Christian Schmid

Projektgruppe Community Media

Born 1958 in Zurich, where he also lives and works today. Member of the project group Community Media. Today he is professor of sociology at the architecture department of the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich.

00:00 Start. 00:18: Background and growing up. 03:04: Discussing everything under the sun and my interest in film. 05:49: I study geography at Zurich University / My first encounter with video in urban research. 08:26: Ethnographic videos / a mix of documentation, participation and activism. 12:04: Life at Luisenstrasse. 13:50: Operation «Hellmutstrasse» / How video can stimulate action. 17:30: Youth culture in Zurich before the revolt in 1980 / A video documentation from within. 19:19: The Opera house riot / May 30, 1980. 21:48: The first general assembly of the youth movement / A videobeam projection of the film on the opera house riot causes a great stir. 29:23: Repercussions on the method of action research. 31:47: How the group «Community Media» survived / A film about the injured of the riots. 34:11: Anarchy & Disneyland / A film about squatting. 36:06: What are movement videos? 36:51: From video activist to urban researcher. 37:58: Understanding urban movements with theories about urban development. 38:42: Combining theory and practice. 39:38: The Zurich Connection and the «Ssenter for Applied Urbanism» (SAU). 41:38: The Rote Fabrik and its practice of curating political discourse. 44:59: Founding INURA International Network for Urban Research and Action. 46:03: Becoming an academic and my appointment as professor at the ETH. 47:46: What I learnt from urban movements and from my experience as video researcher and activist. 52:08: Today’s relevance of Community Video.

Aktion Hellmutstrasse

Projektgruppe Community Media

1979, 44 mins, U-matic low band, black-and-white, 15 mins (excerpts), original online: video collection Stadt in Bewegung (Swiss Social Archive and Memoriav)

Documentary about the occupation of houses. The first part shows the squatting of Hellmutstrasse by the action group Luft & Lärm. The video became popular due to the pithy remarks councilman Max Koller made about the “ameba-like groups,” that hindered him in going about his governing duties.

Councilman Max Koller
When the group (Luft & Lärm) approached us regarding the Hellmutstrasse, we said: We won’t be investing anything in these houses that are still up for demolition. That would be a waste of money. It’s cheaper for us to forgo the rental revenues that we could have than to invest any money. But fine, if they are willing to take over these ramshackle hovels, they shall have them. We won’t ask for rent. They are free to choose to either live in a dump or invest something themselves.
What we don’t want are these ameba-like groups that keep changing every day. The crucial point is always: Do you have a partner who can maintain a certain order, who has a sense of justice, that is, do you have a certain mutual exchange? But today we are always faced with people who are only interested in a one-sided relationship. They only take!
They behaved reasonably, that’s why we negotiated with them. Otherwise we wouldn’t even have bothered, because I have never let anyone blackmail me in my whole life. We did not research the back story of each one of them.
Promises aren’t worth anything anymore today. Someone is given an apartment, and you tell  them they can stay for two years, but they don’t want to leave after two years. All the promises of those who pass through this office and say: We know it, we will move out by then, as long as I have a roof over my head now, they count for nothing after two years!


Godzilla & Co

1981, 32 mins, U-matic low band, black-and-white, 8 Min. (Auszüge), Original online: Videosammlung Stadt in Bewegung (Schweiz. Sozialarchiv und Memoriav)

Documentary about brutal police operations and of the injuries inflicted on protesters through rubber bullets and clubs, produced for the “tribunal” of January 1981 at the Volkshaus Zurich. Following the victims’ requests, this tape was no longer shown publicly after its first screening at the Volkshaus. The interview with Max in the film Dani, Michi, Renato und Max (1987) by Richard Dindo is an excerpt from this video.

Leben in die tote Fabrik

Projektgruppe Community Media

1980, 42 mins, U-matic low band, black-and-white, 7 mins (excerpts),  original online: video collection Stadt in Bewegung (Swiss Social Archive and Memoriav)

Two boisterous nights at the Rote Fabrik in Zurich (May 17/18, 1980), the first general assembly during which the protest in front of the opera house is decided upon. The beginning of the opera house riot and the 80s movement.

Open mic
It’s not all that important to find clear definitions for our political views. We have a concrete goal: That we want to live in this world, and live in a way that’s worth living, in our own culture that is. Our music, our painting, and also our writers: living our culture. And that’s why we need a place to live. There’s space for an opera house, millions are pumped into that. And cars are given space everywhere. I think we should also have a place in this world! That’s why we’re here I would assume.



Projektgruppe Community Media

1980, 9 mins, U-matic low band, black-and-white, 5 mins (excerpts and a speech as a prologue), original (without speech) online: video collection Stadt in Bewegung (Swiss Social Archive and Memoriav)

Video by ethnology students (Projektgruppe Community Media) about the protest of May 30, 1980 in front of the opera house. The opera house riot was the beginning of the Zurich youth riots. The video was shown during a general assembly at the Volkshaus Zurich. Further screenings were banned by Zurich’s then school superintendent Alfred Gilgen, causing a stir at the university. Excerpts were used in Züri brännt and in other productions.

Anarchie & Disneyland

Universitätstrasse 89 together with Christian Schmid

1982, 70 mins, U-matic, black-and-white, 13 mins (excerpts), original online: video collection Stadt in Bewegung (Swiss Social Archive and Memoriav)

This is the story of the fight for Universitätsstrasse 89, a private property in Zurich, including its occupation in the early 1980s. Impressions from the apartments, interviews with passersby and residents, as well as public representatives. Discussions inside the house.

Interviews on the street in front of Universitätsstrasse 89
A    It makes a terrible impression. It’s an alien object in our neighborhood Oberstrass. And the people who come and go there are a disaster. It’s a branch of the AJZ (autonomous youth center), nothing more.
B    It’s not ideal. If you shook it, all kinds of things would surface. Sometimes some girls are sitting up there in the windows with their legs dangling out. And there’s long-haired folks. I wouldn’t mind something else to be built there, it’s an old place.
C    When you look at the people coming out of there, you get the feeling that it’s something that doesn’t have a place in today’s society. Or maybe they want to radically change society.
D    What a terrible hovel! It doesn’t give Zurich a good name. A Tschinggen-Bude (a ramshackle place with Italian immigrants)!

House plenum (Residents A, B, C, D)
A    And you want to make a report to the police because people are sleeping in our attic! Can you tell me why? I just don’t get it.
B    Okay, it just became too much for me: Everywhere you go in this house there are people you don’t know. You don’t know what they’re doing here, if they are housemates or some layabouts or visitors. Or if they’re maybe robbing the attic just now. It’s happened before.
A    Yes, I know that.
B    We’ve had money stolen before too. We’ve all heard the stories.
A    From inside the apartments, that’s true.
B    And every person you see, you’re thinking: What kind of guy is that? The fluctuation in the house is high, and there is no central supervisory body where you can get information.
A    You’re living off your art, and for you, everything is art, even a complaint to the cops. And that crosses the line for me. Not everything in life is a piece of art.
C    There are certain limits!
D    Yes, for you maybe. And I understand that there are limits. But right now there are only two people sleeping up there, and I think that’s definitely inside those limits. For us on the first floor: Do you have an idea how many people come in there every day that you have to kick out again? Those freaking bums and alcoholics, you know. But you don’t see me calling the cops. I’m taking care of it myself, I’m simply kicking them out.