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, however. 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 in larger audiences, 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 sizable bunker was built over the garden. After the 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 was then sold to the kitchenware discounter 1000 Töpfe, which remained in the location for over 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 and 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 skate park behind the Rote Flora is frequented by boarders of all ages, and the bunker in the adjacent park (a beloved canvas for street artists) doubles as a climbing wall known as Kilimanschanzo (in German).
The Rote Flora and the surrounding area are often the starting point for leftist-autonomous demonstrations and protests. The May Day parades especially are known to lead to confrontations with the police.
However, the Rote Flora continues to be best known for its role as a cultural and political centre, albeit a sometimes controversial one. It is a venue for donation-based concerts and lectures, the Antifa-Café, Vokü (lit. 'folks kitchen') and political action. In addition, the activists established a self-repair bicycle and motorbike workshop and an alcoholism self-help group. Rote Flora also hosts the Archiv der Sozialen Bewegungen, an archive about the history of social movements that is open to the public on Mondays.