In Berlin over the past couple of months....events have heated up and cops are in riot gear. This all revolves around Riga Strasse.....a east-west street on the east side of Berlin....about a block away from the Samaritertrasse U-Bahn station (subway station).
To tell the story correctly.....I need to go back to 1945.
There's not much left standing by the end of the war in 1945 in this area of Berlin. This area of town is about six kilometers east of the Brandenburg Tor. A handful of building survive....most everything has either bomb or fire damage.
So around 1946 to 1947....with the division of East and West Berlin.....Riga Strasse falls into the western sector and undergoes reconstruction.
It's safe to say with US funding and German effort.....a large number of apartment buildings get built within a short period of time. This usually relates to simplified drawings....no fancy stuff....and usually just one bathroom on each floor for four apartments.
In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s....some renovation efforts come to various apartment buildings in Berlin. These are mostly to update electrical wiring, add bathrooms, and improve heat (rather than using charcoal brickets in a heating stove in each apartment). It's safe to say that some apartments were improved.....and some were left "as is".
On 9 November 1989.....the Wall goes down. East and West Berlin will become one single city in a matter of months. It doesn't mean that conditions really improve for dwellers in the region.....just that it's one big city now.
Real estate prices start to go up in the early 1990s. People are buying buildings.....making improvements.....escalating apartment prices and triggering a switch to condo situations.
Around the summer of 1990 on Riga Strasse....House #94 is a vacant apartment building.....mostly because it hasn't been upgraded or improved much since the 1940s. Some squattors move in that summer.....into house #94. Along the entire street of Riga Strasse....there are twelve such houses that are occupied. Across all of Berlin, some people say somewhere in the range of 400 to 500 houses are in this category. On paper, someone owns them.....but they just don't have the capital or see the back-up for fixing up the houses.
The class of character in the squatter case? Most are anti-capitalist, street musicians, or guys hustling work on a 'black-work' basis (meaning cash only and no taxation). It's a lifestyle group.....they smoke some weed.....sip beer or wine.....play jazz or some form of rock.....and live a low-cost lifestyle with no long-term plans.
By the summer of 1992.....a number of houses in Berlin with this squatter problem have been cleared....by the cops. In some cases.....the cops simply laid out the situation (no ownership, no lease) and friendly persuasion was exercised. In some cases.....people and belongings were dragged out. The city, whether they realized it or not.....was setting a pattern to protect the property owner. But they were creating a hardcore group of angry people who were attached to their lifestyle.
In 1999, a decade into "new" Berlin, and nine years into the Riga Strasse isssues.....house #99 was sold. The new owner is Purple GbR. They've got plans.....capital.....and a construction team. Whatever lease existed at that point for people in the building....it was given a termination notice. For the occupants of #99, it wasn't accepted easily and violent confrontations occurred with the cops. This was another indicator of things to come.
For three years.....this confrontation around house #99 continues on. To help stop the violence....the city council offers this one-time deal. This was for an older apartment house on Simplon Strasse....about half-a-mile away from the house #99 on Riga Strasse. No one says much today over the deal.....the condition of the offered building....or the words spoken. Some people signed the deal.....some did not. There in the summer of 2002....both groups were continuing toward escalation.
In the spring of 2003....a year after this failed deal.....the city cops get help from the federal cops. A big significant operation is sent into the neighborhood, and a water canon is dragged out. Five apartments in #99 were cleared by the cops. Legal trouble mounts for the city because the cops are accused of excessive force and destruction of personal property. Part of the blame also goes toward the owners of the building.
In February of 2011....more cops (2,500 in number) are brought in to evict squatters in a nearby area to house #99 on Riga Strasse. Serious injuries occur for the cops and this triggers all kinds of counter-demonstrations.
In the summer of 2013, there's some kind of episode that occurs at the state-run Job-Center near Riga Strasse.....which gets a number of the local squatters drawn into a conflict....at the Job-Center. State cops and federal cops get involved.....barb wire fences are erected...and it's safe to say that both groups continue toward escalation.
Toward the end of 2014, some investment company out of the Virgin Island buys house #99 on Riga Strasse. The purpose? Unknown. There's not much talk of improving the structure.
In the spring of 2015, some organized power-black-out was triggered by some individuals from the Riga Strasse area......which allowed locals to go through and rob a local grocery (Lidl). Cops react.....cop cars are fire-bombed.....some cop injuries are reported.
In July of 2015....more organized efforts are put into play by the locals on Riga Strasse. The city puts 500 cops into an operation which starts to get front-page coverage almost daily across all of Berlin now.
The cops are under a CDU Senator.....who presses on with police operations. The Mayor? He's SPD. He's pressing on for an investigation and allowing a quiet period for the squatters.
In mid-September of 2015.....oddly enough....neo-Nazis show up. Who would have thought that they wanted into the mix? But there were forty in number and roughed up a number of the liberal left folks from the Riga Strasse area. Cops show up and arrest forty to fifty individuals......an assortment of leftists and neo-Nazis.
In early October of 2015.....cops declare the entire area around house #99 on Riga Strasse to be a "crime-polluted area". With this jargon of words....it's possible for the cops to drive along.....pick you up off the affected area, and take you to the station.....to interview or send you a message that they can mess with you at any time of the day or night. Cops are pelted with stones, and cop-cars are fire-bombed.
By late November of 2015....identity checks are conducted on a regular basis in the affected area. Privately owned cars are set on fire at night. Firecrackers and bottle-rockets are randomly fired at the cops. This is an area of town that most people avoid. I won't call it a no-go area.....but it's a section where you simply don't know what's going to happen next.
On 13 January of 2016.....one cop on patrol in the area is attacked in a vicious way. The four attackers (all from the Riga Strasse area) retreat to house #94....a couple houses down from #99. 500 cops are used to rush the building and some individuals are arrested. More efforts by the SPD to question the need for cops and the CDU handling of the events.
Around 22 June of 2016......cops (300 in number) help construction worker start their project in the neighborhood. What the cops generally report are nightly car-fires now (going on for three weeks now).
It's hard to say how this will go in the future. A major topic in the Berlin state election? Well.....yes. But who would you say ought to have the solution? The CDU? The SPD? The Greens? Or perhaps the AfD?
Cop-wise, the city is putting a tremendous cost burden on maintaining security around Riga Strasse now. There's no logical reason to own any building around the affected area. You can't bring in renovation teams or evict renters if the lease has ended......without some sort of pain occurring.
The squatter crowd? They've been at this game for four decades. No one ever stopped them before and there's the belief that their game will just continue on.
The big issue is that it's all a magnet for cop injuries and riots now. No fix....no solution....no future.