Interview Jere K

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Transcript Interview with Jere K
Date: 14/10/2017
Location: Poortgebouw, Rotterdam
Speakers: Jere K (Poortgebouw) Tash Berting (student PZI) Joca van der Horst (student PZI)

Joca: How did you end up at the Poortgebouw?

Jere: That is a cool story. When I moved here 2,5 years ago, it was for university [studies]. In the beginning, I was living at a friend's place, sleeping on his couch. I didn't know anyone or anything. Then, a friend of mine, whom I knew from the squatting scene in Amsterdam said "Maybe you can check this place [Poortgebouw red.]. Maybe you would fit in." I was like “Okay”, and exactly when I went to check it, it turned out they had a free room. I applied with a short email, that everybody had to send, and I came here. It was the period when I broke up with my girlfriend, she didn't want to come with me here, and was I super falling apart. For two weeks, I didn't get up from my bed. And then my friend said that I could not sleep on the couch forever and that I should check the Poortgebouw. So I put myself together and came here. At the viewing, there were twenty people, and everybody was super cool, vegan, had travelled the world and knew everything. "I can repair boats and build spaceships". And I thought “Fuck, this won't work.” Then I saw another guy, a few places from me, who was also like me, [saying] "I am from Barcelona and love squatting. And I can help with cooking... and stuff..." And that was it. I thought that this guy was cool, so we talked afterwards and we went for a few beers. He had also just moved and didn't know anyone. Apparently, they voted both of us in, but they had to decide who would get the room. And they wanted to make another dinner, so they sent us a separate mail that we should come for the final decision. They didn't know that we got close in the meantime. And then, before the dinner, we met in front of the house. We said to each other that it was stupid that you won't get the room because of me, or the other way around. Let's try to live together and see if it works. If it doesn't work, then one of us will move out and that's fine. And we didn't know each other before. Also, he said we wouldn't say this during the dinner, but only at the very end. So we came to dinner preparing to be really nice and in the end we said "Well, before you vote, you maybe could consider that we live together". And everybody was like "What?!"

Giulia: Yeah, everybody was like "Yes, we don't have to decide!". Because we thought they were both so nice. I was not at the meeting, but I remember that people couldn't choose and wanted them both. That actually happened. You made the decision easy, otherwise we would have had a hard time. It is so difficult sometimes.

J: Yeah, that's how I got the room on the other side of the building. We stayed together for two years and separated last year in April, because my girlfriend was here and we wanted to live with more privacy. But we are still really close. I was recently in Barcelona, he came here.

T: He moved out?

J: Yes, he went back to Barcelona.

T: Did you know of the PG before?

J: No, when I came here I knew that in Rotterdam the squatting scene is different from Amsterdam. But I didn't know any more than that. I knew some people who got one apartment squats in the city. There were all talking about when they had to move out. But I never heard of the PG before my friend said that I could try it there.

T: And how was the squatting scene in Amsterdam then? How was it different?

J: Well, I went to Amsterdam in 2012, I think. It was two years after the squatting ban, it was quite tough. People who were still squatting were super dedicated. It was a combination of disillusion and enthusiasm. People were trying really hard, but would be harshly put down by the police, by reality, or by whatever. But in Amsterdam, you had the heritage of the squatting spirit and this whole infrastructure. Everybody knew everyone from the scene. It felt really compact, what was left, and people hung out with each other. In Rotterdam it is totally opposite. You have some people squatting, but it is very individualistic and very introverted. I think the big reason for that is that there is no place to meet. Everything depends on friendships and people knowing people. For this reason it is a little bit more distant.

T: Are there other places like the PG with such a long heritage that are still active?

J: Yeah, there are two other places. One is down the harbour, I really don't know Dutch names. If I'd try to pronounce it it would really be an insult for Dutch people. But it is down the river, it is like a really hippie and artistic place.

G: The island of the Quarantan is another squat. A community of artists. It is different, people have their own house there and they live there. But it is really nice.

J: And there are smaller squats that don't have that long of a history, or political position. They are more private. There are some in het Oude Noorden, Charlois and in West. But it is getting less and less. It is interesting now that in Amsterdam squatting is becoming a thing again. It is not fashionable yet, but people are picking it up for political reasons. And people who have been trying it here for a long time, they are going back to Amsterdam. Because there, something is happening. There are these waves, when one place is doing good, it attracts people from other places. And when they get bored, they spread back to other places.

T: It is funny, we talked with other people who squatted during the '80s, in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. A few of them already said them that it had always been a little different in Rotterdam. In Amsterdam there was this strong identity and it has always been really political. While in Rotterdam, because it was such a working city, squatting was more a necessity.

J: And it was much rougher. I know from stories from Edward, that there were even... I’m not saying it’s a fact, I just heard about it, that there were conflicts between different squatting groups. There were, for example, Surinamese squatting groups using the naturalization process of the state to quickly get money and the chance to be legalized. Then, on the other hand, you had these white middle class trash kids squats that got in complete conflict with the other guys. Sometimes they would pick the same place and had to fight for it. There are some nice videos and documentaries about squatting in the eighties and nineties in Rotterdam. And for me, they are really powerful to see. That is not so much for the squatting story, but to see how Rotterdam looked back then, because it really looked like… In this video, called “Squatting in Rotterdam”, they show parts of the Fietsfabriek, an old squatted bicycle factory in Noord. And its eviction was quite epic, apparently. But it was crazy to see how Rotterdam looked like in 1978,1982. You know these depressing images of Manchester during the Industrial Revolution? Smoke, and streets without asphalt? That's exactly how it looked. You can not compare it with the city of today. That is what is happening today with cities in Croatia, Lithuania, Albania. Extreme urbanisation, that is not followed by anything human. Squatting in these conditions was also more natural probably than today. It was much less of a political statement, because probably half of the people were doing something illegal.

G: I think it was a necessity there.

T: We were talking about this with one guy, about how the PG was in the eighties, and how the interaction with the neighbours was. And he was like "What neighbours?", because there was nobody there. There were literally only warehouses and bankrupt companies

J: Have you visited ADM? It is like that. Now, when you go there, the biggest pain in the ass is that it is not in the center and the public transport doesn't go there. So everybody is like: "Yeah, but it is so far...". That is exactly how the PG used to be. The city was there, and here was this building. You did not have this bridge (Erasmusbrug red.), so it was a pain in the ass to get here. It was on the edge of the city.

G: In the video we found... It’s funny, I found it while cleaning a space upstairs. It was in a box with stuff from a guy who was living here ten years ago. And there was this VHS that was filmed in 2002. It was really funny to see interviews with some people from here. I think it was made by someone from the house. And this person was filming the surrounding area. You saw that things were coming, but it was completely different, it changed in the last ten years.

T: What is your favourite part about living here?

J: Pfff, uhm. Everything! Yeah! I think this kind of affordable and self-crafted places to live are really rare and hard to find, and it gives you that feeling that, on the one hand only by living here you have opportunities that others don't have. But you have to want it. And the other thing is it that it forces you to put effort in being here, which this place asks for. You need to be ready to have some psychological, personal, collective, communal, whatever kind of pressures and issues. I really love it. When I first arrived here, I didn't know how to separate my house time from my private time. So, my private time was practically my house time, a big bowl of soup of me handling with everything. And then I moved to this room about 4 months ago. I learned to separate myself, to have personal time when I am in the room or here in the kitchen, where I don't interact with the rest of the house but I also have a house time when I really decide to go up. And what I really love is that it was the same before, and I just control it now. When you come home, it's like… you turn on the television and change the programmes. That is really the feeling when I come home...these guys are smoking a joint and chilling, these guys talk about astronomy, the other guys are watching a movie, the italians are cooking again, this guy just broke up with a girlfriend so he wants to talk about it, and you can just choose which kind of programme you want to watch when coming to your house. That's the part I like a lot. I prefer places that have more trouble and you where you need to put more effort, that we make our own decisions, [that] there is a way to change things, and the things are dynamic and open. The edges are loose in a way and whatever we do can be negotiated or changed by ourselves. Of course, there are 30 people that have a say in the whole thing, like the municipality, the ownership... We really have a certain autonomy for the way we want to live.

Jo: What was the most difficult time?

J: Here? Well, the most difficult times where the ones when I, personally, was not handling myself so good, but then again you have the benefits from the house. You have people that you can talk with. That's something that this place gives you, that renting a regular place cannot give you. When you have hard times you have a social network, a personal network of people who see that something is happening and they can help you, or they can leave you alone. You are part of the bigger self and not just yourself, and that helps. There is a lot of frustration on how a house works and the thing is that this the first place I lived where I didn't choose the people who I live with. Usually, when you go for squatting or do things like that, you first form a kind of group and then go for it, or you live with friends. Somehow it always happened before that I lives with people I chose. Here, I didn't choose. So, it is quite a lesson that it is also possible to maintain this kind of decision making process and things like that. But, it is also a lot of frustration. For me, the most annoying part is that, for example, when the venue takes one and a half years to get repaired, what the fuck! But, on the other hand, I didn't put so much effort for it so... Everything has a bit of hard times in it, but the times that I remember as bad were the times that I was bad in my head…

G: Or when you cut your finger…

J: That was just epic!

G: "I cut my finger!". And then we went with six people with this finger full of blood and Jere was white… It was very epic! That what is nice in this house. When you have problems, when you need help… it's so nice to always have support.

J: But it's never normal. We were six to go to the hospital for a cut finger.

G: Or when you organise something outside, when you have a school event, everybody comes. You are the one with the most friends coming.

T: How is the interaction with the neighbors now? Now that you have neighbors…

J: Interaction is in neutral terms, it's not good or bad. I would say that, at the moment, we have forced interaction with people around, which is usually ok. We can talk to them and they find ways to understand us. But there is some kind of genuine co-existence… not really… it’s more like tolerance. And all these issues, noise and people hanging around would be annoying no matter the place. We try to involve people from the neighborhood in some events that we make, like matinee, open stage to invite kids. I think these things work and there are some people who maybe come from a little bit broader sense of neighborhood, like Kralingen, that like this kinds of messy places. For me, insisting on being part of the neighborhood, I don't find it that important, because a neighborhood is just a physical accident of being close to certain people and you have to be good with them just to maintain your situation. In Netherlands it’s quite common that they try hard to do it. In other places, squats are much more closed and have different ways of creating social networks outside of the house that support the house. I really believe that you should manage this co-existence with the surroundings, but I think much more effort should be put in creating a strong bounding network with your artificial neighborhood, with people who do similar things in the city, in the region, in Europe, in the world. For me, that is the beautiful part of squatting. Since I was 19 and I started to get involved in these things, I practically never had to pay for a host. There is this unspoken language where we understand from the way we talk, we look, we come from, and from whom we get the contact of whom, there is a certain unwritten trust that simply works. That is because before me there was somebody who built this network. I think that is the part that I should do, and every generation have this mission. That is how you keep things alive. Being good with the neighborhood will not maintain the movement.

Jo: How do you see the future of the PG?

J: Black. In my opinion, 5 to 10 years from now, PG won't be here, but…

N: Is this because of the city, or just economically, they want to sell?

J: I think the city is changing. I think Rotterdam is at an edge point of falling into a completely gentrified, generic global city, kind of constructed identity, which is happening. But, on the other hand, I think it can become a cool city because it is different and it is like a sponge for people who, in my opinion, understand, or at least try to understand how the world works today. They try hard. When I go to these traditionally leftist places like Berlin or Barcelona, sometimes it feels that it is repetitive and works like an en enclave. Rotterdam is still a little bit like a melting pot, because everything happened so recently and so fast, but that is the problem; these recent changes brought a lot of attention, a lot of capital, a lot of money. The PG is really like a time machine. Honestly, it doesn't have a bigger meaning in this huge process that is happening around. It's just here to remind people how things were before, and it's very hard to grow out of that role that is put on PG. But I think what we are doing at that moment, we work with HNI, with you guys, with different institutions, it changes ourselves into an artifact, to be observed, which is ridiculous in one sense, totally contrary to what I believe this place should be, but on the other hand, Rotterdam is a city of contradiction. Everything is the other way of what I’m used to…

G: This month 3 people came to my room to take pictures. I am done with this, we are not a museum!

N: It is true. It is difficult with this all archiving. It is a statement in itself.

J: I am not sure, I don't know if what we are doing with HNI, with this squatting architectural documentation, the archive... when is started to happen, I thought this is the funeral of squatting. It is the last mourning, with trumpets and everybody is sad and then happy to remember those glorious times of what it was. And I cannot make up my mind about it, is it good or right to do these things… many of us do it because it pays… graduation, diploma, things like that. But I think once you describe things, and try to put them in brackets, and document them and make architectural drawings about a place, this place loses its original meaning. There is this… I don't remember who said that… once you give something a name, the thing is dead. For squatting it’s also true. It’s not only here that squatting died. Squatting became a cultural reference. It is not here anymore. It is not so much a political phenomenon, although it is still very political. Squatting can send a strong message against property, which is one of the most embedded values in our society, which certainly can be questioned. You can send really strong messages. You can mobilize people for important questions like the refugee crisis, gentrification. Many things can be really powerful when addressing squatting, but the problem is there is there is this gap between what the squatting community used to be, what political communities used to be, and what our generation is trying to say. And maybe what we are doing now is turning ourselves in a little bit of laboratory to see what we actually are, to see ourselves… does this make any fucking sense? I mean for me it would be easy to move in here 10 super radical militant anarchists and do everything by the old school cookbook of anarchism. It would certainly provide space in which I would feel much better. For me it would have meaning. But it would change a lot of how PG would seem from outside, and how much Poortgebouw is a machine to grind this grim reality that is happening around. What I like is that, at least, Poortgebouw is not a gentrifying machine. That Poortgebouw is really like an Asterix et Obelix image in the middle of what is happening and there is not even the tiniest risk of gentrification happening around us, because we are idiots and we don't allow it to happen. Jo: One of the interviews we did yesterday, was this notion of squats being a voice in the city, and that since the squatting ban in the Netherlands there's this, for example people in Amsterdam there's this critical voice that it’s missing, as sort of a counter power against the property

J: It’s not true, they just don't want to listen to it. The thing is, Amsterdam is an amazing example of that, the current--or recent mayor of Amsterdam was a guy who was squatting for ten years of his life, and he is the guy who evicted the biggest number of squats since 2010. What they are trying to do, they are trying to play this non-ideological game where they can please everyone, big investors, Chinese companies, and small people, and hipsters and everybody can fit into what Amsterdam tries to be, and it’s simply not true. Not everybody can fit into a city. If there are certain groups that, by purpose, exclude them and groups outside. And when they say that they miss this, sorry, but you were the ones that propagated the ban, you were the ones that were doing it, and you are the ones that claim that that's no longer a part of the Dutch culture. And if you talk to people who are our age, or older, everybody will say that this culture was forcefully changed. That this liberal Netherlands of the 70s and 80s was a different construct than what the Netherlands tries to be now. And when you walk around Rotterdam, it’s simply disgusting how many super young people are in suits and tie. I mean, for me, that's an ideological position, the same as being a punk with mohawk and anti-capitalistic patches, it’s the same fucking ideological, I'm not saying position, but it’s equally an ideological position. If you are 23 and you think that you have to wear a suit and earn big money and bring in investments from all over the world, you belong to a certain ideological camp. And the fact is that the municipalities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam and the Netherlands in general, they listen more to these kinds of young people than to the other kinds of young people, because that's the game they want to play. But, at the same time, they know that they have to sell this all inclusive story, like everybody can get this piece of cake, which is not true, not everybody can get a piece of cake. Try to squat the [...] skyscraper and then you have a political message. There are some nice works about it, there is it documentary called "Creativity in the City"... wait "Creativity and Capitalism", it’s practically about Amsterdam squatting scene and the role of squatting, and in general, [of the] lo-fi creative class in creating new discourses for the big developments in the city. How the city changes by using this creative class to pioneer a new area of the city, or something new happens and, unfortunately, squatters are usually like scouts in the process. Like, squatters go somewhere they find ??? or whatever.. I think what surprises me a lot, I study urbanism here, and I was shocked by how little critical urban theory they have. And that's exactly why, in my opinion, it’s not true that they miss this voice. I actually think that they are not creating any kind of infrastructure for this voice to develop. I cannot go to one of the best universities in the world and not hear one word of urban critical theory from which there are huge -- we hear about social responsibility, sustainability-- you hear all these moral, ethical concepts, but always wrapped in something else. But critical theory, which is actually about gentrification, which is actually about urban struggles, which is actually about these things, not one single word. And then you have the architecture film festival, there was one day that was really dedicated to it, which was called "City for Sale", and I literally knew all the people in the room, and all these people are trying to leave the country and come in three months, something like that. So they just choose what to invest in: culturally, politically…

G: I think it’s also interesting to see how our program works. For example, our problem works together with the Hogeschool, Willem de Kooning, and there are certain thematics, topics. If they choose to work on my project now, it’s because there is this intent... but after this. There is an exhibition of the Niewe Instituut on Architecture and Appropriation, what's going to happen [after]? They change the topic. You know, for me it feels a bit... I don't know, in Italy we don't have any of this. This support or institutional critic.. I mean we have, but it’s not so... fashion. And they don't give money for a project. But at the same time I see that a lot of people are quite positive to save, to propose critiques, some are quite real. Here, I was so shocked at the beginning. Everything is so interesting, but then…

N: You don't know what's real anymore.

G: Yeah.

J: I really think that the Netherlands is not a pluralistic society. It is maybe... you have a lot of freedom, but in terms of what is appreciated and what is invested into and collectively discussed. I grew up in a country that just grew out of communism when I was born. And I grew up with these dark stories about how everybody is the same in communism. And everybody wears the same clothes and everybody buys the same products because nothing else can be bought and it’s terrible and blah blah blah. And then, after that, we had kind of a proto wild wild west capitalism, which looks like shit and is bad. And you have many different kinds of yoghurts, but actually you would really rather just have one yoghurt and a job, but that's what happened. And then I come here, and I see these same kind of things are good, people can live good. But there is no pluralism, everybody buys the same shit. Everybody goes to the same shops, all the opinions of people I hear are the same. All the academic knowledge that is produced comes from the same discourse. Practically, this is not a pluralistic society, because there is no coexistence of many differences, but there is tolerance of one major truth and all the marginal things that pop around it. When you compare it to what is happening now in the south of Europe for example, where people are actually questioning how the economy works, because of being affected by it. You have this pluralistic thing happening from Greece, Spain, Portugal, Croatia. You have hard line traditional and progressive things, rethinking how things work and trying to survive in this jungle of options, money, and things like that. To find a way to prove that their truth is the right truth, and that for me is the real pluralism. It can go good and bad, it can go into conflict, it can turn out really bad, like what is happening in Croatia, or what is happening now in Catalonia. But also, in general, it’s a healthier process of social evolution. I think a revolution can happen in a healthy society like the Netherlands. Healthy in terms of everybody agreeing on what we do together, then this change would turn into something good, but if you have 30 years of brutality, and change is super quick, like they did in Russia, of course it will turn out like shit. But then, in societies that aren't fucked up like that, that are pluralistic and multi-dimensional, multi-truth societies, then these things evolve because there are many sides correcting each other and finding a way through and against each other, and that for me is a huge difference. I mean, everybody has a right to choose where they want to live and I understand why people want to live here, but let's not have the illusion that this is a pluralistic society, this is a very tolerant society. This might be a very big prejudice, I admit it, but when I meet people who are Dutch and are squatters, when they travel, they travel like fucking tourists. They don't put a tiny bit of effort in creating a kind of exchange network. For me, when I was traveling, I was in a generation that got the first passports in Croatia, the first tourists after the war, we were totally drunk with this option to see the world. The first thing we did, we started a band and we started to tour, and we were playing mostly in squats. And the most important thing was that we called it diplomacy, like you play, you get drunk, but also you have to stay in contact with these people, in one night you have to find a way to be with them, to meet each other better, and for me that was the most important thing. To exchanges zines in English and in Croatian, and then you can get French zines. That was super important for us. And when I talk to Dutch people, they are like “Yeah, we went to this beach, and the people there seemed too messy, but the beach was cool, but then our truck got broken” like it’s the same for them whether they're in Portugal or Lithuania or in Bangkok or whatever, they kind of just have this very detached way of traveling, for me it’s totally weird.

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