RS Update July 15: Henkel’s Leftist Orgy of Violence

On this quick update, we talk about the secretive British investment company behind all the problems between punks and police on Rigaer Straße. Daniel thinks the whole scenario could be turned into a musical, possibly called “Henkel’s Leftist Orgy of Violence” after Berlin’s interior minister, who has been embarrassed by a court ruling this week that found the police-assisted eviction at Rigaer Straße 94 to be unlawful.

We also get an update from co-host Jöran Mandik about his attempt to run as a candidate for the upcoming Berlin city elections.

Come along to the Mobile Kino Weekender on July 29-31. It’s a cinematic camping trip out in the woods by a lake. Radio Spaetkauf will be recording a live episode there. Can you sponsor a Syrian refugee to come to the festival? E-mail us if you’re willing to contribute €40:

British investors behind unlawful eviction that sparked fiery demonstrations in Berlin

Rigaer Str 94
Picture by Oliver Feldhaus, Umbruch Bildarchiv

By Joel Dullroy, Radio Spaetkauf

A British investment company is behind the escalating conflict between Berlin’s former squatter community and the city’s police, resulting in illegal evictions, demonstrations and car burnings.

Tensions have flared in recent months between police and the residents of Rigaer Straße 94, a former squat in the district of Friedrichshain. The building is owned by Lafone Investments Limited, a one pound company with registered offices in London.

More than 300 police raided the property on June 22 and evicted some of the tenants, including a bar called Kadterschmeide run by a community association. They were acting on a request by Lafone Investments Limited, which sought police protection for builders hired to renovate the property.

On Wednesday July 13 a Berlin court found the eviction was unlawful. There was no official eviction order in place to justify the removal of the tenants and their property. The police had effectively participated in an illegal property invasion on behalf of a foreign investor.

The court decision followed a fiery weekend of demonstrations and retaliatory car burnings in Berlin. On Saturday July 9 an estimated 3500 people marched through Friedrichshain demanding an end to police actions against Rigaer Staße residents. Around 1800 riot police followed the demonstrators and kettled them on Warschauer Brücke with a water cannon truck positioned at one end, and used tear gas on the crowds. Some demonstrators set off flares and threw cobblestones at the police.

An official statement from the police claimed 123 officers were injured, although only one required hospitalization. The police definition of officer injury can include heat stress and reaction to tear gas. There were eleven car burning reported across Berlin on the same evening. Car burnings have long been used as an anti-gentrification tactic by the so-called autonomous scene. They have flared again in recent months in retaliation against police actions in Friedrichshain.

Opposition politicians in Berlin have critized the city’s police minister, Frank Henkel from the CDU, who ordered the crackdown on Rigaer Straße and the autonomous scene. Rather than fostering peace, Mr. Henkel and his police department now stand accused of fermenting conflict. Following the court order, Mr. Henkel now appears to have supported an unlawful eviction on behalf of the property owner.

However, the true identity of the building owner remains unclear. The property was purchased in 2014 by Lafone Investments Limited. Company registration documents state that company’s single one pound share is held by Mr. John Dewhurst, a London-based lawyer. He was also listed as the sole company director until July 8, when he removed himself from the position. His name appears in the Panama Papers as a shareholder of Platinum Investment International Corporation, a shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands. Mr. Dewhurst has told German media that he is not the real owner of the company or building, but merely acting on behalf of the anonymous owner. In Berlin, the owner is represented by Hausverwaltung Centurius, a building management company.

Although Rigaer Straße 94 is often reported to be a squat, it is in fact a normal and legally occupied residential building. The property was originally squatted in 1990, but the residents signed contracts to rent their apartments in 1992 with the then-owner, a public housing company. The building was sold to a private owner in 2000, and again in 2014 to Lafone Investments Limited. In 2015 the property’s new owner began attempting to evict the tenants, sparking the current conflicts.

For more background to the Rigaer Straße police raids, listen to Radio Spaetkauf’s February podcast on which we interview journalist John Riceberg:

RS#06 2016: The BVG and the U8 font

Berlin typographer Anton Koovit spent over a year creating his font called U8, based on the letters on U-Bahn station signs. Recently the BVG began using Koovit’s font to print new signs, but without paying directly for a license to do so. We talk to Anton about his font. UPDATE: The BVG has responded to our story. They say their own museum developed the font.

Bicycle riders working for the food delivery company Deliveroo recently launched a protest action at having their weekend bonuses cut without warning. They turned the logos on the delivery bags upside down to get the startup’s managers to address their concerns. We interview one bicycle courier about the action, which he says was taken to prevent conditions getting any worse.

Berlin’s population boom means we might have to give up a bit of green space. Now the city’s open air swimming pools are being targeted as potential development zones. The Berliner Bäderbetrieb, which runs the pools, has been asked if it will give up some land to allow a city-owned housing company to develop flats. Churches are also being asked to hand over old cemeteries for refugee shelters.

And co-host Jöran Mandik continues his campaign to get elected to the Berlin Abgeordnetenhaus. He has registered as an independent candidate, and now requires 45 supporting signatures to get on the ballot. Will you sign up? Drop us an e-mail at

No more crazy columns on U-Bahn windows

The BVG gets a fresh perspective. Pay attention to the bottom of the columns.
The BVG gets a fresh perspective. Pay attention to the bottom of the columns.

After years of aggravating Berlin artists with its twisted perspective, the BVG has finally started fixing the design of its window stickers.

Last year the BVG promised to do something about the wonky sketch of the Brandenburg Gate printed on the protective sheeting on U-Bahn windows. Finally a new sticker design is being rolled out. The feet of the crazy columns have been slightly adjusted to make more spatial sense, and the lines have been slimmed down.

This comes in response to years of complaints about the design. But annoyed graphic designers will have to wait a while longer before the old image disappears, as the BVG is only rolling it out on a replacement basis.

For now, the improved Brandenburg Gate sketch can only be seen on the doors of some of the H-model U-Bahn carriages – those are the newish long interconnected trains – not the old F-model carriages.

Want to hear more about Berlin public transport and other local topics? Listen to the Radio Spaetkauf news show here.

– By Joel Dullroy, Radio Spaetkauf

The old design with its wonky legs.
The old design with its wonky legs.

RS#05 2016: We Take Berlin

What would we do if we ran the city? Radio Spaetkauf is exploring Berlin‘s political system by trying to get our own host Jöran Mandik elected to the state Abgeordnetenhaus. We get tips from former Pirate Party leader Martin Delius about how local politics really works.
And we‘re calling for ideas from listeners about what policies Jöran should add to his manifesto. Sunday trading for spaetkaufs? Online Bürgeramt registration?
On this episode we‘re joined by a new co-host, stand-up comedian and computer programmer Caroline Clifford.
Recorded on Monday May 23 2016 at the very empty Comedy Cafe Berlin.

RS#04 2016: Lonely Locks, Strange Streets, and Floorball

Which landmark abandoned locations are going to be renovated – and do we want them to be? Several huge Berlin ruins are about to be developed, while Spreepark Planterwald is set to re-open this summer. Will anyone want to go to a formerly abandoned fully operating theme park?
We try and solve a few mysteries. Why are some Berlin streets numbered strangely, and why are there so many lonely bike locks hanging from posts around the city?
Our sports reporter Daniel Stern went out to cover a match of the Berlin Bats, the local floorball team. What’s floorball? Listen to find out.
We’ve got a guest, local journalist Konrad Werner, who joins us to talk politics and the upcoming city election. Check out his own podcast, News des Nachrichtens:

The Lonely Bike Lock Phenomenon

Six theories on why Berlin is full of abandoned bike locks.
Six theories on why Berlin is full of abandoned bike locks.

Have you ever walked down the street and noticed a locked bike chain hanging from a post? What happened to the bike? How did the bike disappear? I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this lately, and I’ve come up with six possible theories and corresponding likelihoods:

1. Someone Cut Through the Bike
This is the first theory most people instinctively respond with. But when you think about it, it seems quite unlikely. This means that someone sawed or cut through the structure of the bicycle, thereby damaging the bike, potentially beyond repair. Theoretically you could solder a bike back together, but that seems like a lot of work for a common bike thief. And surely anyone who has the equipment to do all of this work would have a tool capable of simply cutting the lock instead, which would save all the trouble. So I’m going to rank the likelihood of this option as a “maybe.”

2. Someone Cut Through the Wheel
It’s a lot easier to replace a wheel than to cut through and re-solder a bike frame, so maybe this makes more sense. But this theory has a few flaws. First, it is quite unlikely that anyone would cut through the tube and rim of the wheel. That seems like a lot of work, and wouldn’t it cause a loud pop? They could of course cut through the spokes, that’s very easy. But both cases assume that the bike owner was stupid enough to lock their bike only to the wheel, or even stupider, only through the spokes. And again, if anyone can cut metal, they can simply cut the lock. This theory is ranked “unlikely.”

3. The Polite Lockpicker
Perhaps someone came along, jimmied open the lock somehow, and took the bike. But since the lock is still there, this implies that they also closed the lock again. What kind of bike thief would do such a thing? Wouldn’t they also take the lock, which is worth some money? Or just leave it unlocked on the ground – why do extra work? This theory only holds if you think the thief was polite enough to leave the lock for the owner to find upon their return, so the owner could presumably take the lock home with them to use again.
I rank the polite lockpicker theory as “unlikely.”

4. The Organized Cyclist’s Distributed Lock System
I’m going to credit Mr. Joshua Alas of Mobile Kino, for coming up with this creative theory. Bike locks and chains can be heavy and annoying to carry around, especially if you have one of those fancy racing bikes. Maybe there are cyclists out there who prefer to ride unhindered by the weight of a chain. And to avoid this, they distribute locks around the city at locations they frequent. So they might have a lock near their house, one near their workplace, one near their favourite bar and so on. An added bonus is that this also reserves a bike parking place at a prime location. We all know how in summer it can sometimes be hard to find a post to chain your bike to.
This theory fits with what we know about how organized Germans can be, and also about how fastidious those racing bike owners are. Anyone willing to wear shoes with clips and funny pants could be the type to establish their own network of locks around the city.
But let’s pick this theory apart. To start with, fancy bike riders rarely leave their bikes on the street at all. They usually carry them upstairs into their apartment or office. Next, if you leave a lock out, it’s going to rust and become unusable, so you would have to be constantly replacing rusty locks. You can’t have locks everywhere, so you couldn’t just stop at some random shop on your way home if you wanted. There are so many lonely locks on the streets of Berlin, so if this theory is true it means there are huge numbers of people using this distributed lock system, so you would think you would have met someone who does this, or have seen someone taking their bike but leaving their lock.
For these reasons, this theory is ranked as “highly unlikely.”

5. The Intentionally Abandoned Lock
Perhaps someone just gave up on their lock. Either it got old and they didn’t want it anymore, so they just left it out on the street, along with their old mattress, TV and fridge. Or it could be some kind of art project. Or a statement, code for underworld activity we’re not aware of, in the same way that shoes hanging from a cable indicate the proximity of a crack dealer. Maybe it’s a symbol of marriage, like those engraved locks people leave on bridges. Or maybe, it’s the nihilistic act of a saddened bike owner who, upon returning to find their bike stolen, couldn’t even be bothered to use the key in their pocket to unlock the chain and take it home. Why would you, if the lock had proven so ineffective?
Berlin is full of art projects, but if this is one it doesn’t have much artistic merit. It would also be expensive acquiring all those locks, and I haven’t seen a Facebook post by any artists requesting donations of old bike locks for their extremely subtle city-wide installation.
I think Germans are too civic minded to litter their cities with old bike chains. I don’t see any engraved notices of affection, and believe me I’ve studied quite a few of these abandoned locks in the past few weeks. The nihilistic thievery victim is a tragic poetic image, but there’s too many chains out there, and I think Germans are pragmatic enough to take the lock. So that leaves the underworld signal, which I can’t disprove but does seem to be a stretch of the imagination. As are all of these scenarios, so I rate the intentionally abandoned lock theory as “unlikely.”

There’s just one theory left to discuss. This one, unlike all the others, involves no malicious activity, no scheming, no planning. Security experts often say that the weakest link in any system is the human. Which is how I came up with the last theory:

6. The Stoner
Some blissed-out Berliner was trundling along, floating on a cloud of euphoria as they rode into the sunset toward or away from some party. And when they arrived at their destination, still grinning irrationally, they looped their bike chain around their bicycle in such a fashion that it appeared to their livid red eyes to be secured. But in fact, they failed to loop the chain through any enclosed section of their bike frame. Perhaps they just wrapped it around their seat post, or they locked it to the bar but forgot to include their bike. And off they strolled, without looking back, feeling proud of themselves that they’d managed to arrive without getting into an accident for which they have no spare cash to pay for.
Then, some opportunist walking saw a bike resting against a post with a chain draped around it or near it for decoration, and simply took it as you might pick up money on the street.
That means that every time you see a lonely lock, you know a stoner is or has been nearby. So the number of lonely locks in any given area can be considered an indication of the number of stoners. You could imagine a social mapping project where they get volunteers to geolocate lonely locks to create a infographic.
How to rate this theory? Given the propensity of Berliners to enjoy a smoke, or a drink, or a pill, I’m going to rank The Stoner theory of the Lonely Bike Lock Phenomenon as “highly likely.”

If you’ve got a theory that I haven’t thought of, please contribute to this important research project. Or even better, if you’re a victim or perpetrator of a lonely lock situation, we want to hear your personal story. Contact us by emailing to, or posting on our social media walls.

By Joel Dullroy

Written for the April 24 episode of Radio Spaetkauf. Listen here: