Thursday, August 25, 2011

cars set ablaze all across berlin...,

NYTimes | At night all over the city, cars are burning on the streets of the German capital.

The federal police have been called in to help. Helicopters with infrared cameras can be heard buzzing overhead, and citizens are talking about forming watch groups. About 90 cars have been set on fire in the past two weeks alone.

In light of the recent outbreak of rioting in London, it might seem as though Berlin was the site of the Continent’s latest unrest. Yet incongruously, the city is otherwise peaceful.

Burning cars as a political statement dates back a decade here; hundreds go up in flames every year. Add copycats, insurance fraud and petty acts of revenge to the mix and a chronic illness has flared into an epidemic — with the burned-out chassis of BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and even a backhoe and a garbage truck filling the news. The record up to this point came in 2009, when 401 automobiles were set on fire. Already this year, however, 364 cars have been set ablaze.

Fanning the fires, at least figuratively, is the Berlin mayoral race, now heading into the home stretch for next month’s election. Photographs of burned-out cars have been splashed across newspaper front pages and featured in campaign advertisements criticizing cuts in the police force — attention that experts say may be encouraging publicity-seeking perpetrators.

Burkard Dregger, a candidate for the city Parliament from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, seized on the outcry from would-be neighborhood watchers and came out in favor of forming a volunteer police force to bolster the regulars, though one that is unarmed.

“When the state fails in its core competency of providing public safety, then some people begin to have the idea that they have to prevent these acts themselves,” Mr. Dregger said in an interview.

According to the German Insurance Association, 15,000 cars are burned in Germany each year, an overwhelming majority through accidents or mechanical malfunctions. Christian Lübke, a spokesman for the association, said that the political debate driven by the mayoral race had increased the attention paid to the arson, making it more attractive in the process.

“The more feedback the people doing this get in the media, the more they see their handiwork displayed, the more encouraged they are,” Mr. Lübke said.

Of particular concern is the possibility that the arson attacks, which are also a problem in Hamburg, could signify the stirrings of a militant domestic movement, just as the Red Army Faction made its presence known in 1968 with two department store fires in Frankfurt.

“This is not terrorism, but we also shouldn’t downplay it,” said Dieter Wiefelspütz, a member of Parliament for the left-leaning Social Democrats. “When perpetrators believe that they will not be held accountable, that is dangerous for the constitutional state.”

In past years, the arson emerged in predictable patterns. There was an obvious emphasis on luxury sedans and SUVs, and fast-gentrifying neighborhoods like Friedrichshain, a former punk holdout, were hit particularly hard. But now, the attacks seem to have spread to every corner of the city and to include passenger cars of every sort.

2 comments:

nanakwame said...

Mad Max - on real time

fredceely said...

It should no longer be shocking that a blog sheds light on a phenomenon like this while the media ignore it completely, if it's on their radar at all.  An indication of the growing importance of blogs, I suppose, good blogs anyway.  And how about those Germans!  I like them myself, I can speak to them and they have had occasion to be friendly and helpful to me.  They can be a bit extreme, though.  They work too hard and speak too frankly.  This car burning is an example of the direct communication style: if they have something on their minds, you find out about it.  I don't know what it all means, but it's fascinating stuff. 

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