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Germany

Berlin leftists at Rigaer 94 win another court battle

The former squat on Rigaer Strasse 94 in Berlin - one of the last such leftist strongholds in Europe - has won another day in court. The owner's lawyer couldn't prove he was entitled to represent the case.

Police vans may no longer be surrounding Rigaer Strasse 94 in Berlin, but the legal battle over its future is a long way from over. On Thursday, a court in the nation's capital ruled that the Kadterschmiede bar on Rigaer 94's ground floor - legendary in Europe's leftist scene - could not be cleared, because the plaintiff's lawyer could not prove that he was entitled to represent the building's owners.

This, according to local media reports, "visibly angered" the attorney, Markus Bernau - because the reason he didn't have the necessary document was a widely-reported burglary on his office on New Year's Eve. "I only found out just before the hearing that my power of attorney would be questioned," he was quoted in the "Tagesspiegel" newspaper as saying. "Of course I wasn't prepared for that."

To increase Bernau's exasperation, his counterpart for the defense, Lukas Theune, explained to the judge that an oversight in his office had led to a written request for the document being sent by post rather than fax. Bernau expressed his doubts and, according to the "Berliner Morgenpost," said Theune's interpretation of the law was "legal abuse."

Bernau had previously insinuated that the New Year's Eve burglary on his office was not unconnected with the case. All the documents relating to the Rigaer 94 eviction suit had been stolen, he told the "taz" newspaper at the time, along with a stack of other documents nearby. "It looked very tidy," Bernau noted. "Other rooms had not been touched, and there hadn't been any rummaging around." A DW call to both Bernau's and Theune's office outside hours on Saturday remained unanswered.

Berlin Krawalle Linksautonome (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini)

Tensions with police boiled over last July

Missing power of attorney

The fact that his power of attorney was among the stolen documents turned out to be significant, when Theune brought it up before the judge. He argued that it was legally unclear who the actual plaintiff was, since the owner of the company remains deliberately anonymous and is acting through a British shell company, Lafone Investments Limited, whose director resigned without replacement last July.

Since the eviction notice was only filed after this, in August, Theune said, the leaderless company could not be satisfactorily represented in court, especially without a valid power of attorney.

"We will see each other here again before the court," the riled Bernau promised in response. He now has two weeks to produce a new power of attorney document and file an appeal against the court ruling.

He is suing for the Kadterschmiede - as well as another apartment in the building that is being used as a workshop - to be cleared, plus retroactive compensation for the owners (whoever they are). Both properties have been used by the Kadterschmiede Club without a rental contract since May 2013, though no one is actually living in them (although Bernau disputes this, he was unable prove who is living there). The building management company has offered the club a contract for the two spaces, but their lawyer argued that this had been refused because without a power of attorney it was not clear who the owner was.

Peaceful outcome

To the surprise of many, including the police, who stationed several armored vehicles and officers outside the court building, Thursday's hearing ran peacefully. Between 30 and 50 supporters of Rigaer 94 took seats in the spectator's gallery, but local media noted that they did not celebrate, or even applaud, when the judge made the ruling.

Berlin Polizei Polizeieinsatz (picture-alliance/dpa/J.Carstensen)

Rigaer 94 has been a leftist stronghold since the 1990s

This tranquility was in contrast to last July, when the increasing tension around the building led to a night of violence as at least 2,000 protesters (some of whom traveled from around Europe) threw fireworks and cobblestones in the street, while police tear-gassed and arrested several people. There were angry reactions against the leftists from Mayor Michael Müller and other local politicians.

But back then too, the occupants of the building found themselves on the right side of the law. A few days after the violence, a Berlin court decided that the partial eviction of the Kadterschmiede on June 22 had been illegal, because the owner had failed to provide an eviction notice, leaving the court with no option but to recognize the legal rights of the leftist club. (In a separate lawsuit, the Rigaer Strasse occupants are currently seeking to have police action on that day - in protecting the construction workers who cleared out the bar - declared illegal.)

Rigaer Strasse 94 began life as a squat in 1990, and though its occupants were gradually able to secure rental agreements, it has remained a center of left-wing radicals and anarchists ever since. The simmering tension between occupants and police escalated in June 2016, when the police ordered a full search of the building after an officer was "shoved" or "beaten up" (press and eye-witness reports differ) and the attacker had allegedly fled inside. Iron bars and cobblestones were found inside, but occupants have denied any connection to leftist vandalism, pointing out that they are under continual observation by Berlin's state intelligence agency.