Paola Totaro Herald Correspondent in Berlin
August 3, 2009
THEY occur at a rate of nearly one a night, without warning or
fanfare. By the time the police arrive, only the smoking wrecks
remain: even the identifying badges Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, VW
have often been completely obliterated by fire.
A city haunted by its extreme right-wing past, Berlin is in the
throes of a renaissance of extremist, left-wing political activism
and torching cars, particularly expensive ones, has become the crime
In the past six months, more than 170 cars have been destroyed by
fire in Berlin, and police say at least 93 were politically motivated attacks.
Analysts say the perpetrators increasingly use independent political
websites to pinpoint the attacks, claim responsibility and post their
political messages. A mysterious, single page website,
BrennendeAutos.de, shows the number of cars set alight and where,
revealing clusters in ''richer'' areas or in suburbs where
gentrification and intense redevelopment are taking place.
Demonstrations in Berlin have also become more violent. This year's
May Day protest degenerated into an ugly confrontation between
left-wing activists and an increasingly frustrated police force, and
ended with 21 police hurt and 102 arrests made. Last December a
neo-Nazi rally in Lichtenberg in east Berlin sparked a clash with
A spokeswoman for the Federal Office for the Protection of the
Constitution said there had been a measurable increase in left-wing
extremist action, including the targeting of police and the property
of businesses perceived to be involved in military or ''imperialist''
activities. DHL, which is involved in military logistics for the
German armed forces, has been a recent target.
''It is not just anti-militarism we are seeing … it is
anti-imperialism, a catalogue of anti-things, anti-fascism,
anti-gentrification,'' she told the Herald. ''The people we are
seeing are the so-called 'autonoma', people operating in groups
without hierarchy, who are not well-organised, and so classical
anarchy is in the background of their thinking.''
Frank Millert, a spokesman for the Berlin police, said the number of
politically motivated arson attacks had almost doubled in each of the
past three years, with police cars among the targets.
''The men and women who do this … do it in a way that makes it very
difficult to find the evidence. It is hard to say if they have
political motives like the Red Army Faction in the '70s … some of
this happens just in areas of Berlin where the suburbs are
gentrifying and people are losing their apartments.''
Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 there has been increasingly
vociferous opposition to the wave of redevelopment and gentrification
that has transformed areas of east Berlin traditionally occupied by
artists into smart apartments and commercial centres.
The phenomenon has also sparked a schism between the police, the
left-leaning Mayor, Klaus Wowereit, and the conservative national
government amid claims that law enforcement agencies treat left-wing
political crimes with less rigour than those of the extreme right.
The head of the German Police Union, Rainer Wendt, said authorities
were not doing enough to stymie the rise in left-wing violence.
''The extreme left-wing groups seem to be looking far more
conspiratorial and increasingly militant. We are extremely
concerned,'' he said. The fight against right-wing extremism as
well as Islamic terrorism had absorbed vital resources: ''We need
to find a balance.''