In recent months, Berlin has been hit by a wave of arson attacks on cars and increasingly violent left-wing protests. This has led the head of Germany’s police union to warn of a dangerous rise in left-wing terrorism, and to claim that the city of Berlin and its mayor are fanning the flames.
The headlines are there almost every morning: BMW burnt, VW set alight, a Mercedes torched. Almost nightly, somewhere in Berlin, a vehicle is set on fire in what police say are political statements by an increasingly militant left-wing. Around 170 cars have gone up in flamesthis year; and earlier this month, police vehicles became the latest targets.
Additionally, during May Day celebrations this year the traditional scuffle between left-wing protestors and police became unusually violent. Leftists also recently staged a demonstration at Berlin’s defunct downtown Tempelhof airport. What was intended as a peaceful protest against gentrification turned violent and resulted in the arrests of 102 people and the injury of 21 police officers.
The developments this week prompted Rainer Wendt, who heads the German Police Union (DPolG), to conclude that left-wing violence is rising dangerously. He has also criticized Berlin’s politically ambitious mayor, Klaus Wowereit, for being too sympathetic to the leftist cause.
Is Wowereit Fanning the Flames?
“The capital’s mayor is stirring things up against the police and then using (them) his employees as cannon fodder during large protests,” Wendt told SPIEGEL ONLINE, referring to this year’s May Day demonstrations in Berlin when more than double the number of police were injured than the previous year and local police chiefs were blamed for not being more forceful. Not only that, Wendt said, but parts of Wowereit’s administration — the governing coalition pairs the center-left Social Democrats with the far-left Left Party — were openly sympathetic to the left-wing extremists. “That’s not really a shot in the arm for my colleagues. A lot of Berlin police have had enough,” Wendt said.
This is not the first time that Wowereit, and his administration has been criticized in this manner. In the aftermath of the Tempelhof protests, opposition politicians accused the mayor, and other left-wing and Green Party politicians, of inaction against the “red terror” that verged on tacit compliance. Conservative politicians such as those from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) even said in a statement, that the left wing “feels particularly safe and is tending increasingly towards violence” as a result of the Berlin government.
Left Wing More Organized And Militant Than Ever
Wendt agreed. He said he had recently noticed a different approach to the car arsons in Berlin. In the past, it felt like while some of the arsons were politically motivated, others could have been the result of copycats or teenage pranks. Wendt said that now, “unlike in earlier years, these vehicles are being specifically targeted. Before the event, there’s been some intensive planning and research.” For instance, the police cars recently set on fire were locked up on private property. Arsonists have also targeted DHL courier company vehicles because of their connections to the German military and cars belonging to national railway Deutsche Bahn because of their involvement in the transport of nuclear waste. And, as the Berliner Morgenpost reported, auto arsons went up during the recent “Action Weeks,” in June when pamphlets had been circulating telling left-wing activists to protest against gentrification, to “disturb the neo-liberal order” and “take back the city.”
“We have also noticed this kind of thing (better organization) at protests,” Wendt continued. “First of all the culprits work out where the police’s weak spots are, then they strike them. The extreme left-wing groups seem to be looking far more conspiratorial — and increasingly militant. We are extremely concerned.”
So concerned, in fact, that Wendt believed that these incidents may actually be the early signs of a “renaissance of left-wing terror,” similar to that which Germany saw in the 1970s — when the Red Army Faction killed more than 30 people in a campaign of bombings, kidnappings and assassinations that terrorized West Germany. He warned that symbols of the state, including politicians themselves, may soon be in danger.
“The number of cases we have cleared, with regard to these offences, is so low because resources have not been devoted to investigating them,” Wendt explained. “We cannot get to the left-wing extremists without a lot of undercover investigation. The country simply lacks the capacities. Making the fight against right-wing extremism and against Islamic terrorism a priority has torn a big hole in other areas. We need to find a balance.”