Speech of Change Ihringshausen about Hugenottenhaus

Zur deutschen Übersetzung

Dear friends,

the so-called Huguenot house in front of which we are standing right now tells us two stories.

The first story shows us that Kassel and North Hesse wouldn’t be what it is, without the migration that has always taken place.

In the late 17th century, 4000 Huguenots fled from France to Hesse-Kassel. Landgrave Karl received them with open doors. At that time, one in every five residents of Kassel was a refugee. In this street, during about a century most people spoke French to each other.

AfD and Pegida, anxious citizens and hate preachers probably would have railed against “too many foreigners” back then. But today we should be more intelligent. We consider many important enrichments of our society as something completely self-evident, yet we owe them to the refugees of that time.

There was, for example, a family called Pierson among the Huguenots. The family’s daughter Katharina Dorothea, who later adopted the name Viehmann, once dictated stories to the Grimm brothers. These stories are today known as the famous Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tales; and are considered one of the most precious parts North Hessian cultural heritage. Dear friends, it is the tales of a refugee child that make Kassel famous around the world.

Who prides oneself with the heritage of refugees, as this city does, should have one thing very clear: If at that time the asylum proceedings would have been as they are today, the Fairy Tales that the Grimm brothers wrote down would have never been told.

Today the family of Dorothea Viehmann would not be able to run a guesthouse in Baunatal-Rengershausen as they did back then. The family would most probably be housed in a refugee camp: isolated from the rest of society, in shared rooms, without privacy and, most importantly, in constant fear of being deported the next day from the airport Kassel-Calden.

We demand decentralized housing for refugees, because we believe that only through common living and contact, strangers can become neighbors, colleagues and friends. Only through common living, social interaction works. We demand humane living conditions for refugees.

This house actually tells us a story about that. It is the story of a Landgrave, who, 300 years ago, arranged the construction of entire neighbourhoods and even entire cities. It is the story of a pioneering policy regarding housing and asylum proceedings.
The Huguenots were given roofs over their heads. Furthermore, they were not just allowed to work, they were even permitted to avoid the outdated rules of the guilds. And most importantly, they were allowed to stay here if they wanted to. What we want is that the refugees of today get the rights again, which they had 300 years ago.
The right to self-determined housing and working and the right to stay here if they want to do so. Instead of the deprivation of rights and deportation we want equal rights for all!
At the same time it is easy to see that this house tells a second story. A story of vacancy and decay.

Nobody lives in this house since the 1970s. And despite the fact that the need for decent housing is urgent in Kassel today, there are many empty houses like this.

Economists have a term for such paradoxical situations. They call it market failure. Critical economists call it capitalism when it is the exchange value that counts instead of needs, or the usefulness of a house.

Sometimes it is more profitable to leave apartments empty and to allow their decay – for example, in the expectation that land prices go up or in order to uphold rents. There is a system behind unused housing.

No matter how you call this process – market failure or capitalism -, the result is the same. Buildings like this one are empty and at the same time students are confronted with increasing rents. Buildings like this one are empty and at the same time housing is becoming a question of survival for beneficiaries of social programs. Buildings like this one are empty and at the same time refugees have to pass the winter in provisional camps.
When governments look at these problems without acting, then we have to speak of a failure of politics. That is what has been happening in Kassel for a long time now.

Don’t get me wrong: Administration workers and volunteers are doing their best to accommodate refugees in these days. That deserves great respect. Many of those who are here today are active in support groups, donate or teach German. That is great and very important!

And yet, the administration workers and also the volunteers are paying for the failure of politics: Because the spending cuts of yesterday are the reason for the problems of today – be it in the public sector, social services, social work or schools.

And this is also the origin of the so-called problem of refugee accommodation. It is the recent history of this house. It is the story of a failed housing policy. It is the story of vacancy, decay and investments that go past the demand. It is the story of a city that has no concept for a housing policy. A city that celebrates itself as a boom town, which prides itself with the influx of students but remains completely inactive regarding the exploding housing prices. That is the background of the so-called problem of refugee accommodation.

That is why we are here. We demand political change. We demand that the vacancy rate is officially measured. We demand that vacant living space is renovated and that new social housing is built.
It is our opinion that this is the responsibility of the public sector, because we believe that housing is a basic need, which needs to be met for everybody.

The demand for public investment in social housing is, in these days, also a political program against racism – because such investment would deprive envy driven debates and racist agitation of its material basis.

One thing is clear: It is not the refugees that have refused to invest in social housing during the last decades and it is also not the refugees who benefit from empty houses and decay. This demonstration is an example which shows, that we cannot blame those who are in need, while others are left off the hook. This demonstration is an example which shows, that we do not just have to stick together and help – we also have to struggle together: For a Kassel that belongs to all and that is free of racism and discrimination!

We will today hear various speeches that relate to the two stories of this building, which are stories of migration, of common living, of the everyday madness of capitalism, of misguided housing policy and of the fight against racism.
I wish you a lot of fun and I hope we’ll meet again soon.