It was still early in the morning when the tanks entered the red zone. This guilty procession of filth was followed by a bulldozer, a remote command unit and thousands of police officers from around Germany to 137 Köpenicker Strasse in Berlin; the battleground for an eviction that has taken the unified state of Germany it’s entire history to resolve.
The area had been sealed off by the police for days, and so various counter demonstrations were restricted to both ends of Köpi, forced to be spectators to an eviction of 45 members of the community for the interests of a property development company. The press were given front row seats and passed through the police barricades flashing their documents.
The rest of us were forced to scream and kick at the police barricades, then walk around the red zone and scream and kick at the other barricades. As usual the police agitated the crowd, complained of provocation and started to use violence. I heard one protester scream “get your hands off me” to a police officer who replied; “I am just following orders.”
As the eviction started at 10am and the tanks got ready, bottles started to fly from the Køpi at a line of police officers. A police dog was dragged by a chain towards the Køpi to force them to stop throwing bottles, putting the unprotected animal in the line of fire as the two heavily suited polizei stood and laughed.
Then the arrests came as the tanks positioned themselves against the barricades. One man was pulled to the ground by several police officers, who contorted his body at several pressure points as another pulled his mask into his mouth to gag the screams. He was still kicking when they took him away and more arrests were made, although a few were prevented by protesters.
Back at the Køpi, the police approached to the barricade on both sides of the fortified entrance and erected a giant scaffolding. The tanks tried to weaken the structure with water and then pulled, chainsawed and smashed the barricades with a bulldozer, as the eviction was narrated to us by the loudspeaker at one end of Köpenicker Strasse.
That’s when they started to use chemical weapons. Several people were sprayed with pepper spray directly into the eyes and had to receive emergency attention from the on site paramedics and protesters nearby, who assisted with their friends and provided umbrellas for those at the front. Some in the German press reported that there were no casualties, although they were filming the demolition of a wall.
The only party that was not present at this grotesque carnival of brutality was the landlord, Siegfried Nehls, who has never been to the Køpi-Platz. He is CEO of a property development company that artificially drives up housing prices in Berlin by acquiring and developing historical parts of the city for high-income apartment projects.
Siegfried claimed in an interview in 2014 that “the preservation and renovation of historical buildings is an important part of maintaining the historical legacy of this city,” adding that the business model of Sanus “aims to modernize and refurbish listed properties,” it’s focus on Berlin due to a “particularly stable real estate market with great growth potential.”
Eating up the city since 1996, companies such as Sanus drive up rental prices in neighbourhoods including the Rigaer Strasse, where the last occupation – R94 – was raided again by police just a few days ago. This practice is as old as the Køpi-Platz, and has been perfected since the occupation of empty East German properties in the tentative moments between the fall of the Berlin wall and the final unification of the German state.
This is why they brought the tanks, to maintain the historical legacy of the city.
31 years ago, the police brought 10 tanks, water guns, helicopters, arms and chemical weapons to evict the houses on Maizer Strasse, an act of eviction that was so devastating it caused three German senators to resign. The SPD in particular were accused of provoking “a new wave of violence.”
No such accusation have been brought on the newly elected SPD because the oppression communities face has become normalised and it is accepted that the role of the police is to expropriate properties on behalf of private enterprise. In the last year alone, the Syndikat, Meuterei and Liebig34 have been evicted.
The Køpi was not only evicted using brutality, the entire eviction was illegal due to the absence of the landlord.
The legal team supporting Køpi report that the signature on the eviction was not Siegfried’s but actually in the name of Yervand Chuckhajyan, of the mailbox company Startezia GmbH. Nevertheless, the judge ruled, if this company can pay a 200,000 Euro security deposit then the eviction can go ahead, even before the Køpi had the chance to an appeal.
Exhausted, I start to speak to a 64 year old man who is standing across the street from the solidarity protest. He tells me he has been involved in many house projects, evictions and occupations.
“In the 80’s when many houses were occupied, you could walk the streets and feel safe – you could even walk naked if that’s what you felt like doing and nobody gave a fuck. Now I can’t even stand on Köpenicker Strasse with my bike without the police asking me to leave.”
“I answered that I live here and they told me I should stop being so aggressive. I have nothing but disdain for the police who are tearing down all the free spaces that remain.” Across the road, the police were chasing a group of kids from the demonstration, hunting them in the bushes around a supermarket.
“If I were 30 years younger,” he told me, “I would be standing with all the other people with two fireworks in my pocket, to make some noise because noise is the only things left for us to do.”
By the afternoon, the residents and supporters of the Køpi-Platz were brought out by police, who broke into cars, pulled residents down from the trees and smashed their cameras as they attempted to document the brutality and violence during arrests.
Despite the pain and anger of witnessing another part of our community bulldozed and more people pushed out onto the streets, the Køpi sent this message;
“All the actions, all the noise, all the anger! They try to break us but this just makes us stronger! Solidarity is our weapon. They can’t evict a heart!”