The yuppie-hating Germans are back with a vengeance

THEIR favourite weapons are sticks, petrol bombs and beer bottles; their favoured head-wear black balaclavas or checkered Palestinian scarves. And, in contrast to their sworn enemies on the neo-Nazi right, instead of foreigners, their favourite targets are yuppies, banks, property speculators and anybody who dares to drive a Mercedes-Benz.

For most God-fearing Germans, the Autonomen - 'autonomists' but in fact a loose collection of anarchist-leaning extremists - have long been a byword for disorder, disruption and terror, the horrific embodiment of the German nightmare.

After the initial confusion over the fall of the Berlin Wall and the apparent triumph of capitalism over communism in 1989, the Autonomen seem to have found their feet - and crowbars - again. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), militant anarchists and left-wing extremists committed 508 acts of violence in the first six months of this year, well up on the 354 recorded in the same period of 1992.

Ironically, the surge can largely be attributed to the wave of neo-Nazi attacks against foreigners that reached fever pitch last autumn after hordes of right- wing extremists besieged a hostel for asylum-seekers in the north- eastern city of Rostock. 'The rise of the far right gave a great boost to the Autonomen,' said Hans- Gert Lange of the BfV. 'After the apparent failure of the left in 1989, the anti-fascist crusade gave them a new focus and sense of their own identity.'

In Berlin, always a focus of the Autonomen, the war against neo- Nazism quickly led to the formation of vigilante groups which, on receiving tip-offs of xenophobic violence, would race to the scene to join battle. Of the 508 left-wing extremist acts of violence up to the end of June, 172 were against their right-wing counterparts.

Veterans of the Autonomen scene, which grew out of the protest movement of the Sixties, defend the violence with arguments such as: 'It is the only language the neo-Nazis understand' and 'If we did not go for them, they would come for us.' But they defend, too, the use of violence against the state and the great symbols of power, authority and wealth: the police, politicians and successful businesspeople.

'We live in an aggressive society,' said Tom, a stalwart of the Autonomen, which is said to number 6,000. 'Everybody has to let off steam somehow. And surely it is much better to throw stones through bank windows than at school mates . . . or foreigners?'

It is not difficult to pinpoint what the Autonomen are against: they are anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-Olympics, anti-militarist. But what are they for? According to Tom, apart from a vague yearning for an anarchistic Utopia, many are not really sure themselves. But they would all die for Kreuzberg - the district that is the traditional heartland of the anarchist scene and which remains apart through its mix of students, immigrants, gays, punks and artists. 'Property speculators out]' and 'Die yuppie scum]' state the graffiti on the best Kreuzberg walls. It is part of a desperate attempt to halt the gentrification which began when the district stopped being a West Berlin backwater cut off by the Wall and became one of the united city's most central residential locations.

Words are complemented by actions. When an Austrian businessman driving through Kreuzberg in a Mercedes halted at traffic lights, two men leapt forward, opened his passenger door and hurled a bucket of faeces over him. 'That should keep him and his sort out of here,' said Tom. 'I hope he told his friends about it, too.'

Last November, the Autonomen achieved international fame when 300 of them hurled eggs and paint at President Richard von Weizsacker as he was about to make a speech after an anti-xenophobia rally of 350,000 people in Berlin. But for many, their finest hour came on 1 May 1987, when, for a few brief hours, anarchy reigned in Kreuzberg and shops and stores were plundered and cars set alight.

Although no May Day in Berlin since then has been without street fights against the police, they have never equalled the level of that evening. 'It was wonderful,' recalled Tom. 'We really caught the police by surprise. Kids and pensioners were helping themselves to whatever they wanted from the shops and laughing as they did it. At last the tables were turned.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

£120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

£25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee