"We didn’t want to make trash houses, you know. We wanted to make Teepeeland good looking!” Roll Naumenko

"Our strategy of surviving is: Peace, Love and Freedom!” Roll Naumenko

On the riverside of the Spree, right between Berlin’s famous nightclubs Kater Holzig and Magdalena, a small village has arisen. They call themselves ‘Teepeelanders’, as they’ve built teepees and Mongolian yurts to live in. In Teepeeland there are no rules, Roll explains. “We don’t like that word. But wait, actually, there is one rule”, he laughs, “no public masturbation.” Welcome to Teepeeland!

In Teepeeland there are eight teepees and five yurts. Roll Naumenko (36) is one of the Teepeelanders. Born in Kazakhstan and raised in Lithuania, he has been living in Teepeeland for about six months now: “I was dreaming about it all my life. I just didn’t know yet what it was that I was dreaming off. Now I know. I’m home.”

Good looking
About a year ago the first Teepeelanders built their teepees on this spot at the Spree. They knew each other from a previous squatter community. But as Roll recites: “it was just chaos there, not anarchy, just chaos. There were so many criminals, so many drug addicts and aggressive people. Two or three guys decided they wanted to found a new community, something peaceful, without violence and without aggression.”

Teepeeland was the result. Even though drugs and alcohol are also present in Teepeeland, Roll hasn’t been drinking for a month. Instead, he is focusing on improving his yurt. The reason why they built teepees and yurts was simple according to Roll: “teepees might not look strong, but they are. It’s really solid and warm during the winter. We also didn’t want to make trash houses, you know. We wanted to make Teepeeland good looking!”

Besides of working on his own yurt, Roll doesn’t have a job. “I really tried, I was a night guard, pizza maker, guitar teacher, and I was working in constructions.” He explains why it was just not for him: “you know a few hundred years ago when people needed water, they put a waterwheel in the river. But they needed someone to make it turn. So they used a donkey. The donkey would walk in circles, and would make a thousand kilometres and then ten thousand kilometres. He would stay in the same fucking place. I don’t want to be like that donkey.”

Most Teepeelanders don’t have jobs, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. “Right now I can live without money at all actually. But to make my life a little bit more comfortable, I play guitar on the street. Or I collect empty bottles for deposit money. It’s really enough.” Teepeelanders receive food from visitors or collect it from trash-containers. “The food West-Europeans throw away is really good. They already throw something away if they think it will be bad tomorrow.”

Friends and foes
Missions in Berlin that give food to homeless people also help Teepeelanders. “They visit us sometimes. They see we are trying to do something. The idea of Teepeeland is not only surviving like a rat you know. We’re trying to make the world a little bit better. I can’t change the world. I can’t stop the war. I can’t. But, were trying to be happy and friendly and give our happiness to other people. People from the mission see it, and sometimes they give us something to cook with.”

But not everybody is happy with Teepeeland. Their location on the Spree is worth a lot of money – investors are trying to get their hands on it. “And sometimes hooligans and Neonazi’s are trying to pick a fight with us. I think so far they have been surprised how well we can defend ourselves,” Roll grins.

Teepeeland has survived one year so far. Roll tells that the city council promised them two more years. What will happen after, Roll doesn’t know. “We will try to survive and try to protect Teepeeland. We won’t do it with demonstrations or fighting the police.” In Teepeeland they have a different tactic: “Everybody is welcome here! We try to show people that we’re living normally here. And if police and politicians try to get us out one day, we hope people will try to protect us. So our strategy of surviving is: peace, love and freedom!”

Meanwhile, the beats of the nightclubs around Teepeeland are getting louder. It doesn’t disturb Roll too much. “We have our own soundtrack here. Often, early in the morning, I hear Teepeelanders passing by with a full trolley of empty bottles that they’ve collected around the clubs. People that have only been living here for a few days, say ‘hey, what is that terrible noise, can’t they be quiet?’ To me it sounds like music. When I hear it, I just start to smile!”

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