ATHENS—City Plaza Hotel is no longer a hotel. As a business, it shuttered years ago. But the abandoned seven-story building with faux art deco charms is now home to about 400 people. They’re made up of two groups: Greek anarcho-communist activists, and people who have fled war, poverty, or persecution in Muslim-majority countries.
Bustling with political activity, City Plaza is now a squat organized like a radically egalitarian co-op. When I visited last October, I found the chaotic buzz and aesthetic of a college dorm: cheap furniture, music from competing speakers, walls lined with political posters, and sign-up sheets for an open mic night and shifts in the kitchen or nursery. Large portraits throughout the building featured the faces of the residents passing before me: men and women who chatted in Farsi, Arabic, Urdu, and English. A gleeful herd of children roared up and down the stairs as a smiling Kurdish toddler trailed them, determined to keep up despite the makeshift prosthetic replacing her left foot, which she lost in a bombing.
In the cafeteria, a noisy house meeting was conducted in English, with people seated by language around blue Formica tables. Through designated translators, residents made slow, laborious, collective decisions about mundane problems, like how to manage nosy children who cannot differentiate between the hotel’s common areas and its private bedroom-apartments. Wafts of curry stew crept into the cafeteria each time the adjacent kitchen door swung open. Christian Herrera, a Greek man wearing black Adidas sneakers and a cut-off Korn T-shirt that revealed tattooed arms, looked weary from molding chickpea batter into falafels. But, he told me, “We are a model for the rest of Europe and outside of Europe. Lots of people come here to see how we do things.” Angela Davis, the distinguished African American civil rights activist and Marxist feminist scholar, visited in December.