By Bart van der Steen
Squatting is the contemporary term for taking over derelict or unused property with the intention of remodelling it into a living space, a venue, an activist centre or something completely different. But although the motivations for squatting may vary, all squatters have one thing in common: they have to open the door and this requires tools. In most cases, the tool is a crowbar. Thus, a website offering practical advice to squatters, describes the crowbar as: ‘Another man’s tool’.
The crowbar functions as an alternative key, opening the door to an unknown space. The Amsterdam squatters collective Adilkno described the experience of entering the vacant premise as being ‘pulled across the border into the other space’, in most cases a building ‘with all kinds of weird-looking rooms, where here and there the lights are still on’. The German squatter historian Geronimo thus defined squatting as opening ‘the door to the radically different’.
If the act of squatting is an almost mystical experience, the crowbar plays an essential role as the key to this other world. But the magical power of the crowbar reaches further. Not only does it help open doors, ‘Another man’s tool’ also tells us: ‘It is very difficult to look nonchalant when using a crowbar.’
Given all this, it is no surprise that squatters have always been fascinated with the object. The British squatters’ newspaper during the 1980s was thus called Crowbar, while the Australian ’zine The City Squatter was subtitled: ‘Crowbar, my heart’.