After years of conflict, Oslo police raided a downtown building and camp set up on the “eco-culturally” zoned city block known as Hausmannskvartal, to forcibly remove around a dozen illegal occupants. The police were met with barricades, booby traps and occupants who’d chained themselves together to resist more urban gentrification in the Norwegian capital.
The dramatic early-morning raid on Wednesday came after the City of Oslo, which has owned the property, recently sold it to developers who plan to build a new housing and theater project on the site. Oslo’s city council voted to sell the property on May 11 by a vote of 60 to three, with only the Reds party opposed.
The city needed to clear the properties at Hausmanns Gate 42 and Brenneriveien 1 before turning them over to the new owners, and had obtained court orders to do so. The police were thus charged with carrying out the court order, and were prepared for resistance.
Police vehicles surrounded the property shortly after 5am and as many as 30 officers wearing helmets and carrying shields broke through a barricade that had been set up by the illegal occupants. Once inside they were hit by a torrent of nails falling from an opened trap-door, and they found paint bombs, large quantities of bricks and cobblestones and homemade firebombs that they secured before they could be detonated.
“We had also made preparations so that it would be difficult for police to get into the building,” Caroline Beeldsnijder, who called herself a “friend of the occupants,” told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She claimed it was “very frightening” when the police showed up, but not unexpected. Beeldsnijder herself was staying in another grafitti-covered building on the property known as kulturhuset Hausmania that is not affected by the sale of the buildings due to be torn down. Yet another building involved in the sale, at Hausmanns Gate 40, is to be transferred to the new owners along with its occupants so they were not directly affected by the raid either.
Police ended up carrying 14 people out of the illegally occupied building and makeshift camp on an adjacent lot, and 11 were arrested. Arve Røtterud, operations leader for the police, told NRK the occupants who had chained themselves together only put up “passive resistance.” Police clipped the chains binding them together and carried them out one by one. Røtterud claimed the raid thus was carried out relatively calmly.
Culminated years of conflict
The entire area has been under dispute since 1999, when mostly young artistically minded and politially radical people took over the city-owned property, legally and illegally. Newspaper Aftenposten recently wrote that since the surrounding area remained relatively downtrodded, various conservative city governments basically allowed them to stay and in 2008, the entire city block was unusually rezoned as an “urban ecological cultural city block.” It has been the site of camps for Palestinian refugees, massive tagging and street art and other ventures, while also housing so-called “squatters” who in turn contributed to various property improvements.
Occupants, however, were forcibly evicted in 2010 when the buildings were determined to be fire hazards. The City of Oslo then wanted to renovate both buildings and turn them into student housing, but their efforts were met by violent demonstrations and arrests. During the past few years, the surrounding area has changed dramatically, with new higher-end housing, restaurant and commercial projects such as the Mathallen food hall and Vulkanen opening up, in turn prompting new developer interest in the Hausmanns block.
Private developer Urbanium then launched the plan to build housing units and an independent cinema and theater on the property, located on the west bank of the Aker River that flows through Oslo. The city approved the sale, for NOK 30 million, on May 11 and now new owner Urbanium can take over. Plans call for the building at Hausmanns Gate 40 to be torn down and replaced with new housing units, with the theater project to be built on the adjacent lot.
Wednesday’s major police operation disrupted traffic in the area, with streets closed and bus lines diverted. More disruption can be expected, when the bulldozers move in and Hausmannskvartalet also undergoes redevelopment.