The City Plaza Hotel in Athens’ Victoria district stood empty for a long time. In April 2016, an initiative, together with stranded refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and many other places, occupied the building. They transformed the 126-room ex-hotel into a residential complex and managed it themselves. In doing so, the project is a demonstration of the practice of economic and political solidarity with refugees. Thus, it was also a center for the fight against racism, borders, repressive migration policies, and social exclusion. After thirty-six months, the experiment came to an end in 2019. Despite the project’s brevity, this building in central Athens, as well as the activities that unfolded there, represent critically important topics to all of us—and not only in times of crisis.
A Refugee Hotel in the Heart of Athens
A Model City of Memories and Dreams
That the houses assembled here seem to be thrown together is because the individual buildings, as they stand there, do not necessarily exist as built structures. They are memories mixed with visions of one’s future four walls. Built by refugees from Iran, Syria, Morocco, and Pakistan, World City, as the project is called, was created together with Berlin-based association Schlesische27 and other organizations. This global city of a different kind is both speculation and dream: about a future without borders, the city as a process of dialogue and its polyphony, of which there’s still too little to date.
A Model Project for Refugee Integration
Former mayor Domenico »Mimmo« Lucano of the southern Italian municipality of Riace was co-founder of the association Città Futura—City of the Future. In collaboration with aid organizations, he took in refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, and Lebanon. With this came state subsidies that were then also invested in the village’s infrastructure, which—many today believe—would likely have died out without the new residents. And so, together with the locals, abandoned houses were repaired. The newcomers were also introduced to local traditions of glass making, ceramics, and embroidery. But from the beginning, there was resistance to what was seen as an idiosyncratic approach, which finally led to the project’s collapse a few years ago. Lucano was accused of malpractice, abuse of his position, and had to leave Riace. In the meantime, however, he’s back forging new plans.