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Rosa Luxemburg murder mystery probed

Experts have performed an autopsy on the alleged body of murdered communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg more than six months after it was discovered in the cellar of a Berlin hospital, state prosecutors told The Local on Thursday.

Rosa Luxemburg murder mystery probed
Photo: DPA

On May 29, head of forensic medicine at Berlin’s Charité hospital Michael Tsokos sparked a media frenzy when he said that a decapitated body without hands and feet – in possession of the hospital for almost nine decades – was likely the remains of the iconic left-wing leader.

Luxemburg was murdered in 1919 by right-wing Prussian soldiers, but after conducting tests on the 90-year-old corpse, Tsokos said he was convinced that the wrong woman was buried in her place.

Now Berlin authorities have taken on the case in a bid to solve the mystery.

“There are signs of an unnatural death,” Berlin state prosecutor’s office spokesperson Martin Steltner told The Local. “Therefore the state prosecutor has taken up an investigation to clarify whether the person was murdered. It has been surmised that it’s Luxemburg’s body – but nothing has been solved.”

Forensic doctor Tsokos put out a call for possible samples of Luxemburg’s DNA in June, but Steltner said he was uncertain whether any of these would be compared to the corpse in the investigation.

Tsokos has said that the mysterious body found at Charité shows “astounding similarities with the real Rosa Luxemburg,” citing matching physical ailments and inconsistencies with her autopsy report.

CT scans of the corpse revealed that the woman was between 40-50 years of age when she died and suffered from osteoarthritis and leg length asymmetry. Rosa Luxemburg was 47 when she was murdered and suffered from a congenital hip dislocation and had one leg longer than the other as a result.

Tsokos said that he doubted the true Luxemburg was ever buried, substantiating his claim by outlining numerous inconsistencies he uncovered in her autopsy report conducted in June 1919.

Tsokos’ predecessors examined a corpse that was buried as Rosa Luxemburg on June 13, 1919 in Berlin’s Friedrichsfelde cemetery, but he said records show this corpse did not bear her significant anatomical characteristics.

According to news magazine Der Spiegel in May, the coroners at that time explicitly established that the corpse they investigated had neither a hip defect nor legs of differing lengths. They also failed to find definitive evidence of rifle butt blows to the cranium or a gunshot wound – though Luxemburg is said to have been beaten to the ground with a rifle and then killed by a shot to the head.

Born on March 5, 1871, Rosa Luxemburg was a Polish Jew. She was also a co-founder of the Social Democratic Party in Poland and Lithuania. Along with Karl Liebknecht, Luxemburg was instrumental in founding Germany’s Communist Party in 1918.

As left-wing activists moved towards revolution in early 1919, Luxemburg and Liebknecht were both murdered by soldiers from the right-wing Freikorps on January 15 of that same year. Luxemburg’s body was not found until four months later on May 31 in the Landwehrkanal, a canal parallel to Berlin’s Spree River.

According to Tsokos, rumours that the hospital was in possession of Luxemburg’s body have been circulating for years, and he himself has been searching for her DNA for two years – even testing stamps from her letters in search of saliva traces.

The state prosecutor’s office does not plan to release the autopsy results until after the winter holidays.

“We’re trying to see if at some point the body can be cleared for burial,” Steltner said.

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WILDFIRES

‘Unprecedented’: How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin’s Grunewald forest

An "unprecedented" fire broke out on Thursday around a German police munitions storage site in a Berlin forest. Here's how events unfolded and the reaction.

'Unprecedented': How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin's Grunewald forest

What happened?

Emergency services were called out after explosions were heard in the ‘Grunewald’ forest in western Berlin in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

It then emerged that a fire had broken out near a police munitions storage site, all on one of the hottest days of the year when temperatures were forecast to reach around 38C in the German capital. 

As explosions continued at the site, sending debris flying into the air, firefighters weren’t initially able to get near the flames to extinguish it. Emergency services set up a 1,000-metre safety zone around the area.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Berliner Feuerwehr

Later on Thursday afternoon, Berlin fire brigade spokesman Thomas Kirstein said the situation was “under control and there was no danger for Berliners” but that the fire was expected to last for some time.

No one has been hurt by the fires. Around 250 emergency workers were deployed to the site.

READ ALSO: Blasts ring out as forest fire rages in Berlin’s Grunewald

How was the fire being tackled?

The German army (Bundeswehr) was called in. They sent a tank aimed at evacuating munitions at the affected storage site as well as remote-controlled de-mining robots, while drones circled the air to assess the emergency.

Water cannons were also deployed around the safety zone to prevent the fire from spreading.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey interrupted her holiday to visit the scene, calling the events “unprecedented in the post-war history of Berlin”.

Giffey advised people in Berlin to close their windows but said the danger was minimal as there were no residential buildings within a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) radius and so no need to issue evacuation orders.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

“It would be much more difficult if there were residential buildings nearby,” she said.

What caused the blaze?

That’s still unclear. Police say they are investigating what started the fire exactly. 

The store in question holds munitions uncovered by police, but also unexploded World War II-era ordnance which is regularly dug up during construction works.

Giffey said local authorities would “have to think about how to deal with this munitions site in the future and whether such a place is the right one in Berlin”.

Is Grunewald a popular site?

Very much so. The sprawling forest on the edge of Berlin is home to lots of hiking trails and is even near some popular lakes, such as the Krumme Lanke. It’s also near the Wannsee and Havel river. 

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin's Grunewald

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin’s Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa Grafik | dpa-infografik GmbH

Authorities appealed for the public to avoid the forest, which is regularly visited by both locals and tourists.

Deutsche Bahn said regional and long-distance transport was disrupted due to the blaze.

A part of the Avus motorway between Spanischer Allee and Hüttenweg was also closed in both directions, as well as Kronprinzessinnenweg and Havelchaussee, according to the Berlin traffic centre.

Aren’t forest fires and strong heat causing problems elsewhere?

Yes. Authorities on Thursday said no firefighting choppers were available as they were already in use to calm forest fires in eastern Germany.

However, they also said the 1,000-metre safety zone applied to the air, so there was a limit to how useful it would be to drop water on the fire from above.

The German capital is rarely hit by forest fires, even though its 29,000 hectares of forests make it one of the greenest cities in the world.

Brandenburg, the region surrounding Berlin, as well as parts of eastern Germany have for days been battling forest fires.

Parts of Germany were also recently hit by forest fires during heatwaves this summer. 

Temperatures were expected to climb as high as 40C across parts of Germany on Thursday. However, it is set to cool down on Friday and thunderstorms are set to sweep in from the west.

With reporting by AFP’s David COURBET

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