Moslem youths force Berlin HIV centre to re-locate

Ernest Gill | March 19, 2004

Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit
BERLIN — Attacks by radical Islamic youths have forced Berlin's only caf� catering to HIV-positive customers to move, reflecting mounting tensions between an increasingly radicalized Islamic community in a city with an openly gay mayor.

While Mayor Klaus Wowereit held a news conference during a tourism trade fair at the city's International Congress Center to promote an officially sanction gay guide to Berlin and Germany, roving gangs of ethnic Kurdish and Palestinian teens smashed windows at the caf� in the city's funky Schoeneberg district.

Shouting "you queer swine", the youths hurled iron bars and paving stones through the plate-glass windows of the cafe in the Alvensleben Strasse and pulled down and burned the rainbow-hued gay pride penants that had been festooned over the doorway.

"The attacks started right after the September 11 attacks," says caf� owner Joachim Schreck. "Until that day, we got along fine with everybody in this multi-cultural neighbourhood. But after that day, it was as if it was suddenly open season on decadent infidels."

The attacks started with customers being accosted or spat upon as they left the caf�. Then beverage cans were hurled through the door. A window was smashed. Then several.

"Now we can't keep up with replacing the windows," says Schreck. "So it's time to move. I hate to give in to intolerance and hatred. But we can't afford to stay here. I don't want to end up with somebody getting hurt, especially with May Day coming up."

He was referring to the May 1 holiday, which has become a bizarre annual rite of spring violence, with hundreds of young radicals going on a two-night spree of destruction through Berlin's predominately Turkish neighbourhoods.

Local business and religious leaders have launched a campaign aimed at averting violence this year. But longtime residents are doubtful, considering the fact that rioting has occurred 17 years in a row and that tensions have mounted.

In the aftermath of last year's rioting, with gutted shops and burned-out cars lining streets in the multi-ethnic Kreuzberg district, angry residents lashed out at Mayor Wowereit for jetting off to America for a gay pride festival during the unrest.

Wowereit's fragile leftwing coalition of Social Democrats and former East Berlin communists adopted a "soft glove" approach to the rioting for two years in a row.

And as violence erupted, and rioters staged cat-and-mouse street battles with police, Wowereit flew off to Philadelphia for a gay cultural festival in America.

Wowereit, 50, who was elected in June 2001 after telling Berlin voters "I'm gay and that's good", appeared at German-theme parties along with a lederhosen-clad gay Bavarian shoe-plattler dancing and yodelling troupe and two German drag queens called Fraulein Piggy and Gene Pascal.

The Berlin mayor afterwards defended the trip, saying he was using the festival as a forum to lobby for gay tourist dollars for Berlin. It is a favourite subject of his, and for two yers now he has promoted a "GayFriendly Germany" guide book specifically aimed at homosexuals in America.

"Berlin is a gay-friendly city, a city of tolerance," the mayor says. "And I represent our city with this message. Berlin has the biggest gay and lesbian scene in Germany and we welcome gay dollars."

But tolerance is less obvious in multi-culti neighbourhoods where down-and-out artists live side-by-side with immigrants from Southeastern Europe and the Middle East.

"Some neighbourhoods in Berlin are as repressive as the most backwoods areas of Turkey or Syria," says Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin.

His film "Head-On" (Gegen die Wand) won the Golden Bear award at this year's Berlin Film Festival with its story of a marriage of convenience between two Turks in Germany: a young woman trying to escape the influence of her fundamentalist Moslem family, and a conniving man devoid of scrupels.

"You have to realise that millions of Turks now live in Germany," Akin says, "and that theses are not urbane Turks who live in Istanbul. They are immigrants from the most conservative rural regions. And they have brought their conservative prejudices with them."

HIV caf� owner Schreck agrees.

"The atmosphere has changed in recent years," 44-year-old Schreck says as he sweeps up broken glass after yet another night of attacks.

"There used to be a mix of ethnic Europeans. But there has been an influx of radical Kurdish and Lebanese immigrants who come here with there expanded families," he notes.

"I never thought I would see the day when I, of all people, would speak intolerantly of any other minority group," he adds.

"But the vitriolic hatred of all things Western that we are experiencing every day now makes me very frightened. We're moving out." – Sapa-dpa

Related stories
German lawmakers approve memorial for gay victims of Nazis [14/11/2003]



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