BERLIN: Hundreds of people rioted in central Berlin late Friday to protest evictions from one of the few remaining squats, a symbol of the German capital's free-spirited ideals. Berlin mobilized hundreds of law enforcement officials to remove residents of the "Liebig34" site in Friedrichshain, a hip part of former East Berlin where property prices have risen sharply.
It went off peacefully. But in the evening, hundreds of masked and black-clad protesters marched in a driving rain from central Mitte shopping district with a banner: "Defend free spaces, remain on the offensive." Shop windows and cars were set ablaze, police said, adding officers had been pelted with bottles.
Fire crackers were also set off in the central streets, with a thick cloud of smoke rising. A bus stop was destroyed. Berlin police said they deployed 1,900 anti-riot officers to contain the violence over the removal earlier of people from the squat, which was rife with symbolism.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, blocks of abandoned houses in the east of the capital were taken over by students, young people, artists and activists. Some of the squats were subsequently legalized as housing projects. The self-described "anarchist-queer-feminist" building on the corner of Liebigstrasse, with a facade covered with graffiti and banners, has been offering shelter to about 40 women, trans and intersex people since 1999. A bar and a self-managed cultural center helped the collective to raise part of the money needed to pay the rent. But investor Gijora Padovicz, who owns the building, decided in 2018 not to renew the lease for Liebig34.
Faced with the residents' refusal to leave their homes, he filed a lawsuit, which he won, culminating in Friday's eviction. Police removed residents one by one from the four-storey building, an emblem of Berlin's fading "poor but sexy" image, the marketing slogan of the city's former mayor Klaus Wowereit.
Protesting against the police action, Anna Mai, whistle in hand on the edge of the police cordon, said Liebig34 was "a symbol of the diversity of this city which shouldn't only belong to the rich. Berlin is dying". "It goes against human rights to throw people out on to the street in the middle of a pandemic, when they cannot pay their rent," Moritz Heusinger, lawyer for the Liebig34 collective, told AFP."They are becoming homeless." - AFP