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Why an anonymous group has been deflating tyres of SUVs across Germany

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
Why an anonymous group has been deflating tyres of SUVs across Germany
A SUV parked at the side of the road in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

A group branded the Tyre Extinguishers claim they are "defending themselves against climate change, air pollution and unsafe drivers" by letting the air out of SUV tyres in cities - including across Germany.

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Anonymous activists, acting on behalf of a loosely organised group called 'The Tyre Extinguishers', have deflated hundreds of SUV tyres in at least four different German cities in the last two months, according to the group's page on X, previously Twitter.

The group posts boastful accounts of its activities on social media, in a Telegram group, and on its website, saying it is making SUVs - which is short for sport utility vehicles - safe by taking the air out of the tyres. 

In the latest action on December 27th, the group tweeted to say that it had deflated the tyres of 60 vehicles in Potsdam, Brandenburg, on Boxing Day. The tweet said: "Festive action from our comrades in Potsdam with 60 SUVs made safe. Good work!"

Earlier in 2023 on November 20th, the group had struck Potsdam, tweeting: "Another 100 SUVs made safe in Potsdam last night, the SUV capital of Germany."

Members of the group deflated SUV tyres in Munich on December 9th.

On December 12th, the group said it had flattened tyres in Berlin. "Politicians at the #COP28 climate conference don't act. So we act," read a tweet about the action on 130 SUVs in Berlin.

Activists also struck Leipzig last month.

The Leipzig police department confirmed to The Local that more than a dozen SUVs had the air let out of their tyres between December 9th and 12th in the Stötteritz and Reudnitz-Thonberg areas, and that confession letters "suggesting a climate policy background" had been left behind on cars.

Why is this happening?

The group's activity has spawned a number of reports in the German press, and even a bitter warning from Benjamin Jendro, spokesperson for the Berlin Police Union (GpD). But police say the group's disorganised nature makes its activity hard to track.

In a statement provided to The Local, the Berlin police department confirmed that letting out air in tyres constitutes property damage that is punishable according to Section 303 of the Criminal Code (StGB). They added that 336 criminal complaints were made about deflated tyres in 2022, and 841 were made from January 1st until November 8th last year. 

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According to the Tyre Extinguisher's website, the group targets SUVs in "posh/middle-class areas" in particular. The group's website also explains that it sees SUVs as being harmful to the environment and to people in urban areas - citing research, such as the International Energy Agency's 2021 report which found that "SUVs rank among the top causes of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions growth over the last decade". 

The Tyre Extinguishers' actions come at a time when some climate activists, growing weary of political leaders' refusal to take bold actions to mitigate climate change, are resorting to bolder and more radical action. 

While Fridays for Future draws a clear line at civil disobedience, organising rallies and protests, and respecting laws and property, groups like Extinction Rebellion (XR) and The Last Generation (LG) have stirred up fierce debate in Germany with action such as road blockades and public acts of vandalism

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Proponents of these tactics say they succeed in gaining a lot of attention and therefore keep climate change at the forefront of public discourse. But critics of disruptive actions say that activists risk turning people against their movement.

Whether or not it's helpful to the cause, Last Generation has certainly gained infamy in Germany. Police have even raided Last Generation members' houses, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called their tactics "dangerous" and "incomprehensible".

In their statement, the Berlin police said it was difficult to monitor the group targeting SUVs in comparison to other disruptive climate activists. 

READ ALSO: Climate activists spray Berlin's Brandenburg Gate

"The perpetrators who act in the name of the so-called Tyre Extinguishers, in contrast to openly appearing members of the XR (Extinction Rebellion) or LG (Last Generation), are neither a consistent group of people nor an organisation," police told The Local, adding that it was therefore not possible to estimate the number of possible suspects carrying out the crimes. 

How do you know if you've been targeted - and what should you do?

If you come across flat tyres on your vehicle, you will no doubt be wondering what caused it.

It's worth noting that rather than slashing tyres, the group in question tends to let the air out of tyres by inserting a lentil or a small pebble in the tyre valve cap. So victims of the Tyre Extinguishers may be able to remove the lentil, reinflate their tires, and move on.

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Most fuel stations in Germany have self-service tyre pumps. So, if possible, the easiest fix for a tyre with low pressure is to get to the nearest gas station and refill it. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where in Germany are diesel cars banned?

But when a tyre is completely flat, it's not advisable to drive on it. In this case, you should replace the tyre with a spare, or otherwise call your road assistance association if you have one, your insurance company or get help from a local mechanic.

In any case, if you believe your flat tyre is suspicious, you should contact the police and file a report. 

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