Neo-Nazi violence grows in Berlin immigrant neighbourhood
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Editor's note: This article originally included an image of a poster listing the names and addresses of four men in Neukölln under the title "Wanted" neo-Nazis. This photo has been deleted because the France 24 Observers team was unable to independently verify whether any of these people are involved in far-right extremism.
This June and July, there has been a rise in neo-Nazi attacks in Neukölln, a popular immigrant neighbourhood in southeast Berlin. Almost daily, there have been car fires, as well as several larger arson attacks, and an increase in Nazi tags on buildings. This inspires both fear and outrage in our Observer, who believes the police are uninterested in protecting the local immigrant community.
In early July, a fire charred the storefront of Al-Andalos, a Lebanese restaurant in Neukölln. Two people were injured in the blaze. Although the police have not caught any suspects, locals fear that members of the far-right are responsible for the attack. The area is home to many people from Turkey, Lebanon and Syria, and its identity as an immigrant neighbourhood has made Neukölln the target of far-right violence and aggressions.
Mohamed Ali Chahrour is a spokesperson for Kein Generalverdacht [which translates as No General Suspicion], a local charity that was founded to help combat racism, xenophobia and police discrimination in Neukölln.
Since the start of July, we have had attacks almost every week. Violence is getting worse because impunity is still going on. There is the feeling that the police are not really concerned.
They give a stigmatised, prejudgment of all migrants and say that more or less everyone is a suspected criminal. A lot of migrants have citizenship. There are 150,000 people of Arabic background in Berlin, but there’s a mistrust of these people.
The video below shows charred vehicles in front of Damaskus Konditorei, a bakery founded by a Syrian refugee in Neukölln. The wall next to the shop was also tagged with a Nazi symbol. The attack occurred June 18.
A video from June 19 shows damage to the property around the Syrian-owned bakery. The caption translates as: 'Nazis terrorised Neukölln again last night with an arson attack and Nazi markings on migrants' shops. Again less than 100m from the police station. The residents of Sonnenallee and Wildenbruchstrasse live in fear. Right-wing terror in Neukölln must come to an end.'
In Neukölln, there have been 130 crimes attributed to the far right and neo-Nazis since September 2019, the Senate estimates. These aggressions include tagged swastikas, Hitler salutes, cars being set on fire and vandalism. Over the past seven years, there have been 2,800 cases of arson.
Video of an apartment fire in Neukölln in 2019, shared with the Observers team by an eyewitness.
"The terror isn’t aimed at single individuals but on the city as a whole"
The past two years have seen a sharp rise in right-wing violence in North Neukölln, according to Ferat Ali Kocak, a local anti-racist activist and vice speaker with the Die Linke [Left Party] political party.
The right-wing terrorism in Neukölln has been ongoing and unstoppable for 11 years, despite the fact that it is known who is responsible. But it took a new form in 2018.
What used to be typical was that the Nazis focused more on the south. In the south of Neukölln it is particularly individuals who are attacked or threatened. It is people who are active in churches, or who support refugees and a peaceful, diverse way of living together. People like the book trader Heinz Ostermann who encourage [Holocaust] remembrance.
In the North, the terror isn’t aimed at single individuals but on the city as a whole. So the aim of the attacks is the community of immigrants. Cars [belonging to immigrants] are burning on a daily basis, even apartment buildings. There are Nazi markings everywhere.
There are a lot of smaller crimes, but it is still terror. Smaller crimes include stealing Stolpersteine [metal plaques placed in the pavement in remembrance of people deported by Nazis] or marking houses.
Ferat posted this photo on July 23 of a defaced poster commemorating people killed by Nazis.
A screen grab from a photo Ferat posted as a story on Instagram. The caption reads, 'This is also in Neukolln! Posters commemorating all those murdered by Nazis since 1990 were damaged here.'
Ferat himself has been the target of neo-Nazis. Two years ago, Ferat’s car was set on fire in a suspected right-wing arson attack. The German intelligence agency verified that neo-Nazis had been spying on Ferat before the attack.
I was spied on by Nazis for over 1.5 years, and the police knew about it, but didn’t warn me. Two weeks before the attack, the Nazis (one was a former NPD official, the other a former AfD official) spied on me during an event that I had, of course, announced over my social media accounts. They followed me all the way home, two weeks before the attack. Next, the car was set on fire.
Right-wing networks and mistrust of the police
In many parts of Germany, far-right extremism is on the rise again. In 2019, the government registered 32,080 documented extremists. For comparison, the number in 2018 was 24,100. Members of two branches of the AfD, the youth arm, “Junge Alternative,” and the identity branch called “Der Flügel”, are included in this count.
Many instances of far-right violence involve a few individuals. “The detection of small groups and individual authors in particular presents special challenges to the security authorities,” according to a 2019 report from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
The police in Berlin have been strongly criticised for failing to prevent far-right and neo-Nazi violence. There have been investigations into right-wing networks within the police. Beginning in 2018, politicians in Germany’s Die Linke party began receiving death threats with personal information obtained from a police computer in Hesse, Germany. These threats are linked to far-right extremists, according to German newspaper Der Spiegel. On July 14, Hesse Police President Udo Münch resigned as a result of the state prosecutor’s investigation.
These scandals mean the police are not trusted to effectively stop right-wing violence and neo-Nazis, Ferat explained.
It is not about suspecting everyone who is in the police. For us it is important to separate good from bad. Those who have a right-wing mindset should be suspended from their positions so that those who really do their jobs responsibly and regular citizens can regain their trust in them.
Often, the police know who is responsible, but those wanted are rarely caught or charged. Leo, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, shared photos with the France 24 Observers team of posters that have appeared in Neukölln recently. The posters list the names and addresses of "wanted" neo-Nazis, but the France 24 Observers team was not able to independently verify whether the people in the photos are involved in far-right activities. It is not clear who put up these posters originally, Leo said.
I have seen these posters all over Neukölln, the photo was taken on Wildenbruchstraße, in front of the Sahara Imbiss [a Sudanese restaurant and falafel shop]. Some of the posters have been vandalised, which suggests that the Nazis have been actively trying to stop the spread of the posters.
The photo below shows one of the damaged posters, which has been ripped off the wall right outside of the Rathaus Neukölln U-bahn station.
The same Observer sent us this photo of one of the damaged posters.
Ferat worries that not enough is being done.
“And I am asking myself, does there have to be a Hanau [the 2019 far-right shooting in Hanau, Germany] before there is finally some movement?”
Article by Sophie Stuber (@sophiestube)