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G20 riots victim: 'You feel completely helpless'

Helena Kaschel js
July 15, 2017

A week on from the G20 summit, affected residents in Hamburg are still waiting for answers. Martin Gauer was caught in the middle of the violence and his car was damaged. He shares his experience with DW.

G20 Gipfel -Gewalt im Schanzenviertel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M.Scholz

DW: Mr Gauer, the Hamburg police department has said it was still unable to estimate just how much damage was caused by the violence surrounding last week's G20 summit. The department also said it was unsure just how many residents were directly affected by the violence. What did you, a resident of the Schanzenviertel neighborhood, experience?

Martin Gauer: At first I thought nothing would happen to us because we live very close to a police station. And things were quiet here when the first cars were being set on fire in Altona.

@dwnews - Hamburg residents clean streets after violent G20 protests

On Friday afternoon (July 7) I could hear a nearby protest. I went out onto the street and saw that police had already been using water cannons, and that fireworks and bottles were flying. But I didn't think that I would have to move my car because it was still far enough away from the action.

Suddenly, I saw a bunch of guys with their faces covered rush out from a side street. They grabbed a piece of barrier fencing from a building site on our street, set up an improvised barricade and then set something on fire.

Everything happened really quickly: Within five minutes the street was full of people and there was a lot of fire and smoke. When the riot police showed up, the masked protesters started throwing rocks at them. Several big cobblestones hit my car. I was standing behind a glass door with a neighbor; we were about two meters away (six feet). My wife was crying. We were all scared because we didn't know whether they would bust in and beat us up. As soon as I had the chance, I ran out and quickly moved my car. I didn't want to risk it being set on fire.

Hamburg beschädigtes Auto
Martin Gauer's car was damaged to the tune of 6,000 eurosImage: Martin Gauer

You sent out a tweet saying that your car had sustained 6,000 euros ($6,900) in damages. Right after the summit ended, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz promised quick and straightforward assistance for all those who suffered damage or loss. Were you contacted by anyone offering such help?

I went straight to the police after the incident so that I could document the damage. On Monday, I took the car to the body shop. The rear and passenger side windows were broken, the front windshield was damaged and there were a number of dents in the fenders. The insurance company told me that my policy covered vandalism. Of course I wasn't too thrilled about my 500 euro deductible, because I didn't do anything. But at least things went fast at the garage; they told me they would take care of everything.

I took the paperwork from the garage to Hamburg's public transport authority and they gave me a free monthly pass. They have been giving these to people affected by the G20 violence. Then I went to the information center that our local police department set up. It was all quick and painless: they wrote everything down and told me they would be in touch as soon as they could tell me when exactly Ms. Merkel was going to reimburse me. The officer said the 500 euro deductible would be covered as well. After that I had the impression that everything would work out fine.

G20-Gipfel - nach den Ausschreitungen Hamburg
A massive clean-up effort was needed after some protests turned violentImage: picture alliance/dpa/A.Heimken

That sounds pretty good …

Yeah, but the following day I got a call from my insurance company. I was told that a number of people had filed claims and that the company was looking into whether the situation was in fact "civil unrest." The lady on the phone did not bother to tell me what that meant. I googled the term. The long and short of it is that the company won't pay damages because the risk is incalculable. The insurance company said it would be in touch again the next day to inform me whether it would cover damages. I told my boss I couldn't concentrate and ended up leaving work early. The thing that bothers me the most is all the lost time - the back and forth, all of the questions, trying to figure out if, when and how much I will or won't receive in terms of damages.

Read more: Merkel-Gabriel spat: Could G20 chaos tear coalition apart?

The federal government and the city of Hamburg say they want to cover half the damages. They want to set up assistance funds. But it still isn't clear how much money we are even talking about at this point. Media outlets report that the city of Hamburg intends to set up a contact point for those affected and will deal with the insurance companies itself. So things could actually end well for G20 victims …

It really helped that we were immediately told: someone will take care of this, and someone will cover damages. That was a huge relief. Most people can't just pull 6,000 euros, or even 500, out of their pocket.

But all in all, the weekend has left an awfully bitter aftertaste. Even the way things are being discussed after the fact: Now everyone is shouting about whose fault it all was, who is guilty, how to evaluate it, whether it was terrorism or not, etc., etc. Nobody even bothers to mention the victims at this point. You just feel completely helpless.

As a resident, the whole discussion about who is at fault doesn't help me at all. I just want someone to help me get this behind me. A little more empathy would be nice. For instance, someone from Karlsruhe recently tweeted that people should not overdramatize the situation and should not use the word terrorism. But if you're were there and really fearing for your life, it's a totally different experience. Not everyone can understand that.

In any case, we've started looking for a new apartment. There are always demonstrations in our neighborhood. That never bothered me until last weekend. Now I've had enough.

Martin Gauer, 29, is a web developer and lives in the Sternschanze neighborhood in Hamburg with his wife.

The interview was conducted by Helena Kaschel.

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