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Germany

Bidding Farewell to Berlin's Squatters

Police this week evicted squatters of a famous tenement in Berlin. The move is just one more example of how the new German capital moves away from its post-war past.

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Berlin squatters have been protesting eviction for decades

An 18-month stand-off between supporters of a counter-culture project and city officials came to an end this week after police removed the 60 residents of a white tenement block in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, dismantling on of the last alternative living projects that sprung up in post-World War West Berlin.

Hundreds of people watched as police cleared out the "Yorck 59" building, as the squatter's building has been known since 1989. Later Monday evening, hundreds demonstrated in a peaceful march through the neighborhood holding banners that read, "Capitalism must go," and "Yorck Street stays."

In reaction to the eviction, about 20 people took control of another Kreuzberg building across the neighborhood to try to get Yorck 59 back. Police successfully evicted them shortly after, officials said.

Che Guevara T-Shirt

A rebel still revered by some

The name is taken after the address, Yorckstrasse 59, or 59 Yorck Street in a district that has been known for its student and left-wing subculture and became part of mainstream culture. Yorck 59 provided a roof for 60 residents including 10 children and alternative groups such as those fighting racism, globalization and economic reform.

No amicable solution found

In decades following the war, a number of alternative groups sprung up as left-wing radicalism, pacifism and even anarchism became a reaction to post-war prosperity and conservatism.

Many such alternative living arrangements died in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as the city and private entrepreneurs bought up property and began gentrifying neighborhoods. Problems for the left-wing project started when a Hamburg businessman bought the building in 2003 and raised the rent. Residents refused to pay the increase, saying they couldn't afford it.

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Clashes with police are rarely about buildings anymore

City officials and residents tried to find a solution, including an alternative building but failed to come to an agreement.

"There was no amicable solution found between the landlord and residents," said Berlin Senator Ehrhart Körting.

The city's efforts were "inadequate," resident Jens Schildmann told Reuters.

Legal consequences

And now, former residents and their supporters face legal consequences. The owner of the building is suing those who barricaded themselves in the building for damages and rent totaling 90,000 euros ($110,000).

Similar alternative communities have been dismantled around Germany and most famously, in neighboring Denmark. Last year, Denmark's conservative government voted to dismantle the counterculture neighborhood of Christiana, where hundreds of people have lived for free for decades -- on 80 acres of prime real estate belong to the government. Now, the government wants to tear down existing buildings and use the property for luxury apartments.

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