Berlin judge: the Køpi trailer settlement has to go

The owners of the property won their suit in court on Thursday, but Køpi's lawyer will appeal the decision. Protesters vowed to fight eviction "with all means".

Køpi supporters outside the courthouse in Moabit Thursday.
Køpi supporters outside the courthouse in Moabit Thursday.Berliner Zeitung/Gerhard Lehrke

Berlin-A Berlin judge on Thursday gave the go-ahead to evict Køpi-Platz, the leftwing trailer settlement that is part of the the Køpi squat complex in Mitte, near the border to Kreuzberg. The owner of the property, Startezia GmbH, had sued the occupants in regional court. A lawyer representing the Køpi association said he would appeal the decision.

About 100 residents and supporters came out for a demonstration in front of the courthouse in Moabit. A speaker announced that she would fight the eviction "with all means". Shortly after the verdict was announced, shouting erupted brifely in the courtroom ("fascists!"). Guards ejected the 10 protesting spectators. No more had been allowed in due to corona restrictions.

The case centred on three contiguous plots of land totalling about 2,600 square metres on Köpenicker Straße where, according to information from the Køpi association SKI, 30 people live in construction trailers. Before the court, residents said about 50 people lived on the site. The Køpi building next door was not part of the proceedings.

An agreed "toleration" for use of the trailer site expired back in 2015. The owners' association has building rights, but these expire in November. They want to take control of their property.

Moritz Heusinger, the residents' lawyer, tried to argue that agreements from 2008 with a former group of owners were too recent for an eviction to take place. He said that a leasehold had been planned for the property, but that this had never been properly negotiated. Therefore, Heusinger argued, eviction could only take place once an agreement on the leasehold had been reached.

Managing director just a front man?

The judge did not accept this argument, nor did she accept Heusinger's assertion that the company's two lawyers did not actually possess a valid power of attorney from their client. According to Heusinger, the signature of the managing director on the power of attorney did not resemble those on other documents.

Heusinger suspects that the managing director with an Armenian-sounding name, for whom he could neither find an official address nor reach, was just a front man used for when the GmbH (limited liability company) was registered. This is also supported by the fact that the man did not appear in court despite being summoned.

The entrance to Køpi in Mitte.
The entrance to Køpi in Mitte.imago/PEMAX

The company's lawyers denied that the managing director did not exist, but did not say in which language they spoke with him, and said it was irrelevant to the case. The judge accepted the "legal assurance" of Startezia's lawyers that they had been verbally instructed as "informed representatives" to appear in place of the managing director.

Heusinger now hopes to produce written expert opinions to prove to the appeals court that the managing director does not exist: "No one in this room believes that the lawyers spoke to him. Accordingly, the lawyers Bertrand Malmendier and Christoph Brzezinski would not have had a mandate and the hearing could not have formally taken place."

Basically, Køpi residents believe the real owner to be someone named Siegfried Nehls, who has passed the property among his companies in the past, and allege he is hiding behind a fictitious company. They also suspect that the area is to be cleared for speculative purposes and then sold.

Amicable settlement rejected

Stralitza's lawyers rejected Heusinger's proposal to give the association one year to explore whether the property, which is worth several million euros, could be bought by a pension fund or foundation and then given to the current occupants. 

Before an eviction can take place, Startezia GmbH must deposit a €200,000 security deposit if it wants to have the premises cleared by the authorities, which is not likely to happen without significant resistance. The residents see themselves in the same boat as the threatened Rigaer Straße 94 house project in Friedrichshain and the recently evicted Kreuzberg pub Meuterei.

Køpi was occupied in 1990 during the final days of East Germany. Back then it belonged to a municipal housing association. The house project was legalised. But the property subsequently changed hands several times, sometimes in foreclosure sales. According to Startezia's lawyers, the 50 or so residents of the building have valid rental contracts through 2038.