Rats, the homeless and debt are leading to the collapse of Frankfurt's Occupy movement. Hygiene is proving a bigger problem than capitalism, and the movement's tent city is close to dissolution.
First it was the rats, then it was the homeless. The tent city of the Occupy protestors in Frankfurt was probably not intended to provide a home for poor unfortunates who've been left behind by society, unless they have political aims.
But their presence could mean the end for the camp, since the city's authorities have ruled that the hygienic conditions there are no longer acceptable. Trash, rats, social problems and drug addiction are the main news topics surrounding the camp, rather than the anti-capitalist arguments it was formed to promote. In addition, the city authorities say the camp owes over 10,000 euros ($12,300) for water, electricity and trash collection.
The camp was to have been cleared on Tuesday night, but authorities said they would wait until courts had ruled on an application from the activists for an injunction to stop the move.
"There are rats in Frankfurt and there have been rats in the Frankfurt Occupy camp," activist Erik Buhn told DW. "But there weren't many of them. And yes, one by one, a few homeless people put up their tents in among ours." But the reason for that, he adds, is that Frankfurt has a homelessness problem which it refuses to recognize.
No more interest from the media
But the days of the Occupy camp are now numbered, some nine months after it was set up directly outside the European Central Bank (ECB). It enjoyed a lot of attention when the protestors first pitched their tents there in October 2011. Newspapers and broadcasters reported in detail about the activists in the financial district's tent city. Now they're off the front pages. As sociologist Michael Hartmann says, that's the way the media works, pouncing on anything new, and taking little interest later on. But Hartmann also points out, "The number of movement activists involved has also gone down."
According to Dieter Rucht, an expert on protest movements, many of the activists have probably joined the Pirate Party. He thinks the Occupy movement will soon be over entirely.
"The activists didn't develop any structure and needed first of all to learn how to communicate," he says. Those weren't very suitable preconditions to sustain a campaign. Rucht says there might be some protests as the camp is dissolved, but they will scarcely stop the decline of the movement. But that doesn't mean the movement was a waste of time. "There were certainly some people who will have been politicized by Occupy and will become active in other organizations," he says.
Scarcely any political results
Even in countries where more people joined the movement, like the US or Spain, the camps there did not last forever. But Hartmann expected more of the movement in Spain. "In Spain too, the movement failed to achieve any political successes," he says. "You can see that from the results of the last elections."
Buhn says there is one decisive reason for Germany's diminishing interest in the Occupy movement: the country is doing too well economically. "We're living here in a sort of paradise island," he says, although he also thinks that Germany doesn't have the same culture of protest as France or Spain.
Time for self-criticism
But Hartmann is also prepared to be self-critical. "We're mostly amateurs in this political business, and we first had to find our way around," he says. In spite of all the good ideas, there were often not the right people to put them into effect. He's particularly critical of the culture of debate in the Occupy movement. "As soon as a small group has been formed, it's no longer so open for new members." He says the movement allowed itself to turn into a typical German-style club.
According to unconfirmed reports, there are now up to 15 political activists left in the camp. There are others who may not spend the nights there, but take part in many of the meetings and in the negotiations with the city. In addition, say the Frankfurt authorities, there are some 60 homeless people from Romania in the tents.
The question remains as to what influence Occupy will have on Germany now that the camp is about to be dissolved. There are different views on that. Many commentators say it won't have much. But Rucht thinks it will leave behind a number of people politicized by the movement, and Hartmann says Occupy's central slogan "We are the 99 percent" drew attention to something that people had failed to see before.
"In effect, the last decade has seen only the top one percent of the population increase its income and wealth," he told DW.
But for Buhn, even though he recognizes that Occupy failed in some ways, there's still more for the movement to achieve. "We want to make people aware that there's a lot wrong with the banking system," he says. "We want to be sure that the divide between the rich and the poor does not get too wide, and that we are living in a society that it's worth living in."
After all, the Germans shouldn't be too complacent: "The crisis could hit Germany anytime too."