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Violent protests in Hamburg quelled as G20 summit reaches final day

08 July 2017 10:18
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Protesters torched cars and smashed windows before police restored order

Picking his way through the ruins of his drug store, owner Cord Wöhlke tots up in his mind the very real cost to him of the Hamburg G20 summit. He stops at €400,000.

Budnikowsky is an institution in Hamburg but on Friday night their branch in the alternative Schanzenviertel district was one of the first to be targetted the so-called “black block”, left-wing extremists drawn from all over Europe.

“There are no words, it is just so senseless,” said Mr Wöhlke, pointing to walls, shelves ripped clean, and a thick carpet on the ground of products - mostly cleaning products - that looters left behind hours earlier.

The adjacent supermarket suffered a similar fate, as did the Danish thrift store Tiger.

Mr Wöhlke is angry but resigned: “This is a tragedy for Hamburg because these are the pictures that will stick and overwhelm the rest.”

For three hours on Friday night, as world leaders dined following a Beethoven concert in the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, fiery chaos reigned just 3km away. Protest began building from 5pm but, as darkness fell, gangs of masked young men in hoodies attacked police with bottles, fireworks, catapults and steel rods.

“All at once things just tipped over and suddenly things were on fire,” said Annika, a 42 year-old resident of the Schulterblatt street.

After weeks of high security, and a violent evening on Thursday night, three hours of unthrottled anarchy exploded on Friday night.

In total 213 police officers were injured and 43 people were arrested. Fires and explosions could be heard all over the city all evening as police helicopters circled for hours overhead.

For most of Friday evening, with black block members running riot, it seemed as if Hamburg police had given up the Schanzenviertel.

After games of cat and mouse with black block members, through the narrow streets and up and down buildings via scaffolding and roofs, Hamburg called in machine gun-wielding special forces.

Within an hour, around 1.30am on Saturday, the situation had calmed down and police could be seen leading away young men in custody.

The morning after, residents, police and street cleaners emerged to inspect the damage, crunching their way along sooty, glass-strewn streets.

Hamburg’s most colourful quarter looked like New Year’s Day in a warzone: bangers, bottles, and a young girl in a blue hat zipping on a yellow and red scooter past a burnt-out Audi A9.

After criticism of heavy-handed interventions on Thursday, Hamburg police spokesman Timo Zill admitted it appeared on Friday as if police on Friday had given up.

“When you have hooligans only interested in violence, four floors up firing down paving stones on police heads, you have to plan carefully,” he said. “We co-ordinated carefully deployment of police, water cannon and special forces, it took time but we got things under control.”

On Saturday morning, amid anger towards police chiefs and mayor Olaf Scholz to take responsibility for the fiasco, a march of 20,000 people was held und the motto “Hamburg shows Composure.”

But as the G20 circus packed up and moved out, Hamburg authorities warned that many of the estimated 1,5000 black block members were still in the city, possibly seeking a final showdown with police.

Back in the Schanzenviertel, as street-cleaners pulled apart a molten mass of bicycles and street signs, resident Beata was wide-eyed with anger.

“This has nothing to do with protest, I have lived around the corner here for 40 years and have never seen anything like it,” she said. “I am so ashamed for Hamburg.”


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