Revenge attacks spark fear of extremist violence

A string of tit-for-tat attacks in Berlin between political extremists on the far-left and right, including an alleged knife attack on a young mother walking with her three children, has given rise to fears of surging ideological violence.

Revenge attacks spark fear of extremist violence
Photo: DPA

In the past week, violence between the two sides has escalated. There have been several attacks on neo-Nazis, including assaults on high-ranking members of the National Democratic Party (NPD) and also on the xenophobic pro Deutschland group. These were followed by arson attacks on leftist premises overnight Sunday.

Some of the violence has been targeted against election campaigns ahead of Berlin’s city election in September. Berlin Interior Minister Ehrhart Körting told daily Der Tagesspiegel’s Tuesday edition that he was concerned about the danger of things spinning out of control.

“I fear above all that extremists follow every action with an opposite action,” he said. “That applies also to periods without an election. These primitive people of the left-wing extremists and neo-Nazis think in terms of revenge, as both move at the same brutal level.”

The 22-year-old wife of a neo-Nazi man prominent in Rudow in Berlin’s southeast was attacked by three men on Monday night while walking with her two young daughters and one-year-old son, who was in a pram, Der Tagesspiegel reported.

The three men jumped from some bushes and attacked the woman, but fled when a car approached. She suffered mild injuries to her upper body that did not require medical treatment, police said.

The paper reported that the woman was the wife of a prominent neo-Nazi who had himself been the subject of recent attacks. Police are now seeking the three men on suspicion of causing dangerous bodily injury.

Because of the apparent political motive, they have handed the investigation over to LKA 5, the branch of the Berlin police that deals with political crime. It was thought that the attack had possibly come from left-wing extremists, given the previous attacks on the woman’s husband, though knife attacks by so-called antifascists are unusual. The assailants spoke German, the paper reported.

As to whether the woman might have made up the assault, an officer told Der Tagesspiegel: “The investigations are still at such an early stage that we can’t rule anything out.”

In the early hours of Monday, there were five firebomb attacks on left-wing premises and residences in Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg and Britz. One person was lightly injured in the arson attacks.

Over the week, the NPD’s Berlin state chairman Uwe Meenen was attacked by assailants with clubs. Also attacked was Torsten Meyer, a long-time member of the far-right Deutsche Volksunion (DVU) and who also represented the NPD on the local council of Lichtenberg in eastern Berlin.

Meyer is now regional chairman of the far-right pro Deutschland party. He was attacked on Sunday in the Karlshorst area near an election stand. A pensioner was lightly injured on Monday when masked attackers threw buckets of paint at a pro Deutschland election stand in Tempelhof.

Interior Minister Körting said that as long as such far-right parties including the NPD were not banned, police had a duty to protect their election campaign activities.

The Local/djw

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‘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