Barcelona is one of the most popular cities in Europe – it is difficult even to count how many times this overtouristic mecca has been instagrammed over the past decade. But what everyone will notice quickly – Barcelona on Instagram are mostly touristic paths, views from the terraces of hotels, the seashore, and many many many selfies. How well do we know Barcelona and its people behind the most touristic spots?

Touristic Mecca

Architecture

Ciutat Vella

Eixample

Poblenou

Gentrification

In Barcelona the gentrification process has already taken place years ago in neighborhoods such as the Gothic, the Raval, the Barceloneta, Poble Nou, Poble Sec and in the last year in Sant Antoni with the great reform and reopening of its market. One of the big problems that Barcelonans face is the impossibility of accessing cheap housing in Barcelona due to the increase in the price of land, either for rent or purchase. This makes it difficult for the locals to continue to inhabit the center of the city and its most emblematic neighborhoods. Mass tourism in general and what is known as a collaborative economy are the two factors that, according to various studies and reports, have most contributed to accelerating Barcelona’s gentrification processes. Barcelona is one of the cities with the most offer on the Airbnb platform, with thousands of accommodations, of which only a part have a license to operate.

Okupas – The Squatters of Barcelona

The Okupa movement has been gaining momentum ever since the realization that people could occupy properties freely (and “legally“). It became even more popular after gaining headlines in 1984, when officers rallied into an empty building (in Barcelona) to evict the first ever known squatters in the history of Spanish democracy. The Okupa movement has been rising in numbers due to numerous amount of vacant buildings in Barcelona. Quite simply, an Okupa is a person who seeks empty buildings, taking the opportunity to break in and occupy it. If the incident is reported to the police (which they usually report themselves), they have over 24 hours within the property until it becomes their “own”. The “movement” is more related to the young anti-capitalist figures who occupy the houses in an act to protest their rights. They have created a network in which they have built schools, libraries, accommodation, etc. for young travellers and house seekers. However, there are also a different type of squatters: after the crisis, many families found themselves without the sufficient funds to finance their loans; resulting in the banks acquiring their properties. Without any other alternative, families moved in with their parents or they occupied empty buildings to rebuild their home. Some never moved from their property that was acquired by the banks; resulting in another form of occupation. The picture below was taken from one of many of the protests against the “desahucios” (the evictions). “Rescatan Bancos, Desahucian Familias” – They save the Banks, They evict the Families. The legal process to remove a squatter from the property is so tedious, long and expensive that the owner would rather hand the “Okupa” the money outright. It is pretty hard to get rid of the squatters. The Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau is protecting the rights of the squatters and has made it increasingly harder for organisations such as “desokupa” to pursue the squatters who carry out plans to get rid of these Okupas.

The Barcelonians

In the midst of a touristic season, tourists prevail over locals in the most touristic parts of Barcelona. But who are those Barcelonians – people who daily turn Barcelona into such a vibrant diverse city, with its pros and cons?

# Sweet Elderly

The elderly people in Spain are just sweet, for their most part! They are helpful, open-minded and young in their souls. They have a very active social life. You will often see them going shopping to their supermarkets or markets with their trolley bags, having a daily lunch in their favorite local restaurant that offers a special affordable lunch menu, and get together to chat or play outside. The elderly couples hold their hands as if they fell in love just yesterday!

#Those Omnipresent Dogs…

As I lived in Berlin, I was sure that Berliners have more dogs than anyone else across Europe. But I believe I was mistaken as Barcelona – one of the most densely populated cities in the world – has more dogs per sq. km. Even in densely populated central districts that lack green areas such as the Old City, many people own dogs, and often several dogs. As central Barcelona is covered with historical tiles, this sometimes creates a problem that dogs impatiently pee on them, which creates in hot summers a quite unpleasant smell. Here we come to a big question of many people without dogs: is it good at all for a dog to be kept in a densely populated area that lacks parks? Especially when they are quite big dogs?

Workers Outside

Miscellaneous

Disposed Items & Garbage Collectors

Every Friday it is allowed in Barcelona to dispose of unnecessary home furniture and other utilities free of charge, placing them right next to the garbage bins in front of a house. This is when the hunt for valuable items begins. It is a daily reality to see many people with trolleys searching for valuable items in garbage bins or among Friday items. Who are these people? Where do they come from? Is it enough to make a living? Considering that some parts of Barcelona are not flat and summers are humid and hot, it looks like a rather hard job. There is a high percentage of young black men among these people.

Behind the White Blankets

Every year, hundreds of undocumented African immigrants come to Spain in search of a better life in Europe. Many cross the Mediterranean, aiming for the Spanish mainland or the Canary Islands with hundreds perishing on their way. But are the black people marginalized for years to come in their new home Spain? I hardly ever see them among shops assistants, cashiers or hotel workers. What are their legal rights or prospects for decent work or advancement here in Spain? Do these young men resort to working illegally as manteros — ‘blanketman’, or unlicensed street traders only because there are hardly any survival alternatives to them? A union of street-sellers “Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes” was formed in 2016 to fight ‘against racism and institutional violence’, and promote immigrants’ rights. The syndicate has also created its own fashion label and top manta solidarity e-shop Top Manta with legal products of artisanal design and manufacturing to generate resources that allows to support the African immigrant community. In March 2017, the Ajuntament Barcelona also backed the launch of an initiative by the members of an association of Senegalese ex-manteros called Diomcoop – a platform for members to sell African arts and crafts, jewelry, recycled goods, outlet fashion and gastronomical goods at markets around Barcelona. Not all manteros, however, want to join such legal initiatives as the black market trade is extremely lucrative. Many of the manteros who work each day in the Port Vell area have little interest in selling Top Manta products. Mantero trade is still going strong, much to the disapproval of Barcelona business owners…

Homeless and Beggars

What is it like to be homeless in Barcelona? Many might believe that warm climate is favorable to homeless, but is this really an argument? And why are so many homeless and beggars of a relative young age? Are they locals? Or do they come from other EU countries where the climate is colder? We don’t know. But the government of Finland ordered a substantial research on that topic and the Finnish Y-Foundation on the Finnish housing first principle published a handbook in English “A Home of Your Own”. This book describes in detail why homelessness is on the decline in Finland unlike other EU states. It also explains why it is actually more expensive for a country to have homeless people than to provide them with basic living and integrate back to a normal life.  The handbook is free of charge and is downloadable here. A must-read for the government of Spain and many other European governments?

Environment

Street Art

Catalonia

The photographs below document Barcelona in 2018 and 2019, so after the Catalan independence referendum of October 2017, also known as 1-O, and declared unconstitutional by the Spanish government. The trial of Catalonia independence leaders began on 12 February 2019 in the Supreme Court of Spain. 12 people were tried  for the events surrounding the organization and celebration of the referendum, including the previous vice president Oriol Junqueras of the regional government and most of the cabinet as well as political activists Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart and the former Speaker of the Parliament of Catalonia Carme Forcadell. A unanimous verdict by the seven judges that tried the case was made public on 14 October 2019. Nine of the 12 accused received prison sentences for the crimes of sedition; of them, four were also found guilty of misuse of public funds. Their sentences ranged from 9 to 13 years. The remaining three accused were found guilty of disobedience and were sentenced to pay a fine but received no prison term.  The verdict delivered by the Supreme Court sparked multiple protests across Catalonia in the fall 2019 – mostly peaceful, with some acts of vandalism though during the clashes with the police.

Seven Catalan leaders who played a key role in the 2017 independence, including ex-president of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont, bid are in exil. In the end of february 2020, tens of thousands of Catalan independence supporters gathered in Perpignan, southern France, 30km from the Spanish border, at a rally in support of Carles Puigdemont. Puigdemont, who is now a member of the European Parliament and lives in exile in Belgium, urged supporters waving Catalan flags not to give up on the fight for an independent Catalonia.

Freedom for all catalan prisoners and exiles

According to the Catalan media ara.cat, 70.3% of Catalans believe prison and exile are unjust. In the course of the events, Òmnium Cultural has launched a campaign under the slogan “Free All Catalan Political Prisoners” – with posters in several languages. “We tell tourists who come from all over the world that there are things about the Spanish government that their travel guides surely do not explain. We are talking about the government’s rollback of democracy, the deterioration of fundamental rights, the existence of political prisoners and exiles and the police repression on 1 October. We raise awareness and, in turn, internationalise the political situation in Catalonia.”

Barcelona Exhibition Project In Search of Corporate Sponsors

Having photographed Barcelona for the past to years, I am launching my search of enterprises who are interested to become a sponsor or co-sponsor to help finalize and launch my international exhibition project on Barcelona. We will organize a photographic exhibition in more European cities. It is crucial though that your company directly or indirectly supports sustainable initiatives and shares environmental values. We are going to print this exhibition in the most eco-friendly way possible. We will show an example that artists are also there to make a change.

Please contact me via LinkedIn or write to irina.golenkova@gmail.com and feel free to share this information.