Berlin Car Burnings Have Authorities Wondering What Comes Next

August 22, 2011

Burning cars in Germany’s capital city is nothing new; in fact, it’s been occurring for years, mainly as a protest against rising rents and gentrification.

In the past, it was easy to write off the arson as politically motivated, since most burnings were targeted to high-end luxury vehicles in up-and-coming neighborhoods. Frequently, the arsonist even left a note justifying the crime in the name of social justice.

That’s changed, and a recent string of car burnings in Berlin has authorities concerned. The numbers are up, way up, over last year: in 2010, some 250 cars were burned, but this year there have been 320 such incidents, including 70 last week alone.

It’s no longer just luxury cars from makers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz that are being targeted, and vandals have torched everything from Volkswagens through Fords and even delivery vans.    

The crimes are spreading from Berlin’s poor-but-trendy neighborhoods to the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, which has authorities concerned about the potential for rising violence. Images for the London riots are still fresh in everyone’s mind, as are the memories of recent uprisings in Spain and Greece.

There are theories, but no real answers. Some blame the arson on copycat criminals, while others point to Berlin’s high unemployment (13.5 percent, compared to Germany’s average of seven percent).

Still others point out that Berlin’s 3,000 miles of streets and roads make patrolling them a near impossible task, even though police have stepped up nightly patrols and have begun using helicopter surveillance.

While the reason behind the string of arson attacks remains a mystery, this much is clear: Berliners are sleeping a bit less soundly at night, hoping that the mysterious crimes don’t result in a larger spread of unrest.

[Wall Street Journal (subscription required)]

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