Radical left plot to assassinate opponents no longer unthinkable, Berlin warns

For years far-left activists in Berlin followed the strategy of attacking property, not people. But that is changing, the Berlin interior ministry claimed on Tuesday.

Radical left plot to assassinate opponents no longer unthinkable, Berlin warns
Protests in Rigaer Strasse, Berlin. Photo: DPA

“2016 was marked out by a spiral in left-wing violence that not only led to a multitude of serious crimes, but also in part to a radicalized tone – which has seen calls for the murder of police officers and politicians,” the ministry warned in its security report for 2016, released on Tuesday.

“The inhibition threshold regarding physical attacks is sinking, and we are now at the stage where targeted assassination of political opponents no longer appears completely unrealistic,” the report states.

Several violent confrontations between police and left-wing protesters around Rigaer Strasse, a left-wing street in the east of Berlin which holds deep symbolic significance for the far left, were central to the radicalization in the scene, the report argues.

In January 2016, 500 officers raided a left-wing squat in the street after four people in masks attacked a police officer.

Police again moved to clear out squatters in the bottom floor of Rigaer Strasse 94 in June last year, an operation which was later deemed illegal by a city court. The operation led to heavy left-wing riots in which dozens of cars were burned and over 100 police officers were injured.

Tuesday's interior ministry report claims that the far-left purposefully escalated battles with police in order to win sympathy for their cause, a strategy they were successful in.

The far-left scene were able to increase their ranks by 150 members over the course of the year to 2,790 members, while Berlin police recorded a rise in overall crime committed by the far-left, and an increase in violent crime.

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Over the course of the year graffiti calling for the murder of police officers and members of the city government multiplied, with a picture of a gallows with the inscription “a cop could hang here” a particularly common image.

Also recorded during the year was a partly violent campaign of intimidation against the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which involved crimes ranging from property damage to assault.

During the build up to the state election in Berlin in September 2016, attacks on offices and properties associated with the AfD became particularly common, with party members violently assaulted on several occasions.

In one incident, an AfD member manning an election stand in the Neukölln district of Berlin was attacked by six people, who beat him before spraying him with pepper spray.

Overall, the report painted a gloomy picture of a city blighted by ever worsening political extremism.

The number of far-right extremists remained at the record high reached in 2015. Meanwhilee more and more people were identifying with the Reichbürger movement, an ideology which rejects the current borders of Germany in favour of those which existed before 1945.

Crimes committed by the far-right dropped slightly, but the report emphasized that there was “no reason to say things are getting better.”

It also noted an increase in the number of Salafists in the capital to 880, some 410 of whom are potentially violent.

Interior Minister Andreas Geisel (Social Democrats), who presented the findings on Tuesday, announced plans to almost quadruple the budget for preventing young people from falling into extremism to €4.7 million.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.