Rote Flora Cultural Centre
Rote Flora Cultural Centre
The former Floratheater, with its political banners and graffitied facade, is sure to catch your eye during a stroll down Schulterblatt, Sternschanze’s lively main street. In 1989 ─ a century after its grand opening ─ the building was squatted by local residents and leftist-autonomous groups, and has been known as the ‘Rote Flora’ cultural centre ever since.
From cultural grandeur to storage space
The grand Floratheater was built in 1888 to host concerts, operettas, and revues, and included a concert hall, a ballroom, a Viennese coffee parlour and a large garden. The top floor was made into living quarters for the staff. The initial grandeur didn’t last long: after World War I, looming bankruptcy forced the Floratheater to sell its upper floors to a cigarette factory. Under new ownership, a boxing ring was installed to reel back in the audience, but to no avail. In 1936, the ballroom was made into a garage, the top floor was refurbished into low-rent apartments, and, in 1941, a sizeable bunker was built into the garden. After the air raids on Hamburg in 1943, all performances came to a halt and the Floratheater was used to store the belongings of Hamburg residents who had lost their homes.
The building hosted a cinema from 1953 to 1964, and then was sold to the kitchenware discounter ‘1000 Töpfe’, which remained there for more than twenty years.
Local protests and squatting
In 1987, the former Floratheater caught the eye of a musical producer who proposed to drastically renovate and expand the building to stage the ‘Phantom of the Opera’. However, residents of the working-class neighbourhood feared a steep rise in rental costs, and united with local business owners and leftist-autonomous groups in protest. After several demonstrations, an occupation of the building and even attacks, the investors gave up on the project, and instead built a new theatre in Altona: the Neue Flora.
Several groups that had been involved in the protests proposed to renovate the theatre for communal purposes. In August 1989, the city offered a six-month lease: The Rote Flora was born. When the lease ended, the users of the building stayed, and declared the Rote Flora squatted.
Rote Flora today
The Rote Flora continues to function as a cultural and political centre, albeit a controversial one. It is a venue for donation-based concerts and lectures, the Antifa-Café, Vokü (lit. Folks Kitchen) and political actions. In addition, the activists established a self-repair bicycle and motorbike workshop and an alcoholism self-help group. Rote Flora also provides the ‘Archiv der Sozialen Bewegungen’: an archive about the history of social movements that is open to the public on Mondays.
The skate park behind the Rote Flora is frequented by mini- skate- and longboarders of all ages, and the bunker in the adjacent park is a beloved canvas for street artists, and doubles as a climbing wall known as Kilimanschanzo (in German).
The Rote Flora and its surroundings are often the starting point for leftist-autonomous demonstrations and protests. The notorious 1st May parades are especially known to lead to confrontations with the police.