Saturday, February 28, 2009
Gentrification, unemployment and social inequality are the perpetual sources of discontent:
When Berlin resident Simone Klostermann returned from vacation and couldn’t find her Mercedes SLK, she thought it had been towed. Police told her the 35,000- euro ($45,000) car had been torched.
“They’d squirted something flammable into the car’s engine block in the gap between the windshield and the hood,” said Klostermann. “The engine was completely destroyed.”
The 34-year-old’s experience isn’t unique in the German capital. At least 29 vehicles were destroyed in arson attacks this year, most of them luxury cars, according to police. The number is already about 30 percent of the total for 2008. The latest to go up in flames was a Porsche, on Feb. 14, two days after a Mercedes was set alight in a public car park.
While youths in Athens protest by throwing Molotov cocktails, in Paris by toppling barricades, and in Budapest by hurling eggs at politicians, protesters in Berlin rage at their economic plight by targeting the most expensive cars -- symbols of German wealth and power.
Kreuzberg was the center of a European squatters movement, ideologically inspired by autonomous groups and anarchists, during the economic distress of the 1970s. They were removed from many of their buildings after German reunification, as they were in the Lower East Side of New York City by the Dinkins and Giuliani administrations, which experienced a similar phenomenon in the mid-1980s. I thought that the neighborhood's anti-capitalist, anarchist identity had been eradicated through ongoing gentrification thereafter, but, apparently, not nearly as much as I had been lead to believe.
Berlin has a history of political protest, with anarchist demonstrators regularly clashing with police on the streets of Kreuzberg during May 1 marches. Kreuzberg, which abutted the Berlin Wall, is represented in parliament by the Green Party’s Hans-Christian Stroebele, a former lawyer who defended members of the Baader-Meinhof gang in court.
Likewise, arson attacks on cars are not new: a Web site, “Burning Cars,” was set up to track the incidents in May 2007, one month before a summit in the northern German resort of Heiligendamm of the Group of Eight industrialized nations. There have been 290 attacks on cars since then, among them 55 Mercedes and 29 BMWs damaged or destroyed by fire, the site records.
“I wouldn’t advise someone to park their Porsche on the street” in Kreuzberg, Berlin police commissioner Dieter Glietsch told the Taz newspaper in June last year.
Hat tip to the Angry Arab News Service.