One-stop shop for urban revolutionaries battles closure


Berlin landmark under threat, but supporters aren’t going quietly

by: Guy Chazan in Berlin


M99 is a one-stop shop for the urban revolutionary. For the last 30 years, Germany’s hard-left activists have gone there to stock up on the tools of their trade — gas masks, cans of pepper spray and black balaclavas.


But the shop, tucked away on a quiet street in Berlin’s bohemian Kreuzberg district, is being forced to close next month, a victim of a wave of gentrification that is remaking Germany’s capital city.


Hans-Georg Lindenau, M99’s manager, has been served with an eviction order by city authorities and must vacate the building, which was acquired by a US investor in 2013, by early August. But he will not go quietly — his supporters are holding a series of protests against the planned closure.


“I’m fighting for the rights of tenants and workers,” says the rambunctious and wheelchair-bound Mr Lindenau, whose nickname is HG. “This place is not a commercial enterprise — it’s an institution.”


Mr Lindenau is a relic of a bygone age, when Kreuzberg was vibrant hub of artists and activists, many of whom lived in vast squatter communes in abandoned houses. During the Cold War, the district was part of the neglected no man’s land near the Berlin Wall. Today, its location — a ten-minute bike ride from the Reichstag and Angela Merkel’s chancellery — has made it prime real estate.


Kreuzberg still contains a few remnants of its wilder years, such as a bar called Molotov Cocktail and a smoking paraphernalia shop called “Hanf Haus” (hemp house). One poster depicts scissors and a pair of testicles with the caption “castrate gentrification”. But these are isolated signs of protest in an increasingly bourgeois milieu.


“No one wanted to live here before,” says Tuncay Mengi, a businessman who lives next door to M99. “Now everyone’s buying property here, and the rents are as high as London and Paris.”


The changes have been strongly resisted by Berlin’s urban revolutionaries, the so-called “Linksautonomen”, who are notorious for their violent run-ins with the police each year on May day.


Last weekend, 123 policemen were injured in riots triggered by an attempt to evict squatters in Friedrichshain, a neighbourhood bordering Kreuzberg. Police described it as the “most aggressive and violent demonstration Berlin has seen in the last five years”, while the city’s interior minister spoke of an “orgy of leftwing violence”.


A veteran of Berlin’s squatter movement and a cult figure in Kreuzberg, Mr Lindenau set up M99 in 1985 as a photocopy kiosk and alternative bookshop. He later included a collection point for old clothes, which he handed out to Kreuzberg’s poor.


The shop now sells T-shirts with slogans such as “We are all illegal” and pepper spray, which Mr Lindenau calls “antifascism deodorant”. There are also books on how to free animals from labs and factory farms, vegan cookbooks, and titles such as “A short history of Zapatismo” and “Anarchism 2.0”.


The shop has been searched 54 times by police over the past 30 years, Mr Lindenau says, on suspicion of incitement to violence.


Mr Lindenau, who also lives at the back of the shop, says he has seen off seven previous eviction attempts and will prevail again. However, his latest court appeal failed. According to the building owner’s lawyer, Mr Lindenau has violated his lease by subletting rooms in his flat and has allowed those renters to stay despite repeated warnings.


Yet Mr Lindenau thinks profit is the owner’s main motive. “They just want to renovate the house and create holiday apartments here,” he says.


M99 is unique, he adds. “You get this mixture of all different social strata consuming information, entering a dialogue and taking action. Once that’s gone, you’ll never be able to recreate it.”