SPECIAL FEATURE: HAUS MAINUSCH
Updated: Aug 22, 2022
By Christopher Miguel Flakus and Robin, without whose help, guidance, and direct editing this piece would not exist. I consider them my co-author on this piece, the Virgil to my Dante.
In 2012, I lived in the attic of an old, crooked punk house in Houston Texas. Let me tell you what summer felt like: An inferno. I burned up there like brisket in a smoker. In the winter (not that we have much winter in Texas. At least not back then. Now we have winters so cold they kill us) I felt so cold it seemed no matter how many blankets I used, I could never stay warm.
In other words, these were the happiest days of my life, up until then at least. There were twelve of us, all anarchists, punks, weirdos, creeps. The house ran as an open commune and all decisions were democratically made. In a little under ten years, the original inhabitants (myself included) all moved, replaced by drug addicts that managed to burn the house almost completely down before it was demolished and turned into a parking garage.
Now, in 2022, I write from Johannes-Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. This is my second year presenting talks and attending seminars, participating in the Institute for World Literature. Apart from writing short stories, novels and teaching creative writing, I love critical theory. This last passion is what’s brought me to this literary seminar.
When I arrived in Germany with a broken foot (having snapped my ankle clean in half and somehow just sucked it up and continued to walk through Dublin and later Paris, up and down the steps of Montmartre and The Louvre. When I returned home to Texas I had just enough time to get surgery, go through one cast, and come to Germany under strict orders not to put too much weight on the foot or hurt it in any way.
I believe it was fate that led my knee-scooter to crash outside of Haus Mainusch. As I rolled cursing across the asphalt, my giant, elephant-foot of a black boot on my leg up in the air like a battered flag. I landed on my shoulder and elbow to avoid hurting the foot, skinning a good part of my shoulder and back. It hurt like hell so I crossed the street. Towards a heavily graffitied house.
It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized what kind of house it was. There, I recognized the circle with a zig-zagging arrow, the universal sign for squat. The circle with an “E” for equality, and of course the Anarchy “A.” I have the “E” and the “A” tattooed on the insides of both my middle fingers. There are many people afraid, and rightly so, to be identified as Antifa. There are people afraid of ghosts who think that Antifa is a terrorist organization. We are neither an organization, nor terrorists. Yes, I freely admit I have been an active antifacist for over a decade, simply by pronouncing myself so and working with like-minded friends to do what we can, winning little battles here and there in a war that is all but lost.
I walked into Haus Mainusch, under a small arch covered in punk stickers, some faded into white squares, the ghosts of punk bands past.
There was no one else there except for a man I will call Simon, a resident of the house. I introduced myself and explained my accident, asked if I could sit on one of the couches and he went back inside, came out with a cold beer for me. An act of kindness from a stranger. This is something I’ve encountered in Germany more than anywhere else in Europe I have been. Friendliness. Solidarity.
I liked him already.
Naturally, we got to talking. I looked up and realized that the physical structure of Haus Mainusch reminded me of Fairview House (the name of our punk house in Houston). Nearly identical, only the colors were different. Even the backyard area with its stage and couches reminded me of Fairview, only Mainusch has a first-class stage with incredible sound capabilities. We had a PA.
Back in Fairview we worked with Antifa structures, ABC (Anarchist Black Cross), and during the best days (which sadly, came mostly before my time there, though we remained an anarchist house and active in other ways ) Fairview house spent a lot of time and effort printing literature and remaining politically active. We lasted less than ten years. Haus Mainusch has been standing, just on the edge of Johannes Gutenberg University, since 1989 when it began as a squat. And now it is in very real existential danger. The house is threatened by a university bulging with Biotech kickback money.
What I don’t understand is, why? I’ve been on campus a month now as part of a global literary conference that I am taking part in. This is how I’ve come to know Haus Mainusch and spend so much time there. I’m on campus nearly every single day.
Soon others arrived and friendships were made. I stood thousands of miles away from my home, yet I felt absolutely accepted for who I was in all my eccentricity, in my unique individuality. Haus Mainusch is a safe place for people to express themselves.
In this spirit, an artist can approach Haus Mainusch with any project or idea, anything from a painter needing studio space to a band needing a jam room. Haus Mainusch can even be a free location for a concert or party if it is not commercial (money from the event has to be spent supporting a good purpose. For example "No Borders Kitchen," which is an organization helping refugees in the Mediterranean, or "Rote Hilfe," an organization that helps activists who are facing jurisdistic repression). The house holds a meeting once a week (all decisions are voted upon and completely democratic) where members all vote. If the Haus decides your project is a good one and they have the resources, you got it. For free. It’s yours.
Where else in the world does such a wonderful thing happen? Where are this many people who care, working their asses off so there can be just a little bit more beauty in the world and why is this side of Antifa never shown? It is, believe me, the giant submerged part of the iceberg. The smashed Starbucks windows, the protests, even the one I attended, are a very small part of the overall effort. I’d say Antifa is more about community-building than it is anything else. Haus Mainusch considers itself in tune with the “Woke Ideology” and are therefore friendly to any antifascist without having to hold any specific role or claim any one thing. From what I see, Haus Mainusch is fluid in its acceptance, fluid in its approach to problem-solving and smart enough to know when, and more importantly, how to get and remain directly involved.
I approached Haus Mainusch for this article. They politely asked if they could speak in German and discuss it when the time came to vote. I told them no problem, take all the time you need. I lit up a cigarette and took out my phone, sent a text to my girlfriend who I miss so much it makes me dizzy to think about her. Just a few minutes later I heard the members of Haus Mainusch say, “Ok? Sehr gut.”
“What’s up?” I asked my friend Max, we’d just met but Max was very friendly, and I trusted Max.
“Haus Mainusch is down. You can do your article,” Max said.
After that I began going more often, interviewing, attending amazing concerts (the French pop-noir two-piece Venin Carmin being a major highlight, a synth-soaked post-punk explosion that ended up being hands-down one of the best shows I’ve seen in my entire life. And I’ve been to thousands of rock concerts. This was special). Little by little I began to understand not only the house, but the peril that it stands in. What’s at stake, and how important it is for a beautiful place like this to be protected.
“This is not a formal arrangement,” Max told me, “You could make a consensus about anything. As long as the house agrees, and the majority vote. A real direct democracy. Since 2015 I’ve been here and I’ve witnessed so many changes, so many eras. I can’t say to you ‘this is how Haus Mainusch is,’ because it is always changing.”
Max drags from a cigarette. Max exudes a sense of authority, fairness, and empathy. Max tells me Nena turned into a nutty anti-vaxxer. What a shame. We’re losing all our heroes, either to Covid or the madness of denying it.
“This has been described as the ‘slum’ of the campus, an eyesore,” Max tells me the Dean recently said in a speech. Even though the house is just on the edge of campus and if you weren’t looking for it, you might easily miss it. To me it is a splash of color, something to be proud of and something to be protected. The house always had a low rent agreement, but just recently affordable, rent-set student housing opposite Mainusch got knocked down by the University and the rent-set agreement nullified. An unused gravel field stands in its place, but the biotech money Mainz got from (some of the vaccine vials are produced here en masse in a large biotech factory) means it will swiftly be replaced by a new building.
There are several buildings--unoccupied---at the center of campus, that really are eyesores and would be fine to knock down and make something fancy. I don’t see the necessity to destroy Haus Mainusch, a cultural phenomenon which has persisted since 1989 when it founded itself as a squat. Coming from Houston, a town that does little to protect its cultural history, I hope the ending of the Haus Mainusch saga is a happy one.
“For a long time we had an agreement with the school, but now they keep raising the rent and we can barely keep up. We throw shows and the little profit left over we donate, for instance, to protect a few acres of rainforest in Peru,” Max told me, referring to the last gig, a synth-pop show with Sheebaba and Venim Carmin, the last being particularly intense and energetic, like what it must have been like seeing The Slits or Germany’s own Liliput (a great band) at their prime.
A beer at Haus Mainusch costs two euros and you get it yourself. I mean you walk into the house, open the fridge, grab a beer, then open the till yourself and leave your money, break a bill, make change. There is that level of trust. People trust you to open the till and put the money in as you grab a beer. That might sound ridiculous to an American, but it works pretty well (except for one little dickhead that keeps stealing money from the till in Haus Mainusch. Nobody has seen this person steal but since they are doing it on a regular basis Haus Mainusch has been forced to close at night. It really seems like trouble comes in threes, when combined with the neo-Nazi threat, the threat of eviction, the fact that outsiders exploit Haus Mainusch and do not respect its ideology threaten to be its unmaking).
This is a real shame but, Max assures me, a very rare occurrence. “For the most part it really runs itself and it runs on trust.” The house will remain closed to outsiders unless there are any events taking place for the next few weeks or so. But no one who is part of the Haus Mainusch community would ever take a penny from the till and not one of them wouldn’t pay for the beer they’re drinking. There is a circle of inner trust, people that they just know never, ever would. They have an ideology. Maybe that’s what we lost sight of at Fairview. More accurately, maybe that’s what I lost sight of. Cynicism becomes attractive the older I get. Some of the members of Haus Mainusch I interviewed for this article are in the German equivalent of High School. Haus Mainusch is more than just a place. It is a symbol. A non-ageist, non-discriminatory, anti-fascist, intersectionary community both fighting for their existence while still managing to make enough money to donate and take place in various actions and efforts for good such as running a food kitchen and regularly making large meals for anyone who is hungry. These events are always promoted, but they are well known by word-of-mouth. Those in need know they can come to Mainusch and sit and eat in peace. No matter who they are, or what their story is.
I see it as a symbol for democracy and autonomy and antifascism. A symbol that proves self-organized structures of activist communities can create and sustain artistic and political beauty. Haus Mainusch has stood since 1989. A different world.
Before I met Max in Haus Mainusch I got to know some other people too, with one of my new friends from here (I will call them Robin) I had a really interesting talk about their view on Haus Mainusch and the local and global politics and values of the community. I was astonished to learn Robin was only seventeen years old and, you may have noticed, is also credited as co-author of this article. Robin’s writing and editing is what made this article come alive. We sat together at Haus Mainusch drinking Radler and waving off the hornets that incessantly dive bomb you when you sit somewhere with food or drink. They’re absolutely villainous.
When I asked Robin, “What is one thing they would like to change in the world, and I explained that it could be anything. Imagine you’re God, so to speak. Robin replied:
"I would love the world to be a system without authorities, because I believe that in a system without authorities people get the chance to live the life they want. If you have the freedom and you get the help from society and you do shit you don't get punished with jail, but the people will say 'here is no space for you' and you will have to deal with the consequences decided upon by the community. But there is room for forgiveness without authority. And so, people will learn without being in jail or paying fines. I believe in this system of freedom and solidarity nobody has to be a Nazi and nobody has to be a bad person and do crimes. Also, basically everything you do that doesn't harm other people isn't a crime for me. And I think if you had the freedom to do what you want without hurting anybody. Most people wouldn’t. Nobody harms someone without a reason, and I think in a system without authorities where you have freedom and support and solidarity to build structures that support ideologies that can convince others that you don't have a reason to harm anyone. So, I think that a directly democratic global system without authorities would change a lot of the human world problems.
I was speechless as I listened to what Robin had to say and we both agreed on the idea of that system and how incredible it would be to live in such a society. But since we don't, or at least not yet, Nazis still have a platform and a right to March, even here in Germany, where they historically they should be the least welcome. Robin told me about an upcoming protest against a group of Nazis that are planning to March on Mainz, and I knew I needed to follow them to the Protest and demonstrate against those shitheads.
Yesterday the "Neue Stärke Partei" a fascist, white-power, far-right group, planned to march on Mainz.
I have my own gripes with “wokeness” and the far-left, but sometimes (not very often) life gets as close to “good” and “bad” as it can. These guys were bad. Shoah deniers, fascists, openly neo-Nazis in all but name. It is illegal to use the swastika as a symbol or to call yourself Nazis, so they come up with new words, symbols, and terms, but it’s all the same kind of Indo-European, Eurocentric, medieval crap. In the end these Nazis weren’t much more than a bunch of LARPer’s built like monsters.
I’ve been in antifascist groups since I was eighteen years old. I mean, directly, participating and working with antifascist groups from all over the world. Does this make me that dreaded word “Antifa?'' Well, yes. It does. We’re not an organization, we are not terrorists, and what someone does in the name of Antifa in NYC doesn’t have any bearing on my interpretation of anti-fascism or my own personal devotion to opposing it. Both are equally acts of “antifa” although one has absolutely nothing to do with me, I have no knowledge of it. It’s not as if someone calls and asks permission from someone to tag an anarchy sign on the side of a building for chrissakes.
I didn't mean to be in the vanguard. This, I promise you. I went there, ostensibly, as a journalist. Though my tattoos and general “look” made objectivity impossible. I have antifascist tattoos and tattoos, my black leather vest covered in punk rock pins, sweatpants and boot for my broken foot all made me cut a strange image. I had a mask on and a cap I bought in Ireland, gray wool on black with a leather knotwork square in the center. These are things the police consider the equivalent of gang signs.
The flag bearers were having trouble, so I stepped in. I was holding up the flag on the left side, a portrait of Marx as it turned out (I couldn’t see my side, but the other sides were black and red and had a hammer and sickle, so I must have ended up with a mix of antifa and communist youth. Our flag was a kind of three-sided square with an open back. Hundreds upon hundreds of enraged antifascists followed behind us. I felt a sharp pain in my leg because I was running in my post-surgery boot. I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I am the first Flakus to fight Nazis in Germany since my grandfather, Sylvan Flakus, in World War Two.
Ahead of us, nothing. We marched in time, chanting antifascist slogans in both English and German. Some, “No Justice, No Peace,” brought back memories of those made protests just after George Floyd, right in the middle of lockdown.
Behind us: innumerable waves of antifa marched in step and behind them, the police. A back vanguard did their best to pull out trash cans from in front of people's houses and out of alleys, the big ones, setting up blockades for the police with whatever they could find. Anything to buy us time. Then I began to really worry. My leg already hurt like hell and there was absolutely no turning back. In fact, it began to dawn on me that running, really fucking running the one main thing I’d been warned by my doctor not to do under any circumstances, was going to happen. No way around it.
We marched until the kid in front of me (I’ll never forget him in his blue shirt and mask. Young. He must have been sixteen at the most. Same age as when I first started going to Demos in Mexico, marching with the EZLN when they marched on Mexico City. This boy in front of me saw my foot was broken and instead of asking me to stop as I feared he might, he gave me a thumbs up and pointed to my foot and in German he said “This is good. Sacrifice.” It went beyond language. Everyone there understood the meaning of sacrifice. We didn’t need broken bones, though we’d endured them, each of us. Most physically, some in other ways, but all of us in either one or both. I see Antifa as a survival group. An antidote to evil.
The Neu Starke Partei were holding a line outside the tunnel in a large open beyond a tunnel next to the old cemetery, their final strategic attempt to walk on Mainz (they’d been successfully expelled from every other entry point: Romiche’s Theater, Goetheplatz, and The University itself. It all came down to this last stand and we were prepared to clash. These guys were built like brick…you get the idea. But there were so many more of us than there were of them. We would have rolled them over like a train of black and red.
We cut them off at the central cemetery. I’ll admit, by then my leg felt like it had caught fire. Suddenly one among us began to rage and chant slogans, and again, it went beyond language. We became the berserkers of old, the battle-hungry people of Indo-Europe that once lived and fought and died on this soil. Or the Roman legionaries that once occupied the city during their Empire. Or the Knights after that. Or even the Jacobins, who had a foothold in Mainz during the French Revolution for reasons I’m still not completely clear on. Anyway, we were a pissed-off phalanx fully prepared to lay our lives down to stop these guys from stepping food in the city.
We roared and charged. I’ve never felt anything like it. I’ve been protesting for a long time and have been participating in protests. The George Floyd protests over the pandemic were probably the hairiest I’ve ever seen. But it prepared me (or so I thought) for it all. I saw cop cars on fire and total chaos. I’ve met Black Bloc and local Antifa and ABC (Anarchist Black Cross) in Houston, New Orleans, Dallas and a dozen of other groups. I’ve seen them come and go. Form and uniform. Create and disintegrate. That’s the thing with us anarchists. At least my kind. We like a healthy debate, but most of us have left our commune days behind us. Haus Mainusch brings back a gust of the past for me. A more radical past? Or perhaps I see in them the possibilities for what we had back then and fear I squandered them. Mostly we just partied.
Why is it then, that when the smoke clears, reality sets in again? It doesn't seem as clear cut as it once did.
And the smoke isn’t metaphorical or, at least it isn’t purely so. Yesterday, as we exited that tunnel charging, the nazis surrendered. I would have done the same thing in their shoes. They left Mainz, not having completed their task of marching. We’d won. We’d rejected them at every strategic point in the town. Every muscle in my body burned. The feeling of victory felt incredible. My every muscle screamed, and I smelled cigarettes and human bodies, I smelled grass in the wind, though the day had grown unbearably hot. I felt right back at home in Houston.
This I’ll say for German pragmatism---however cliche, it’s true. There were maps and groups in constant communication. I felt part of that hive mind. King mob. On a significant level, this is real power. And all power is subject to corruption. Anyone can call themselves antifa, interpret it their own way. The violence that media outlets drone on about are usually a twist in the story meant to reduce us to thugs, or as Trump laughably called us “terrorists.” But people don’t understand the reality. Clashes happen because the police here and back home both use facial recognition technology to keep track of who are “members” of antifa. They are considered “gang tattoos” by the people processing in jail. Guys with antifascist tattoos are thrown into tanks full of nazis and left to fend for themselves. This is something you’ll have to trust me on. I’ve seen things with my own eyes that even I don’t believe.
During demonstrations it became clear that the police appeared more concerned with arresting, beating, and antagonizing Antifa than the Nazis, a few of which got pepper sprayed, but all in all were treated with kid gloves compared to us. Again there were many more of us so maybe they thought we posed the greater threat. Or maybe they held us back only to protect the Nazis. It's the same everywhere. The police pretend to be your friend and helper until they pop out in an unmarked car and pull you over for a broken tail light or speeding. But in Uvalde, dealing with active shooters, they’ve failed to answer the call of duty. Cowards that are comfortable beating on kids, as long as they are unarmed. “In Germany you’re invisible until you become political,” Robin tells me. “Until you become an activist. Until you start fighting for what's right.”
In the middle of getting a sound clip (for I’m also writing this as part of another story, for a magazine. Not this exactly, but a description of the events. True Gonzo journalism baby. I know there’s no objectivity here, but I am also asking questions of myself and our efforts. Like I said, it’s rarely ever so clear cut. Yesterday the people of Mainz that passed us in their cars, drove slowly to wave and honk and give the thumbs up. Especially the older ones. Those that remember. If not the time itself, the time just after it. What these bastard fascist planned to do could not be tolerated. The insult is so grievous. This is a city that welcomes refugees with open arms and recycles on a level that makes the United States look medieval.
What matters is that the planned March on Mainz didn't take place. The huge group of antifascist activists blocked the streets towards the main station. After just a couple meters walk, those assholes had to stop. In the afternoon they left the city from the same small station they arrived. Their demonstration didn't take place. Antifa won once again. Another battle won in a war that, nevertheless, we seem to be slowly losing.
As I said, I’ve been here in Mainz for a month now (as I write the end of this piece) and of all the cities of Europe I’ve been to, with Paris being (well, Paris, it lives in its own category, a place in the imagination as much as it exists physically) Mainz has felt most like home. I’ve done good scholarly work here. I came for a Literature conference and my presentation went well, though I think Bataille and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo is not for everyone. My fiance and I will keep working on the paper and get it published. We could even expand it into a book. Everything is possible. The productive and artistic spirit of Haus Mainusch inhabits me.
Each of us had to escape the maelstrom when the police began firing tear gas and corralling us. I nearly made it away with the help from an experienced protestor, a young woman from Hong Kong, and a man I will only ever know as Lion.
After I escaped the cops, I went back to Haus Mainusch, together with many of the demonstrators who knew the house was a safe space. There I met Max again. Wounds were tended. Water handed out.
“We have an advertising problem,” Max tells me, rolling another cigarette between their fingers, (everyone, especially the punk rockers, roll their cigarettes here). “Probably there are many people who could benefit from Haus Mainusch, but they don’t know of us.”
As the interview is conducted a light breeze plays across the back patio. The scrape of leaves and the light buzzing of bees, which are everywhere in Mainz, mingle in the distance with the near-constant blast-beats of a grindcore band playing in a small, home-made studio somewhere behind us. This is a place alive with productivity. It is alive in the way any person is alive. We are its organs. To be there, so briefly, passing through the essential tissue of this phenomenon which has lasted since 1989 and which now teeters on the brink of extinction, is an honor. The night I stayed to watch Venin Carmin play with Sheebaba was as good a show as I’ve seen in years, and the energy is what really made it. A crackling in the air and between bodies that grew palpable, like ascetic monks reaching a state of nothingness.
These are, in my mind, Dionysian warriors. My best of friends I met are non-binary and I realized how easily I slip, how much work I have to do to support my friends and be an ally. Their patience and kindness and friendship remain the reason for this article.
Finally, a quick throwback to the rally:
A brave photographer risked a lot to get very close and take pictures of these nazis unmasked. There’s a reason they hide, it's because they know their "opinion", as it should, isn't accepted around and won’t be, because it’s disgusting to deny the Holocaust and disgusting to advocate white purity. They are a sad product of the past and the more they rise up, the faster we’ll rise up to meet them. In Houston, Mainz, or wherever else I might ever be.
If they had a shred of decency, they would have been too ashamed of themselves to even think of marching on Mainz as they had planned. These are men without scruples, unconcerned with insult their very presence represented to this peaceful and open community.<