For 25 years, Ungdomshuset (literally “Youth House”) was a youth center, major underground music venue, radical leftist political space, and squatters’ home in Copenhagen. Located on Jagtvej 69 in the northwestern Nørrebro neighborhood, the building (originally called Folkets Hus, or “House of the People”) was built in 1897 and used by labor organizations for nearly 100 years.
The historically important building eventually fell into the hands of the municipality of Copenhagen, which decided to help preserve its legacy by allowing a group of young people to use the building starting in 1982. They soon transformed the space into what became known as Ungdomshuset, the center of Copenhagen’s young anarchist, radical DIY and punk music scenes, as well as a meeting place for leftist groups from all over the world. They claimed it was one of the only “multicultural, basis-democratic collectives/community centres in Copenhagen.” Hundreds of bands would play over the years, including (most famously) Nick Cave and Björk.
In addition to music, the youth center was “used for various activities such as…soup kitchens, radical meetings, bookstore/info shop, screen-printing, rehearsing rooms and studio, city garden, and much more; all arranged and run by the youth who [used] the house.”
In 1999, after years of deadlock with the residents over renovations and rents, the government decided to sell the house to the highest bidder, prompting the squatters to put up a banner that read, “For sale including 500 autonome, stone throwing, violent psychopaths from hell.”
The building was eventually purchased by a fundamentalist, Islamophobic Christian group called Faderhuset — quite a sting to the residents of Ungdomshuset. It was particularly damaging because the neighborhood of Nørrebro had over the years started to bridge the gap between the alternative youth, centered in Ungdomshuset, and immigrant youth, mostly from the Arabic world. The government’s decision to hand the building over to Faderhuset was seen by Nørrebro youth as a condemnation of both radical youth culture and of an increasingly multicultural Copenhagen. The residents refused to leave the building, and a long battle in the courts exploded into the streets in December 2006, when massive riots tore through Nørrebro, resulting in the arrests of over 200 people. Arab youth participated alongside the anarchist youth of Ungdomshuset, and they were said to cry out “You helped us, we help you.”The battle finally ended in March 2007, when police descended upon the building with a military helicopter and forcibly evicted the residents. From an account by the former residents, “This morning (march 1st, 2007) at 7:00 AM the anti-terror squad landed on the roof of the ‘Ungdomshuset’ via helicopters, while riot-police sealed off the street and attacked using teargas from below. As the whole area is closed off no documentation of the action and police-behaviour can take place. Some witnesses say that teargas and police violence was plentiful, although the eviction happened swiftly and according to police in a ‘relatively calm manner’.[sic]”
Soon after the eviction, Faderhuset began the demolition of Ungsdomshuset. To this day it remains an empty lot.
In the words of those who once lived there — “We knew that we were not able to make a perfect society within this world, as its laws and restrictions are pressuring us and because we ourselves are also manipulated by its ways. The primary difference between the surrounding society and us is that we constantly fight the structures that causes problems betweens people.”
Teenage is screening November 7th and 11th at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival. Click here for ticket information.