Berlin - High noon in Rigaer Straße, Friedrichshain. Thick clouds of black smoke rise above the street, shrouding the whole neighbourhood. A fire blazes on the intersection outside Rigaer 94, a long-time squat house, which was cleared in a massive police operation a few months ago. The street has been cordoned off. Dozens of cop cars with flashing blue lights block traffic.
Onlookers gawk at the action from the sidelines. There's a loud bang, which sounds like a firecracker being set off - dozens more explosions follow. At 12.05pm white, rather than black, smoke rises, forming a huge cloud. A police helicopter circles above.
Police extinguish fires and clear away barricades
Police sent in an armoured vehicle and a water cannon to extinguish the fires and clear the barricades.
"Our emergency forces & firefighters aren't being let through. Instead, they are being attacked & pelted with stones, also from the roofs. To extinguish the fire safely, we're using water cannons & clearing equipment," the police wrote on Twitter. The barricades, some on fire, consisted of rubbish, bicycles, metal barriers and barbed wire.
Meanwhile, supporters of the partially squatted building tweeted: "The defence of Riga 94 has begun. Right now, the street is being barricaded and an autonomous zone is being set up."
200 hooded rioters retreat into buildings
A short time later, police told the Berliner Zeitung that about 200 hooded people had retreated into the surrounding buildings - including Rigaer 94 - following the attack on officers. A police spokesperson said members of the force had been injured by stones, though it was too early to say how many. No information was available on how many arrests had been made.
Wednesday afternoon police said they were maintaining a presence of 200 officers in the Rigaer Straße area. They said the Berlin fire brigade remained on the lookout for smouldering debris and was supporting the police in restoring order in the neighbourhood.
Conflict over fire safety inspection on Thursday
The squatters at Rigaer 94 and their supporters oppose a fire safety inspection commissioned by the owner of the property that is planned for this Thursday. The police had prepared for a large-scale protest and declared the neighbourhood a special zone with a ban on demonstrations from Wednesday afternoon until Friday evening. Only residents are permitted to enter the cordoned-off area. Benjamin Jendro, spokesperson for the police union (GdP) in Berlin, said: "The current violence shows very clearly why a walk-through to assess fire safety in the R94 is only possible with the support of thousands of police officers."
Burning cars in Marzahn
On Monday afternoon, seven cars were set on fire in the eastern neighbourhood of Marzahn. A witness saw "about seven to eight" hooded people fleeing on bicycles. Some of the cars belonged to a company offering fire protection services. A fire protection expert from the company will participate in the inspection at Rigaer 94 on Thursday.
Last week, unknown perpetrators threw stones at firefighters and police officers outside Rigaer 94. No one was injured, but police vehicles and fire trucks were damaged. Police said they found more than 50 loose cobblestones on the street.