Germans Worry What's Behind Wave Of Arsons

In the German capital Berlin, police say scores of vehicles have been burned. But the crimes don't fit the old pattern of attacks on BMWs and Mercedes. Officers dismiss any suggestion this is the start of urban unrest as seen recently in London.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, host:

Now to Germany, where luxury cars in Berlin have been set on fire and destroyed for the fourth night in a row. It's not clear whether this is typical summertime hooliganism or something else. But with memories of the unrest in London fresh, some citizens and politicians in Germany are worried, and police are urging tough action. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Car arson in Berlin is an old problem, especially in the summertime. For years, far-left activists with a fondness for arson have targeted luxury cars to protest rising rents and other causes. But Berlin police official Thomas Neuendorf says these incidents do not fit that burn-a-Beemer-for-marks pattern.

Mr. THOMAS NEUENDORF (Police Spokesman): (Through translator) It looks ever more likely that we are dealing solely with pyromaniac hooligans who get a thrill out of vandalism. The scene has changed entirely. In 2009, we had numerous arson attacks with a clear political motivation. Normally, it was about gentrification and anti-militarism. This spate of arson has none of these characteristics.

WESTERVELT: So far this week, police say some 50 cars have been torched indiscriminately. The chief security expert for the opposition Social Democrats called the wave of arson, quote, a precursor to terrorism. Others have warned it's the start of street unrest like the recent riots and vandalism in London. But police spokesman Neuendorf dismisses that as nonsense.

Mr. NEUENDORF: (Through translator) We're talking about a lone arsonist or a small group of vandals setting fire to cars, one after the other. This is not in any way comparable to the riots in London, nor is it in any way a precursor to terrorism.

WESTERVELT: Police are offering a 5,000 euro, or $7,000, reward and are now using a helicopter with a thermal camera to try to catch the arsonists or lone arsonist.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.