Monday, 11 January 2010

ONE WAY TO STOP GENTRIFICATION

Anarchists in Berlin turn anger on new 'bourgeoisie'

Arsonists torch luxury cars as way of fighting the growing
gentrification of many areas of the city

Kate Connolly
The Observer
Sunday 10 January 2010

They come out mostly after dusk, typically carrying a
simple set of tools – a box of matches, and slow-burning
barbecue firelighters which are lit and placed next to a
car's tyre. By the time the flames have taken hold the
culprit has vanished, and the car is ablaze and beyond
recovery when the fire brigade arrives.

In Berlin, a growing band of leftwing car arsonists have
become the face of an increasingly vociferous campaign
against the gentrification of the German capital. In 2009,
216 mostly luxury cars were torched on the streets of the
city, compared with 135 the previous year.

So common is the practice that spotting the attacks has
become a popular pastime, spawning an obscure website,
"Burning Cars", where contributors track the models that
have been targeted. Brennende-autos.de lists the six most
recent cars as two Mercedes – the most popular target – a
Jeep, Range Rover, Mitsubishi and a rather more modest
Ford, which was burned almost beyond recognition on New
Year's Day on Hermannstrasse in the former West Berlin
district of Kreuzberg. The traditional home of leftwing
activism is where most have taken place.

The attacks have been spreading across the city, and are
influencing protest groups in other cities, like Hamburg,
where there has been a rise in car arson attacks,
particularly on police cars. The choice of vehicle has also
widened. Lorries belonging to DHL, the courier company,
were recently attacked because they serve the German
military in Afghanistan, as were German Railways' vehicles
– in retaliation for its role transporting nuclear waste by
train.

No single group is believed to be behind the attacks,
although last year one calling itself Bewegung für
Militanten Widerstand (Movement for Militant Resistance) –
with the provocative acronym BMW – admitted responsibility
for torching eight cars.

In a letter to a leftwing publication, the group said it
carried out the attacks in protest at the post-Berlin Wall
"transformation of poorer districts", such as Neukölln ,
Kreuzberg and Mitte where it said "established residents",
were being squeezed out by "acute gentrification".

Old flats and warehouses turned into luxury loft apartments
have driven up rents and house prices beyond most
residents' means. Since the fall of the wall more than 20
years ago, the process has changed the demographic profile
of many neighbourhoods. Prenzlauer Berg, in the former
communist East Berlin has undergone the most dramatic
change, turning from a workers' district into an affluent
quarter, which has lost around 60% of its original
residents since 1990.

Anger felt by those affected by the influx of the "new
bourgeoisie" extends to the disappearance of open spaces
and a growing indignation among communities that they are
not being consulted. The protest has recently spread to the
disused runways of Tempelhof airport, which was closed two
years ago. Authorities want to use to land for luxury
apartments. Opponents would like it to be developed as a
park.

"We have no voice in the way the city is changing," says
Jan, 26, a graphic designer and a member of an underground
anti-fascist movement in Kreuzberg. He sat in a cafe close
to a patch of land where East German police used to patrol
the border between East and West Berlin. "Until recently it
was where I used to walk my dog and meet friends," he said.
"Now look – they're building glassy apartment blocks there
for rich yuppies to move into."

Gentrification, he said, is leading to the closure of the
very places that have made Kreuzberg a fashionable and
desirable place to live, such as Bierhimmel (beer heaven),
a popular bar on Oranienstrasse, which has just been forced
to close by rising rents. Farther down the road, SO36, a
legendary nightclub, may go the same way because of
complaints from new residents – scathingly called schicki
mickis – about the noise.

A recent meeting at SO36 discussed non-violent ways to keep
out "unwanted" residents. Erwin Riedmann, a sociologist,
proposed an "uglification strategy" – to "go around wearing
a ripped vest and hang food in Lidl bags from the balcony
so that it looks like you don't have a fridge". The
suggestion drew laughs, but is a strategy being adopted.

An "anti-schicki micki" website, esregnetkaviar.de (it's
raining caviar), offers the following tips to make a
neighbourhood unattractive for newcomers: "Don't repair
broken windows; put foreign names on the doorbell, and
install satellite dishes."

Police say they are at a loss as to how to deal with the
problem, adding that they cannot patrol Berlin's 5,800km of
roads or control an estimated 1,100 leftwing extremists.
"It's extremely easy to set light to a car and by the time
the first flames are visible the culprit is at least two
streets away," said Dieter Glietsch, Berlin police chief.

Peter-Michael Haeberer, head of Berlin's LKA investigation
bureau, said there was a lack of willingness to examine the
issue. "You have to ask why does such a large part of
society so obviously feel excluded," he said.