Living Project: Vision

*Updated latest version: 2023*

This vision is a living document, containing the shared agrements and commitments of those who live in the wagenplatz. These have been collected by members of the living project from MANY different generations and iterations of the space, accounting for their diverse experiences and circumstances, with the hope of creating a pleasant and sustainable living environment that supports the goals of Wagenburg Kanal e.V. as a whole. It has evolved through love and conflict, and carries the will and legacy of the many people who have been sheltered and nurtured by the space at some point of their lives. It is our hope that the future residents can benefit from our experiences and help the project continue to grow.

Kanal is a community space that thrives through our shared perspectives of inclusivity and collaboration of individuals, with differing cultural backgrounds and experiences of marginalisation and intersectional oppression. It is a place for dissident bodies and identities to support one another, and promote a diverse approach to coexistence and mutual aid. The project has existed for over 30 years, and in this time it has changed location, political aims and inhabitants a number of times. It has seen its fair share of growth, conflict, legal battles, direct action and parties, and at this point we feel the need to reevaluate our identity as a project.

To this end, we want to demarcate some immutable ideals and values, which begin with the community’s purpose as a queer anti-racist solidarity space, and its primary function as a place for affordable housing for those who don’t have access to safe shelter otherwise. We believe that the living project is the cornerstone of our political endeavours, which allows us to create the space for all other projects to further the aims of Kanal as an association that seeks to educate and empower individuals within the space, to the larger community in Berlin and beyond. As such, we do not tolerate blatant abuse or bigotry, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, antiziganism, antisemitism, xenophobia, transmisogyny, misogynoir or regular misogyny, racism, colorism, authoritarianism, classism, ostracism, or any other harmful -isms.

Priority in this space is given to meeting the immediate needs of:

  • Black and Indigenous members of our community
  • Migrants, especially those who are undocumented or unable to work, or who come from less safe areas
  • Queer, Trans, and especially Transfemme individuals
  • Rrom women, and their families
  • Neurodivergent and disabled individuals
  • Working class individuals who lack access to higher institutions
  • The functionality and prosperity of the space, and the nature that inhabits it.

This is not a space for:

  • White Leftists with culturally appropriating aesthetics
  • Culture cannibals as a whole
  • Macho men, cis or otherwise
  • Cops and cop-adjacent mindsets
  • TERFs, SWERFs or any horrible combination of the two
  • Transmedicalists
  • Antideutsche

Ideally, in terms of demographical structure of the space, there should always be a majority of BIPoC residents in the space at any given point; prioritizing Black and Indigenous people; at least one white or white-passing person to address security concerns, and at least one german speaker should be present in order to ensure the legal and bureaucratic duties can be managed on-site. White and white passing individuals who participate in the living project are understood to carry a responsibility of helping build the space and take on some of the various labor tasks involved in the upkeep of the project, without centering themselves or their narratives as a form of historic reparations and praxis. All people, regardless of racial or gender identity, are equals in the space, especially when it comes to decision making.

These priorities and the sharing of these values in terms of identity and representation do not necessarily make a community, a comfortable home, or a functional project, so it is important that people who are living in the space are aware of this fact, and are willing to earnestly engage in good faith— to be able to communicate, listen and compromise when needed, and be mindful of their own privileges in the space and to extend those in any way possible.

Community is only ever as strong as the bonds that hold it together. We want to avoid carceral/punitive attitudes, policing tactics and ableism in the space, and promote inclusivity and a healthy and sustainable living environment by keeping in mind the following things in our coexistence:

  • Address conflict when it arises, or as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, or to escalate if necessary.
  • Ask and offer feedback from/to peers. Reward effort and commitment, before providing feedback.
  • Listen and create space for celebrating connections as well as differences.
  • Accept everyone as they are, not based on assumptions of future potential or past experiences; and encourage growth and self-improvement from a place of respect and care.
  • Always assume competence, no matter what level of capacity or ability an individual holds at any given moment.
  • Accept feedback and suggestions; embrace that different people have knowledge and skills they can contribute and stay humble. It’s a D.Y.T. space! So let’s do it together.
  • Always err on the side of caution. Never attribute to malice what could be attributed to ignorance, cultural difference, misunderstanding or miscommunication, until proven otherwise.
  • Give yourself and others due time to rest, process, and enjoy life. Life is precious and short, and if we don’t respect our time and limitations, no one else will!

Due to the position of the space as a queer wagenplatz with a long history of being a target of violence, and as a project that is open to the public, this is not a safe space. We strive to create a safer space of residence at least when it comes to coexisting in delineating our vision and community responses, but to call this place a brave space rings closer to the truth.

We want to be a place where healing and learning to self-regulate happen in community by addressing challenging topics together. “Good vibes only” attitudes, the supremacy of politeness, and other performative attitudes undermine our struggles and ability to have genuine interactions, and we recognize these as products of a colonial mindset. Being “nice” isn’t always expected or enough in a place like this one, but a true willingness to challenge our conditioning and genuinely care for one another through the difficulties of living in the margins of society.

People wishing to join the living project must understand what this means, and have a basis of political sensibility. Commitment to working towards the betterment of the community and the land, as well as the self, is necessary. The decisions we make, we make together, so building a basis of trust is important as well. Most decisions are taken through near-unanimous consensus, but big ones require full unanimous consensus of the living group. For this reason, we hold a trial period of three to six months before making a decision on new membership. This allows us, and the new person, to see how comfortable we are and to build that basis for trust and communication.

Moreover, we are trusting that people who come into the space for residence are aware that when living together with many people, there are many responsibilities that are shared, and that the physical and emotional labor needs to be distributed fairly in order for the space to function and to avoid burn out.

In turn, members who have been in the space for a while take on the responsibility of ensuring that all of the knowledge and resources available in the space are shared adequately, transparently and proportionally in order to make power and horizontal as possible, and to keep the place running smoothly through the years.

If and when, individual circumstances change for people involved, and they are no longer in need of the soli housing, and/or they can no longer participate in the community for personal or professional reasons, it is also important that they self-assess their situation and give the space for new people who need it.

We are committed to restorative justice approaches, and encourage people to communicate directly and engage with conflict as an opportunity for growth, rather than something to be feared. By searching for common truths and building a shared understanding, we seek to ensure understanding of all parties and challenge the binaries that arise as a result of escalating conflicts, which are unavoidable when sharing a space with many people, whose experiences and traumas are as varied and intersecting as their identities. For this reason, we have separate meetings to discuss challenging and emotional topics of personal and interpersonal nature, outside of the regular maintenance and project development meetings.

Exclusion from the space is only to be considered as a first option in extreme cases, such as instances of assault, violent transgressions or when dealing with people who pose an imminent threat to the well-being of an individual or the group. In these cases, the main focus of the efforts should go towards making sure that those affected receive the care needed.

Should such a situation arise, there should always be a fair due process, and a check in follow-up to ensure that there is sufficient support outside the community being provided; that there are resources available to the excluded individual to address their behaviors before being allowed back into the space if reconciliation is possible. The timing is then determined on a case-by-case basis.

Because we see ostracism as a form of community abuse, it is our hope to address conflict and problematic behaviors through trauma-informed approaches, education and de-escalation before excluding someone, and to offer opportunities for rehabilitation and growth, but ultimately the onus of responsibility lies in the acknowledgement of harm and willingness to change problematic behaviors and offer reparations of the offending individual(s). This all is not to say that exclusion is off the table entirely, but it requires a majority consensus and the exhaustion of all other means of conflict resolution.

Exclusion from the space is also reserved for event guests who are out of line with our policies (I.e. white people doing cultural appropriation, cisheterosexual men during queer parties, etc etc) or unwelcome parties (i.e. known Fascists); and in the personal veto power of the residents when making a decision for someone to join the living project. In the case of the later, it is imperative that some form of feedback is given to the applicant when their application is vetoed, anonymously or otherwise.

There will always be situations that are outside of our control, and people that we will not be able to help, and we have to be able to accept that and have a clear contingency plan* to deal with such situations. The nature of the space presents us with various challenges, especially when we consider the amount of barriers that exist in the space, and the hardships that come from living in close contact with the cycles of nature. We want to take these challenges headfirst, to try to find ways to build the infrastructure to make the place more barrier-free, and build networks of support with other organizations, such as GLADt, LesMigras and Women in Exile, to help people in crisis situations.

* We have drafted here a Mental Health Crisis contingency plan document, which is in its early development stages, and still requires further revision and information. A conflict contingency plan has yet to be drafted as we are still processing, learning, and digesting from our experiences as a new group in a place with a history of conflict. More about that on this post. This section needs updating (02/2022)

Because the living project residents are exposed to a public facing community project in their day-to-day lives, where events take place and often there ar substances involved, it’s not possible to have a fully sober space. This can be really challenging for some people who are in active recovery, as well as those who are in active addiction, so it’s important to be mindful about the use of substances in the space. Checking in with each other and making a conscious effort to break the stigma around substance use is important, as this can often be the catalyst for dysfuncion in the space. Speaking up, seeking help and creating a safer environment is a personal commitment everyone who chooses to live in the space must make.

There are also situations whereby actions by force majeure interfere with the ability of the project to function normally, such as the COVID-19 Pandemic, that affect the individual capacity of the members, as well as the practical capacity of the space to fulfill its role as a public space in which workshops can take place. In these scenarios, the wellbeing and housing of individuals takes on an even greater importance, and as an association we take the responsibility to ensure that we apply for the appropriate funding, mutual aid or relief funds, as well as provide special support to the resident members and other vulnerable members of the community who may be at higher risk and/or affected by strenuous circumstances.

In the near future, it is in the vision of the living group residents that this project be renamed, and that a new contract can be made with the city to ensure the longevity of the space and ensure the dignity and housing security of those who depend upon the space to live and thrive. Our continued resistance and communion with this piece of land and it’s biodiversity, as well as our position –beyond a home to us and the non-human creatures– in the cosmology and service of the queer community of Berlin, will only continue to evolve with time and a commitment towards personal growth.