Alex and I skate up to the abandoned building and stop before the entrance. The main door is barred shut. Curtains and cardboard cover the windows. To our left, a dented black door lays ajar, casting a ray of light into a dark room. A chain dangles from a busted keyhole, it’s padlock left open.
We knock, then took a step back and looked at the massive mural stretching five stories into the Barcelona sky. There was no doubt we had found the Casa Okupa. We’d been skating across the city all day looking for one that hadn’t already been shut down by police, and this one looked alive – if secretive.
We knock again and wait a moment. No answer.
“¡Hola! Is anyone here?”
We look at each other, shrug and crack the door open. We hear voices up the staircase.
“Hola chicos!” we shout. “Can we come in?”
“Upstairs!” they reply, “Come upstairs!” We push the door open, stepping into the Okupa and into a world we’d been wondering about since coming to Spain three years earlier.
Spain’s rebellious side simmers just beneath the surface. Beyond flamenco is punk. Past the beach are the squats. And across the walls of every tourist town is anti-fascist graffiti and anarchy signs. It’s an image that jars our stereotypes, but it’s very real indeed.
It’s easy to dismiss this anti-establishment streak as a passing trend, but we wanted to see if there was more to the story. In particular, we were interested in the Okupa movement, which has been taking over abandoned buildings and converting them into community centers and collective living arrangements – although ones that are often shut to the public.
A closer look shows Okupa is more than just squats in abandoned buildings. It’s a philosophy to life and a political statement with a presence in every major city in Spain and its roots in a forgotten history – the days when Barcelona was run by anarchists.
The story took us to Spain’s civil war of the 1930s, a bloody era whose scars are still felt today. Learning more would require us to examine a skeleton in Spain’s closet. Was anarchism a passing trend, or a was it an enduring part of the Barcelona’s spirit?
That question took us here, to our first Casa Okupa in Barcelona. At this point, there was nothing left but to go inside and see where the adventure would lead.