Flexibility as a Parameter

The Stuttgart-based project contain’t is a cultural site, platform, and studio community for creative thinkers. For three years, the artist collective has thrown some of the best parties in Stuttgart and facilitated art, music, performances, and theory far from the large houses. They had to clear the space. But the principle of mobile spaces, which can be reconstructed at new locations, such as containers, tents, or wooden modular constructions, gives them flexibility. A flexibility that is needed in a city as bureaucratic as Stuttgart, which is currently changing considerably in terms of urban development.

Paula Kohlmann/Judith Engel: Your container settlement contain’t, an urban artist village – one of the few creative places for Stuttgart’s subculture – had to clear the space a few months ago after a long battle. What exactly happened there from 2012 to 2015?

Marco Trotta: Concerts, exhibitions, workshops, urban gardening as well as experiments with informal architecture and electronic music.

PK/JE: How was contain’t formed?

MT: The starting point was the emergency situation of the wagons at Nordbahnhof. Apart from two people, however, hardly anyone from the original group is still involved. This also had to do with the fact that after two years of the threat of demolition, the wagons could stay after all. In January 2011, a clearing request from the lessor, Deutsche Bahn, led to a very tense political situation.

And there we experienced for the first time how plans with the city can be difficult. Marco Trotta

At the time, we reacted with a press release and a neutral statement about Stuttgart 21. We made clear that an eviction would be precarious for the parties concerned and that open spaces like the wagons are needed – with or without Stuttgart 21. Together with Fides Schopp and Aaron Schirrmann, I utilized two wagons back then: 2nd Take and Cafe Hammersmith. For around three years, it was very successful. Then the clearing order came. Until then, the wagons were more like independent studios, but with the imminent eviction, we sat together for the first time and wrote this press release. Roundtables with representatives of the city and the Deutsche Bahn followed. And there we experienced for the first time how plans with the city can be difficult. They are public authorities! If the public authorities don’t want to cooperate, nothing will happen. Even if the city is very interested. Our official statement can be found on our former blog: https://waggons.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/stellungnahme/

2011: The contain't predecessor »Waggons« - known for experimental music, spontaneous architecture and graffiti
2012: mobile and modular architecture as a quest
2012: terraforming new premises in Stuttgart - Bad Cannstatt
Alien contact: a cultural construction project as an interface for off-spaces and city administration
Space fleet-landing in 2012

PK/JE: Why did you decide to make it public?

MT: It provided the necessary public pressure in order to be taken seriously. A guide, someone who knew the structures and the barriers within the administration and who prepared us for them, was allotted to us. But unfortunately, even if someone is very involved at the administrative office, it doesn’t mean that the matter is settled.

PK/JE: In 2011, you were evicted from the Nordbahnhof wagons by the city and the Deutsche Bahn and now, five years later, from the depot. What happened then?

MT: In November 2015, three months before the end of the rental contract, we proposed the neighboring Degenkolbe-Areal as a temporary alternative area to the city administration. Within just one week, 7300 supporters politically reinforced our cause with their signatures (https://containt.org/petition-2015). Nevertheless, the city administration did not accept our proposal. That is why we have simply turned to the art association Wagenhallen ourselves. There, we can put up all of our containers now. Because of the renovation, the Wagenhallen – a temporary container city with studios for the artists affected by the renovation – is developing in front of the hall. Even though the handling of contain’t by the city is shameful, the temporary situation is a win-win situation for both the Kunstverein Wagenhallen and us: The Kunstverein benefits from our knowledge and our experiences of the past few years and we have ended up at a very central and exciting place with development. We share the infrastructure with the Kunstverein. The city administration wanted to leave us out in the cold. But we are still here.


PK/JE: How is the situation there?

MT: A few dozen containers will be installed by us in order to create a temporary container city. Artists, architects, and projects – such as Umschichten, Dundu, Performance Electrics, the Bureau Baubotanik, or Fahrräder für Afrika – will set up their container ensembles there. In between, there will be numerous further studios in containers, wagons, and similar modules. We are present with thirteen containers and demonstrate our strength of mobility and modularity. It is a complex process because many interests are converging and the area has to be settled reasonably. The planning has started with a small number of containers. Now, there are a lot more.

We are present with thirteen containers and demonstrate our strength of mobility and modularity. Marco Trotta

With Aaron Schirrmann, a founding member of contain’t is represented in the two-person planning team. The planning team connects the future users, stays in touch with the landlord and the administration, and is planning the allotments, modules, water and power supply lines, thoroughfares etc. Basically, it is an urbanistic process in miniature format. With the installation of the container city, exactly what we have fought for at the depot in the last few years is happening, without the difficulties of building applications, however. Because there is no one there. Our experiences with the container architecture are integrated into a central planning unit. Born out of a temporary solution, a profitable situation for everyone involved developed.

PK/JE: Do you want to stay there?

MT: The Wagenhallen – just like the depot – is one stage for us on our exciting journey through the urban space. The deal with the Kunstverein is valid for one year. Afterwards, we will draw a joint summary and examine whether a renewal would be reasonable. For this, the progress of the renovation or the requirements of our infrastructure will certainly also play a role: We bring an industrial kitchen, a workshop with machines, and a sanitary container with us, which we will also make available for the members of the Kunstverein.

Cooperation project UNITY with migrants from the neighborhood
Alternative CSD with VOW & Rae Spoon @ contain't
6 hours, 1 stage, 21 bands: Trashival 2013
Vagabundenkogress with Theater Rampe, June 2014
2014: summer open-air quality time
Annual assembly 2014
In touch with an emerging subcultural music scene

PK/JE: What would happen if you had the opportunity of a house? A less flexible building with a fixed infrastructure. What would change?

MT: A spacious exterior area with a well-developed winter proof building would be amazing! The Degenkolbe-Areal would have offered these qualities, but the city opposed this. The justification for that was insufficient from our point of view. The offers and the willingness of the administration to communicate show us the mood barometer with regard to contain’t. At the moment, the city seems to be annoyed and the communication lies idle. In the long run, we will restore our relationship again, I’m convinced of this. contain’t can’t exist without the city, and I think that it is similar the other way around. A peripheral spacious exterior with a building at the center would also be possible, a renunciation of mobile spaces definitely not – this concept has proven to be worthwhile.

Our experiences with the container architecture are integrated into a central planning unit. Born out of a temporary solution, a profitable situation for everyone involved developed. Marco Trotta

PK/JE: Besides concerts, discussions, workshops, and your engagement for a mobile studio community, you became well-known for your parties, whose festival atmosphere can rarely be found anywhere else in Stuttgart …

MT: The »party« is not just a passing space for electronic music and artistic experiments. It is a contemporary platform for discourse and an informal open space for the difference of opinion of creative people in a pluralistic society. As long as this doesn’t seep through here, Stuttgart will never be able to get rid of its provincial aura. The success of our events shows the tremendous need of the many creatives at the universities and academies of Stuttgart for alternatives to the club infrastructure of the Theodor-Heuss-Straße.


PK/JE: What do you wish for from the city? And what can you do yourselves?

MT: My wish list to the city would go beyond the scope of this article. And in the end, you won’t be given anything for free anyways. In my opinion, we need advocacy groups for non-commercial bottom-up projects that speak with one voice and apply pressure if necessary. Now, there are for example the »Stadtlücken« (city gaps) and the »Einmal im Monat« (once a month) meetings. But the different experiences, backgrounds, and states of debate of the participants represent a challenge for the organization and moderation of the process. For contain’t »Kultur im Dialog« – a two-year discussion process attended by over 200 citizens, cultural workers, artists, creatives, and representatives of the city administration, raising the issue of how we imagine urban living in a culturally sustainable city of tomorrow – was a formative process. There are a few points of reference here in my opinion …

PK/JE: So far, we haven’t talked about what is happening on the contain’t site near the depot now. Why did you have to go?

MT: The former depot will be developed in the next few years. Apartments and public institutions will be built there, which is generally to be welcomed. Species protection is also calling for a resettlement of several protected lizard populations. There is a temporary habitat for the lizards now on our former grounds. The end of our rental contract was therefore plausible, quite contrary to the administration’s rejection of the utilization of the huge Degenkolbe-Areal in the direct vicinity, for which no utilization was apparent.