According to CBS News report, 120 police officers were injured in the German capital, Berlin, after what has been described as the “most aggressive and violent protest in the last five years” by the state’s law enforcement. Eighty-six protesters were arrested.
Almost 3,500 people took part in the rallies, with 1800 police officers there to monitor. The left-wing protest was planned to object to gentrification in Friedrichshain and police actions taken to remove squatters from local buildings. While it started peacefully on Saturday evening, it escalated as it continued into Sunday.
Protesters resorted to throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks to attack the police officers. According to BBC UK, officers shot tear gas at the crowd, but some of the rioters covered their faces and threw missiles, destroyed police cars, and broke nearby store windows. Neighbors in housing collectives showed their support for the squatters by beating spoons against pots.
For quite some time, tensions have been high in the area with leftists choosing to live as squatters in response to the rising cost of rent and rapid gentrification in the community. Taking strides to remove the people, patrol squads and helicopters have been continuously scoping the eastern parts of Friedrichshain at all times and sometimes raiding the “occupied houses.”
Even though the squatters refused to leave or pay, they managed to garner sympathy from many of the community members, who live in housing collectives. They understand Berlin’s spark in property development has lead to dramatic changes, making some rich and others homeless or close to it.
One man, Michael Plaumann who lived in Neukoelln, an area ‘earmarked as the next hotspot’, summed up life following gentrification. Expensive.
“It’s very difficult for me to find my own apartment for myself. That’s why I’ve been living in a shelter for a while already, because the apartments have become very expensive, and for as someone who receives benefits, it is just too expensive. I want to live in my neighbourhood [sic]. That’s Neukoelln. I’ve been there for 15 years. What bothers me is that in Berlin, more and more neighbourhoods [sic] are becoming ghettos. Berlin is not changing for the better.”
Expensive or not, Berlin police officers believe squatting is dangerous and state, “the attempt by the far-left scene to create a lawless zone in the capital city must be resisted decisively.”
In January, 500 police officers raided a building believed to be inhabited by four squatters that injured a cop. Led by a SWAT team, the officers entered by the roof and barricaded the entrances. The Local stated 200 police were inside and surrounding the building, the other 300 secured the outside area. Supposedly, the officers did not have a warrant and were not permitted to enter the apartments, so they restricted themselves to common areas. The officers later tweeted they found lots of “dangerous objects” during their search giving cause for heightened scrutiny. A number of similar raids followed.
Critics, including left-wing activists, found the raids to be excessive and began counter-attacks. At one time, the leftist group threatened officers stating, “for every raid on a Berlin squat, we will cause €1 million of criminal damage.” Setting fires to local vehicles and destruction to shops, the group held true to their promises but also increased the need for policing.
While most injuries sustained Sunday were not serious, one law enforcer had to seek medical treatment at a nearby hospital. Some of the protesters were also injured but the number is unknown at this time. Now that things have come to a head, it leaves many to wonder what compromises will be made to prevent more battles between the activists and Berlin police officers, if any.
[Image via AP Photo/Michael Sohn]