Dozens injured in riot on Berlin street

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Dozens injured in riot on Berlin street
A policeman stands guard on Rigaer Straße in Berlin after the riots. Photo: DPA

Police and cleaning squads ushered a battered Berlin street back to normal life on Monday after a weekend rampage by left-wing radicals injured more than two dozen people. Police arrested 24 people.


Violent clashes flared intermittently along Rigaer Straße in the city's eastern district of Friedrichshain throughout Saturday night and resumed on a lesser scale on Sunday.

A total of 27 police officers were injured and at least one passer-by was spray painted and assaulted by rioters.

"From my window I could see objects burning on the street and people digging up cobblestones and throwing them," resident Sabine, 52, who did not wish to give her last name, told The Local. "I was scared so I stayed indoors."   

The disturbances were sparked after some 100 people responded to an internet call to gather at 7pm on Saturday in the street, which has a long history of social tensions due to the steady development of the area and accompanying rent hikes.

The crowd blocked traffic at one intersection with piles of construction materials and burning wooden palettes and vandalized a number of parked cars before police intervened and were pelted with stones, bottles and fireworks.

Authorities said as many as 300 people participated at the height of the disturbances. Twenty-four arrests were made over both days for assault and breach of public order.  

Dubbed "the long night of Rigaer Straße" by police and fresh graffiti inscriptions, the unrest reflects entrenched local opposition to the area's changing social composition and economy. "Fight gentrification, stop evictions" exhorted a banner in English that flew on Monday from a squat located on the street.

Directly opposite the house stands the building of the museum of the DDR youth resistance movement, which as its website informs, celebrates Friedrichshain's "long tradition as a place of civil resistance and defiance of repression".

"I've seen cars on fire here before, it's all about the gentrification of the area," said Sabine, who has lived in Rigaer Straße since 2006.

Riots for rent?

A temporary visitor and resident of the street, Danish artist Janne Kappel, said she could partially empathize with the frustrations, having witnessed similar eruptions over social inequality in her native Denmark.

"Young people want a place to live but people with money are buying up all the property. I really understand them, but I don't like how they are doing this [with violence]," she said.

The irony for Kappel is that she came to Berlin for three weeks to explore the city's art scene, because it is "burning" with vibrancy, little expecting to see the street under her window literally go up in flames within days of her arrival.

Housing shortages and rent crunches have affected other German cities in recent years. A protest in Hamburg last December over the eviction of squatters by a property owner brought several thousand people onto the streets, leading to clashes with police that left 120 officers and reportedly up to 500 demonstrators injured.

While rent hikes of recent years are now tailing off in many places, they are still on the rise in Berlin, which enjoyed a long period of disproportionately cheap rent after reunification. Overall, average rent in Berlin has shot up by 35.6 percent since 2007.

Germany's leading SPD and CDU parties last year began talks on possible steps to cap rents in areas with an acute need for more affordable accommodation. The mulled proposals would prevent landlords from charging more than ten per cent above the area's average rental price.

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