If words are not taken seriously or played down, actions can soon follow: "If there is a fire somewhere in the near future, if a barracks somewhere goes up in the air, if the grandstand collapses somewhere in a stadium, please don't be surprised!" It was said on a leaflet from the radically anti-bourgeois Kommune 1 in West Berlin in 1967. But to everyone's surprise, on March 22, 1968, the responsible district court judged these leaflets to be satire instead of a criminal incitement to violence; the accused were acquitted.
The charismatic petty criminal Andreas Baader apparently saw this verdict as an incentive to get serious. With his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin he drove from West Berlin to Frankfurt am Main; there, in the late afternoon of April 2, the two and two friends set incendiary devices with timers in two department stores on the Zeil shopping street. Shortly before midnight, local residents heard detonations; the flames destroyed several floors of the two department stores, including a toy and a furniture department. The damage to property amounted to more than two million marks.
Just a few hours later, the police arrested Baader and Ensslin and the accomplices. Because while the extinguishing work was still going on, the couple from West Berlin had celebrated in a trendy bar near the crime scene and dropped hints that pointed to them as the perpetrators. They were taken into custody; her trial began in October 1968.
All four defendants disrupted the proceedings and did their best to provoke the court. They were pursuing a goal that Ensslin had set: publicity should induce the oppressed masses of West Germany, who they believed to be oppressed, to do the same as the four arsonists and rise up against the state. The left-wing journalist Ulrike Meinhof eloquently represented the views of Baader and Ensslin in the political magazine "Konkret".
Ricarda Lang, one of the two party leaders of the Greens, has now defended the eco-radicals of the self-proclaimed "Last Generation" against comparisons with the left-wing extremist terrorist group Red Army Faction (RAF) around Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof, which from 1970 in Germany murdered, bombed and kidnapped. But the sweeping apology is doubly wrong.
Firstly, it is a banality that comparisons are always permissible because only through them can similarities and differences be established; comparing does not mean equating. Secondly, for a comparison between the actions of the "climate protection" radicals and the RAF, one does not have to look at the terror from mid-May 1970, but at the way there.
Parallels are suddenly unmistakable: the roots of the later RAF lie in the self-radicalization of some members of a small group of left-wing activists, but one that was very well perceived in public and did not feel that the majority of society took them seriously. In order to change that, they used violence in addition to public protests (for example, the group performance on Kurfürstendamm with painted T-shirts with the message “Albertz resign” was imaginative and even funny). Baader actually wanted to blow up the tower of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, but instead set fire to Frankfurt.
When the Frankfurt Regional Court handed down mild sentences (only three years imprisonment each; the public prosecutor's office had requested twice as much), despite the high level of property damage, Baader and Ensslin felt encouraged by this again. Her two accomplices, on the other hand, understood the warning shot and ended their path to terror in good time.
In addition to defenders from the left-wing milieu, such as Otto Schily and Horst Mahler, Ulrike Meinhof was also one of the defendants' supporters. For the past few years she had lived with her husband Klaus Rainer Röhl in Hamburg-Blankenese, in at least good, actually more upper-class circumstances.
But to her political radicalization - also through the acquaintance with the relentless Gudrun Ensslin, about whose crime Meinhof wrote after a prison visit: "The progressive element of an arson in a department store does not lie in the destruction of the goods, it lies in the criminality of the act, in breaking the law". – came a personal one: She separated from Röhl, occupied the “Konkret” editorial team with friends and the villa, which she had shared with her twin daughters for years, which was devastated.
Meinhof later claimed not to have been present - but one of the accomplices, Bernward Vesper (by the way, Ensslin's former friend and father of her son), wrote in his diary: "Ulrike was there" and added: "It was her house. She furnished it, lived in it, left it with the children. She walked around in it like a ruin.”
Not the last such action: The ex-Blankeneserin Meinhof was now practically on a drug trip, had to constantly increase the dose, so initiate even more radical actions. She did it, for example, by trying to get the residents of West Berlin's new Märkisches Viertel district to start an uprising. An attempt that was bound to fail, as most of these people were happy to be able to live in warm and dry homes.
Together with a co-author, Meinhof wrote a "strategy paper on the struggle in the Märkisches Viertel", which stated, for example: "The main contradiction in the quarter is the contradiction between the majority of its residents, the tenants, and the Gesobau as the housing association that is also the reason - and owns land and almost all buildings in the district. The Berlin Senate is Gesobau’s main investor.”
Rather arbitrarily, Meinhof tried to establish a connection to "big politics": "For the time being, the connection between grassroots work in the MV and the anti-US imperialist struggle can be proven as a connection between the building activities of Gesobau and the housing policy of the Berlin Senate, the Bonn Berlin policy and the US American presence in Berlin, that is, the Berlin policy of American imperialism.”
Less than two weeks after this paper, Ulrike Meinhof enabled the armed liberation of prisoner Andreas Baader, during which a bystander was fatally injured. For them it was the "leap into illegality", as WELT editor Stefan Aust aptly calls it in his book "The Baader-Meinhof Complex" - the real hour of birth of the RAF.
In addition to the self-radicalization of Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof, at least a dozen other similar routes by left-wing activists to terror in the environment of the later RAF can be conclusively reconstructed. The mechanisms are similar to those currently observed among self-proclaimed climate protectors. It is therefore at least negligent to downplay the current events with reference to the violent acts of left-wing terrorists from 1970 onwards. Because the RAF also started with “violence against things” and activist protest actions.
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