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Squats in Berlin: The City’s Open Wounds

In Berlin’s ‘Friedrichshain’ district, two squats have caused issues for a long time. Militant left-wing radicals who live there keep on provoking the authorities and attacking the police. The next chapter in this drama is coming up.

The city state of Berlin has problems the biggest of which is the affordable housing crisis. Recently, the Senate took action by approving a so-called ‘Rent Cap’. Whether this measure will resolve any issues depends on the courts. Opponents have announced lawsuits.

Two Squatter Strongholds

Another big problem Berlin needs to tackle is indirectly related. It is about two squats in ‘Friedrichshain’, a district in which gentrification has lead to higher rents and a changed atmosphere. In the middle of elegantly renovated apartment buildings, left-wing militants have two strongholds.

One of them is the apartment building at ‘Rigaer Strasse’ 94. In 1990, when it was empty, it was taken over by squatters. After long negotiations with changing owners, the inhabitants were asked to pay low rents starting in 1996. Around the year 2000, when a real estate company which had acquired the building wanted to convert it into an ‘eco living project’, the squatters protested.

Squatters in ‘Rigaer Strasse’ have spread violence for a long time. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Back then, some inhabitants were forcefully evicted. But shortly after, they managed to take over the building again. Two years later, the squatters were offered an alternative building, which they rejected. In 2003, parts of the building in Rigaers Strasse were vacated, when police evicted some inhabitants yet again. But the situation did not last, meaning the squatters returned.

Violence Against Police

Over the years, the squatter scene and their supporters staged big protests whenever the authorities had the real estate object searched or when they tried to evict the inhabitants. In 2012, as many as 51 police officers were injured during a protest. Afterwards, police raided the building and were attacked again.

While the violence was continuing, a foundation offered to purchase the building in ‘Rigaer Strasse’ 94. The organization would have granted the inhabitants the right to stay there for 99 years. But they refused, saying they would rather “continue the fight against the contentment”. At this moment, it became clear what the squatter scene really wanted. Violence and fighting the system was actually more important to them than just living in that building.

In 2014, the object was sold again. The new British owners wanted to remain anonymous because they feared attacks. Three years ago, police conducted a large operation against the squatters after an attack against officers who had given out parking tickets in front of the building. Radical left-wingers staged street protests some of which became violent.

Unknown Ownership Structure

The situation calmed down when the authorities gave in to the inhabitant’s demands, and when they ended the police presence around the apartment building at ‘Rigaer Strasse’. Courts rejected actions for eviction because the ownership structure was not entirely clear. This problem is still in the way today.

Berlin’s Interior Senator Andreas Geisel wants the city state to purchase the building from its British owners through Degewo, one of its own real estate companies. But negotiations failed due to the fact that the person they were talking to could not prove he was the actual owner. The complications have to do with differences between German and British law.

While the Berlin Senate is hoping for clarity by the end of this month, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution does not like what is going on in ‘Friedrichshain’. They say ‘Rigaer Strasse’ 94 was “a central institution of the ‘autonomous scene’ of Berlin” the members of which were willing to resort to violence.

The Other Object

Even if Senator Geisel starts negotiations with the building’s owners about purchasing the object, anything could happen afterwards. The squatters are willing to fight. This is what they demonstrated earlier this month, when they attacked police with bottles and stones. Several officers were injured.

The fact that some inhabitants are paying symbolic rents by now does not change the fact that ‘Rigaer Strasse’ 94 remains a time bomb and a haven for violent radicals. The authorities do not have access, not even for fire safety measures.

The situation in ‘Rigaer Strasse’ is unbearable to many neighbors. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Just a few steps away from ‘Rigaer Strasse’ 94, there is another squatter object, in ‘Liebigstrasse’ 34. For years, the inhabitants here had an indenture of lease with the owner. The contract ended in late 2018, which is when the former squatters who had been tenants for a while became squatters again. The owner insists on an eviction.

District Court Decision Awaited

Today, a Berlin district court will deal with the matter. It is unclear whether the judge intends to take any decision today. Supporters of the squatters staged a protest in front of the court this morning during which one woman was arrested. On Wednesday, radicals who said they lived in ‘Liebigstrasse’ 34, damaged a building and vehicles owned by a real estate administrator they believe has contacts with the owner.

One thing is certain: In case the court decides an eviction may take place, the squatters there will not just accept the verdict. Their friends in ‘Rigaer Strasse’ 94 will not like it either. The same applies to thousands of supporters of the radical squatters. Berlin might be in for yet another round of violence on its streets.

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