(guardian.co.uk) Around 2,500 police officers were deployed in Berlin today to evict inhabitants of one of the capital city’s last former squats.
The 25 residents of the Liebig 14 tenement block have refused to leave after losing a lengthy legal battle which has become a touchstone for the city’s anti-gentrification movement.
The local Green MP, Hans-Christian Ströbele, said alternative housing projects such as Liebig 14 were one of Berlin’s trademarks and should be protected rather than destroyed.
More than 1,000 protesters gathered outside the building in the former east Berlin district of Friedrichshain. They waved banners, banged wooden spoons on saucepans and shouted at officers from the German Special Forces who had managed to climb onto the roof during the night. On the street, police in full riot gear blocked all access routes.
By 11.45am local time (10.45 GMT) 23 protesters had been arrested, but police had not managed to gain full access.
Demonstrations and publicity stunts are planned across Berlin throughout the day. Already, protesters claim to have paintballed the famous department store KaDeWe, Berlin’s answer to Harrod’s, along with the town hall in the district of Schöneberg, where John F Kennedy gave his”Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963.
The building, which has 25 bedrooms, four kitchens and five bathrooms, was first squatted in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. After Berlin’s housing board took ownership of the house in 1992, the squatters signed a lease making them the legal residents.
After it was sold to private developers, the lease was passed on to the current occupiers, who range from 19 to 40 years old and hail from around the world. One British resident, a 24-year-old PhD student, gave her name as Sarah.
“We were told we have to leave because the landlord wants to renovate the house and divide it up into expensive flats, which is what has already happened to other alternative housing projects like ours,” she said.
“People with not much money are being forced out of Berlin city centre. This is not just about 25 people losing their home, it’s a protest against the gentrification of the city and ordinary people all over being priced out of their local housing market.”
Sarah refused to say how much rent she paid, but it is widely believed to be a token amount. German media has reported that the rent is still set at 1992 levels, which equates to just €1 (85p) per square metre per month.
The district mayor, Franz Schulz, criticised the eviction. “It is not a good day. We’re losing an important alternative project,” he told Inforadio.
Most of today’s protesters were in their 20s or 30s, but standing by the police line on the south side of Liebigstrasse were an older couple from Munster, who looked on with concern.
“Our daughter is one of the residents,” said the 60-year-old university professor, who did not want to be named.
“She has lived there for 10 years now. We come and visit every month or two. It’s almost like our second home. I know many of her housemates and they are nice, peaceful people. It’s crazy that the city of Berlin is allowing this to happen.”
Berlin police said 2,500 officers were engaged in the operation, “but not all are stationed here; they are spread out all over the city to deal with the planned demonstrations”.
Wednesday 2 February 2011 12.22 GMT
by Helen Pidd in Berlin