Protest arrests as landlord calls time on bar beloved by Berlin's leftwing

Kate Connolly in Berlin
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA</span>
Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Dozens of people have been arrested in Berlin during demonstrations against the closure of a small bar with a strong leftwing following.

Syndikat, described by its patrons as their “second living room”, was seized by a court official on Friday morning, bringing to an end a lengthy and bitter eviction fight.

The bar has found itself on the frontline of a campaign to stop rental properties in the German capital being taken over by international property groups. Research shows that the city has the fastest-growing property prices in the world.

Syndikat’s landlord is Firman Properties, but the ultimate owner of the building is the William Pears Group, a global property company with a multibillion-euro portfolio, run by the London-based brothers Mark, David and Trevor Pears. The bar’s supporters tracked the owners’ identity only after lengthy research, using information gathered from the 2016 Panama Papers data leak.

Journalists from the local newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and the investigative group Correctiv established that the Pears brothers receive tens of millions of euros a year in Berlin rents and sales, and own through a variety of Luxembourg-registered companies in their control more than 6,000 apartments in Berlin.

Protesters hold a banner reading &#x002018;Against a city of the rich&#x002019;
Protesters hold a banner reading ‘Against a city of the rich’. Photograph: Christian Mang/Reuters

Its PO box company Firman Properties bought the building in which the pub is located in 2018 and gave Syndikat its notice in September that year.

The William Pears Group has not responded to media requests for comment. Nor has it communicated with the Syndikat tenants, they say.

It is not known what it plans to do with the property, though the likelihood is it will be turned into flats.

The bar, which has operated from Weisestrasse 56 for the past 35 years, is closely linked to the city’s leftwing and related movements.

The tenants say they paid their taxes and that the bar is an important part of the local infrastructure, offering low-priced drinks to a loyal clientele.

Demonstrators stand in front of a police line during the seizure of the bar
Demonstrators stand in front of a police line during the seizure of the bar. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Niklas Schrader, of Die Linke party, who lives in the district and witnessed the eviction, said the loss of the bar was symbolic of something far bigger for the city.

“The eviction is a defeat for politics and of course for Berlin’s coalition government [Social Democrats, Greens and Left] because a piece of neighbourhood culture is being lost,” he told Der Tagesspiegel.

He criticised the “rather martial” behaviour of the police, which he said had caused huge tensions. “The police has contributed to its own image as the bogeyman,” he said.

Police officers make an arrest during a protest last weekend
Police officers make an arrest during a protest last weekend. Photograph: Christian Mang/Reuters

Several hundred protesters demonstrated against the eviction in the Schiller district on Thursday night into Friday morning, with 700 police blocking access to the building.

Rubbish bins were set alight and protesters threw stones and bottles at police, who responded with pepper spray. Police said 44 people were arrested.

Increasing anger over gentrification in Berlin, swathes of which have been bought up by property and pension funds in recent years – in particular in the southern district of Neukölln, where Syndikat is located – has led to political interventions including a law to freeze rent for five years.

There is growing support for a referendum on proposals to confiscate property from landlords who own more than 3,000 units and turn it into social housing. The construction and property industries are putting up stiff opposition to the plan.

Supporters of the #SyndikatBleibt (Syndikat Stays) protest said they would continue their campaign and announced further protests on Friday.