for auction on May 8th, and the Tanneries in Dijon, France has also been threatened.
The following article was originally published in #52/53 double issue of Profane Existence, and written by someone close to the events (who wished to remain anonymous for fear of State reprisal) and gives a personal account of Ungdomshuset as the chronology of the eviction. Numerous other materials were received at the time through the anarcho-punk channels and independent media sources.
Prelude to Pain
Ungdomshuset dates back to 1897, and was then named “Folkets Hus” (The People’s House), being one of the primary homes of the early labour movement in Copenhagen. Since labour organizations were not very popular with the authorities, and with reprisals often carried out against them, the organizations had to build their own headquarters. Thus, Folkets Hus was one of the first such houses of the 20th century. It passed through various hands in the 1950’s to 1970’s before ending up as the property of the city, protected from demolition and redevelopment as an historic building.
Ungdomshuset (The Youth House) was given by the mayor of Copenhagen to the city’s youth on October 31st, 1982, at a time when the squatting movement was large, militant and powerful. In an attempt to placate the squatters, control of the historic building (situated at number 69 on Jagtvej), in the traditional working-class and immigrant Nørrebro district) was turned over to them. Since then, it’s been the centre of autonomous counterculture in Copenhagen, with all sorts of activities, DIY music scenes and alternatives ways of seeing the world finding a home there.
Through various ups and downs it has prevailed as a primarily punk-rock, anarchist-orientated institution in the city, until the City Council illegally put the building on the property market in 1999 (how do you sell something that’s not yours!?). It was bought by a shadowy corporation known as Human A/S, who promptly turned the building over to the far-right Christian fundamentalist sect Faderhuset (The Father’s House). On New Year’s Eve 2001, members of the cult broke into the house, incapacitating and expelling those within. The punx and anarchists quickly reacted, storming the house with bats and lead pipes, and the kicking the Christians the fuck out. Since then, Ungdomshuset has been a source of intense media and public debate in Denmark and Scandinavia. Dragged through the courts, eviction has been threatened for years. It was only in August 2006, that the case was finally decided on by the Danish High Court, who made a final decision that Faderhuset were the rightful owners of the house. Since this decision, organized opposition amongst Ungdomshuset’s supporters had drastically intensified.
In September 2006, demonstrations on the streets of Copenhagen broke out into rioting in response to police provocation. December 15th, 2006, was set as the date from which Ungdomshuset was officially in the hands of Faderhuset. On December 12th, Faderhuset was offered 13 million kroner (Human A/S bought it for just 2.5 million) by foundation Jagtvej 69, a group of private citizens who wanted to buy the house and return it to its rightful owners: the youth. Faderhuset refused, making a statement that the destruction of the house was Denmark’s first chance to do something truly righteous against the forces of evil since their resistance to the Nazis in WWII.
December 16th, and over 2,000 militant demonstrators from all over Copenhagen, Denmark, and Europe took to the streets of Nørrebro to show their support for the house. The demonstration rapidly degenerated into what the police characterized as the worst riots in Denmark for many years. As the streets erupted into riot and disorder, the police used teargas in their attempts to curtail the demonstration, with over 300 arrests taking place by the end of the night, and mass deportations in the following days. The total number of arrests is amongst the highest for a single event in Denmark since the WWII.
My own particular involvement with Ungdomshuset began after having met punks from Copenhagen who’d traveled to my own country, when I decided to visit Denmark as a grubby teenage punk traveling the gutters of Europe. Coming from a country with little to no punk-oriented squatting, autonomous and countercultural history, it was completely fucking mind-blowing to behold a place like Ungdomshuset in all its glory. A four-story building, each floor about the width of two basketball courts side by side, containing a huge kitchen & café in the basement, four band practice rooms, a sleeping area, a small kitchen, an office and a recording studio on the top level, and in between that one huge hall of at least 500-person capacity, plus a screen-printing room, with the floor below containing a large bar as well as a smaller concert room for gigs of up to 200 or 300 people capacity. Witnessing the level of organization of K-Town Festival, the sheer amount of people involved both in attending and coordinating the event and the huge range of activities that went on was something I’d never before experienced. And this place was right in the middle of a city of over 1 million people. And the cops were scared to go there. Fucking hell… amazing!
So a year later I moved to Copenhagen, having a vague acquaintanceship with various punx from the city. Taking bar shifts, cooking food and starting bands with the people I met in Ungdomshuset, I quickly became immersed in the culture of the city and its punk scene. It became clear to me what an enormous impact the building was having on the development of such a uniquely dedicated and militant DIY punk scene as the existing in Copenhagen. Though quite intimidating at times, from the perspective of one who is not quite so inclined to the “politically-correct” way of seeing things, the punk scene around Ungdomshuset nonetheless revealed to me the intensely dedicated, developed and meaningful counterculture which had been allowed space to grow in this unique environment.
Regardless of in-fighting, regardless of whether one was of the anarcho-punk, old school hardcore, queer, chaos punk, feminist, teenage drunkard or whatever-other persuasion, this house provided a place to go, be yourself, and if you didn’t like what you found, well, you were welcomed and encouraged to use the space to do your own thing. Such wide-ranging activities as huge children’s parties, a weekly alternative cinema, frequent themed nights (Friday 13th Horror dress-up, Queer-parties, women-only nights), a café, all sorts of music, from hip-hop to techno, from metal to reggae and hardcore punk, a weekly Folkekokken (People’s Kitchen) at which you’d get a (hopefully) large plate of (usually) great vegan food for 20 kroner (about €3), as well as a meeting space for dozens of political collectives, art groups, self-defense groups, and rehearsal space for hundreds of bands over the years. The sheer range of activities that took place there are as limitless as the personalities of the tens of thousands of people who have passed through the building, perhaps for just one night, or maybe for years of their lives.
The Violent Raid
At 7 am on the morning of Thursday March 1st, 2007, the House was evicted. Military Special Forces landed by rope on the roof of the house and incapacitated the two activists on night-watch. A container full of cops was raised to one of the windows, through which they entered after a number of attempts. It took them over an hour to clear the house, using a massive amount of CS-gas and intense violence to subdue the 34 activists arrested inside. Many of those then arrested stayed in custody for many months after that , charged with fighting the police.
Shortly after 8 am, demonstrations began on the streets of Nørrebro. Hundreds of youths attempted to break through police blockades and reclaim Ungdomshuset. By 10 am the authorities were rapidly losing control of the city and in a state of extreme frustration. In twelve different urban districts demonstrators began to erect barricades, with the most intense and militant level of resistance taking place in Nørrebro. The police reacted with force, driving armored vehicles through the demonstrators and executing mass baton-charges. Meanwhile, hundreds of more protestors continued to pour onto the streets. By 11 am there were over 1,500 demonstrators on Nørrebro, and attempts by the police to clear the barricades had failed. By mid-day the police began to set-up road blocks across the city, attempting to prevent the disturbances from spreading.
They prevented access to Nørrebro without explanation, and began to search anybody attempting to enter the district, while also preventing access to journalists. An hour later, the City Hall called an emergency meeting, as the unrest continued to spiral out of control. For the entire day, police repeatedly assured the media that they had control of the city as they were rapidly losing it. Riots continued across Nørrebro, Christianshavn (site of Christiania, a 3 square km autonomous inner-city district squatted since the 1970s), and the inner city, as burning barricades were erected and demonstrators resisted the police, hurling bottles and rocks. As night came it was clear that the city was in complete chaos with over 3,000 rioting in the streets, and the police having absolutely no control over the situation. By 3 pm over 100 people had been arrested.
At 5 pm a demonstration reportedly thousands strong left from Blågårds Plads, a Nørrebro city square, 5 to 10 minutes away from Ungdomshuset. The police countered it with a massive display of force, with the demonstrations quickly descending into chaotic street fighting. By 7 pm the entire area was littered with burning barricades, groups of demonstrators attacking armored police with bricks, bottles and fireworks. The police at this stage, referring to the constitution, effectively declared a state of martial law and reacted to the protestors with teargas and attack dogs. As the evening progressed, the district was in a complete chaos, with the authorities completely overwhelmed as the thousands of youths, activists and immigrants continue to fight running street battles with the police. Barricades continued to burn, preventing police deployment, as cars are dragged into the streets and set alight. Intense rioting breaks out in Christiania and the police withdraw. The unrest continues through the night.
The City Explodes
By the next morning over 200 had been arrested and many areas of the city were billowing with black smoke from fires. Demonstrations were reported in over 20 German cities, while tight border controls were put in place and with many activists flocking to the city from Norway, Sweden, and Germany; hundreds were turned away from the check-points. During the afternoon, construction workers began to clear out Ungdomshuset, all of whom were masked in order to avoid recognition and retribution.
Spontaneous resistance broke out early in the day, with organized demonstrations scheduled for 5 pm, 10 pm, and one at midnight to try and take back the house. The police were in a state of panic, drafting in extra units from all over the country and borrowing 20 crowd-control vehicles from Sweden. Unrest simmered all day, and exploded as night fell in defiance of the city-wide curfew imposed by the police. Along with bottles and rocks, many demonstrators began to employ the use of Molotov cocktails and cobblestones dug up with masonry tools. Cars were burnt out and property destroyed by a mix of left-wing activists, immigrants, punks, hippies, bikes & gang members, and various people of all backgrounds spontaneously demonstrating in anger all over the city. The police responded with tear gas, baton-charges, and rubber bullets in some areas. The Danish Department of Foreign Affairs reported demonstrations against the taking of Ungdomshuset in their attempts to reclaim the building. By 2 am the police are completely out of control, attacking demonstrators with armored vans at high speed, in formations of two to twenty vehicles. The streets were a warzone.
The next morning signs of the disturbances were all over the city. Police began to raid houses, hunting out Ungdomshusets activists, arresting them together with all non-nationals discovered in the city. The communal left-wing house on Baldersgade was attacked with teargas, its doors and windows smashed in. 42 were arrested behind closed doors with extreme brutality reported. Further raids at the libertarian high school The Free Gymnasium, the community centre Folketshus, and perhaps five other locations brought the total number of arrests in these raids to over 130. The offices of Anarchist Black Cross were also attacked, with all activists arrested, their phones and documentation stolen by the police. During the day a peaceful demonstration of over 2,000 marched on City Hall with the police keeping their distance.
As dusk drew in, the city once more erupted in rioting as thousands took to the streets in some of the worst rioting yet. Dozens of cars were burnt out and both demonstrators & police injured as the curfew was ignored and the scenes of the last few nights were repeated. By dawn, 643 people in total had been arrested. The police released a statement saying they were surprised at what had happened, and that they’d had no idea that so many people would demonstrate.
Sunday, March 4th and interior demolition work continues on Ungdomshuset. A large Critical Mass protest takes place amidst a generally calm day of demonstrations and resistance.
On the morning of Monday, March 5th, the demolition of Ungdomshuset Jagtvej 69 began. Masked construction workers with their vehicle registration plates hidden converged on Nørrebro and began to destroy the house. Soon after 7 am they bulldozed our garden to make way for a crane. At 8 am the demolition of the House began. A couple dozen arrests happened over the course of the day as the building was torn down. Various construction companies had threats made upon them and pulled out, while vehicles and property of those who opted to continue the demolition were vandalized.
In the night, two lorries were deliberately set ablaze in the parking depot of one of the companies, who subsequently ceased their work and billed Faderhuset for the costs. Amidst many other initiatives, a group called “Drunk for Ungdomshuset” endeavored to “drink for a just world”. The group wrote that they will drink with everyone because “the more drinking there is, the more it will help.”
On Tuesday, March 6th, the leader of Faderhuset and arguably the most hated woman in Denmark, Ruth Evensen released what she termed her “victory speech” to her congregation. She said, amongst other things, that the young people of Nørrebro are possessed with demons, but that God was victorious over Satan. The next thing to fight is homosexuality, pedophilia, pornography, abortion and Satanic toys. By Wednesday evening nothing remained at Jagtvej 69 other than the messages and flowers left on the site. A demonstration of over 4,000 people took place in the city, with a demonstration of over 5,000 taking place on Saturday 10th. Amnesty International reported that they would be investigating police brutality during the disturbances, during which over 850 in total were arrested, the highest ever number in Denmark’s history. Over the following week autonomous actions of all varieties continued around Copenhagen, Denmark, Scandinavia, and the World.
Since the eviction of Ungdomshuset there have been dozens of actions, street parties, protests, occupations and attempts of all kinds to force the government to live up to their responsibilities and promises. The 31st of March saw over 15, 000 people demonstrate for the existence of free spaces and show their solidarity with Ungdomshuset and Christiania. (…)
Following the eviction, protests spread far beyond Copenhagen. In cities all over Denmark, activists carried out actions locally, or headed for Copenhagen. Throughout Europe, embassies were occupied and hundreds demonstrated in cities all over. As far away as Russia, Japan, Australia, Turkey, South Korea, and the United States (to name a few) people protested the eviction. With the traditionally troublesome May 1st just around the corner, things were soon expected to heat up in Copenhagen all over again.
Ungdomshuset is Dead! Long Live Ungdomshuset!
Ungdomshuset Jagtvej 69 may be dead, but as long as punks and activists continue to exist, then rebellion, dissent and militant resistance to authoritarian injustice will continue to grow. Through these actions, thousands of youths in Copenhagen have gotten their first taste of resisting the police and social order, or fighting back and trying to take control of their own lives. This was not the end but the beginning of a new struggle to find new spaces in which to be the people we are. (…)
On the 11th of June 2008, the city council decided to let the people of Jagtvej 69 take over two buildings in the North-Western area of the city. On July 1st, 2008, they started moving in.
The house and area on Dortheavej 61 used to be a part of a communal social centre that they are now sharing ground with. It’s situated between Dortheavej and Rentemestervej around 2.8 km from Jagtvej 69. For more information on the new house, visit the collective’s website.