A tale of two cities: how West Berlin, Nuremberg are handling squatters

"Clobber 'em," says Bavaria. "Coax 'em," says West Berlin. And there you have two diametrically opposed approaches to squatters and sometimes-violent young demonstrators within a single country.

It's a political scientist's drean and a politician's nightmare. And it has right and left quarreling fiercely in West Germany, which last weekend experienced violent demonstrations in four cities, suffered arson attempts in three others, and say peaceful demonstrations in 13 more.

For Franz Josef Strauss, Bavarian premier (and West Germany's last conservative candidate for chancellor), the squatters are lawbreakers and incipient terrorists. And the Bavarian city of Nuremberg is fully justified in locking up 141 young people and contemplating arming police with rubber bullets. The protesters, he says, remined him of Hitler's SS and SA.

In the view of West Berlin's Social Democratic Mayor Hans-Jochen Vogel and West Germany's Social Democratic-Liberal government, on the other hand, violence breeds violence. It is better to talk with the squatters, who are themsevels overwhelmingly pacific, than to drive them to total alienation from society -- and into the arms of terrorists. And Nuremberg is flouting both federal laws and common sence in reacting to six smashed store windows by throwing 50 14- to 16-year- olds into prison, denying other young protesters who were in jail access to lawyers or relatives for several days, and keeping 45 demonstrators in prison for 10 days or more.

In West Berlin the provocation is much greater than in Nuremberg. Some 115 buildings have been occupied by now, and rock throwing demonstrators have repeatedly broken bank and store windows. Yet police are acting with restraint: Only the most recent squatters -- and not all of them -- are being evicted.

This phenomenon is both a new and an old problem for West Germany, and it is the memory of the past that makes present emotions run so high. Squatting itself caught on in West Germany only in recent months as a youth cause and do-it-yuorself solution to the crush of a large student population, the dearth of low-cost inner-city housing, and the waste of condemned buildings that stay empty for years while owners wait to construct expensive new apartments.

Yey everyone looks at marching squatters today and remebers the anti-Shah and anti- Vietnam war demonstrations of the late 1960s and the terrorism of the mid-'70s. And the failure of the large majority of peaceful demonstrators to impose nonviolence on all the protesters -- as the American civil-rights demonstrators did so effectively in the '60s -- has alarmed older Germans.

It was after the West German 1960s deminstrations -- and after the death of one anti- Shah protester by as plainclothes man's bullet -- that the Social Democrats came to power for the first time in postwar Germany and relaxed the laws governing demonstrations.

Under the 1970 legislation, which is among the most liberal in continental Europe, persons may not now be arrested or detained for mere participation in a demonstration that turns violent. There must be strong grounds for suspicion that anyone jailed actually committed specific violence himself.

Furthermore, even in such cases persons may not be kept in jail longer than overnight unless there is:

1. Suspicion that they will flee (a fixed abode is usually taken as assurance that the suspect will stay in the vicinity).

2. Or fear that free suspects could "prejudice the course of justice" (i.e., conspire with other suspects to cconcoct a joint alibi).

It is this legislation that Social Democrats and Liberals contend was violated in Nuremberg's jailing of suspects for so long. (Nuremberg officilas have since conceded that up to 20 innocent people were jailed.)

West Germany conservatives want to restore the old offense of breach of the peace by any participating in a violent demonstration. They want to oulaw the use of masks by demonstrators.

Some of the conservative, led by Strauss, want further to arm the police with rubber bullets. They want the police to have means other than tear gas and water cannons to keep attackers and their stones, staves, slingshots, and Molotov cocktails at a distance. They regard it as intolerable that the police regularly sustain more injuries than demonstrators in violent clashes. They would also like to see squatters evicted wholesale.

The Social Democrats and Liberals regard such a toughening of laws and police practice as counterproductive. And they have the legislative majority to make their view prevail.

The real test will come, however, in the streets of Nuremberg and Wes t Berlin.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to A tale of two cities: how West Berlin, Nuremberg are handling squatters
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today