A friend from Berlin commented that the piece was quite different from what they had anticipated from the title:
“You do know about the other Firebugs of Kreuzberg right?”
“Eh, no…remember it was only a fleeting visit whilst on holiday!”
I was helpfully sent a clutch of links to some newspaper articles which outline how ‘firebug’ arson attacks on high-end cars have been increasing in Berlin in recent years. It would appear that BMW, Mercedes and Porsche are the favoured brands to toast. There is a long history of traditional May Day protests in Kreuzberg culminating in car burnings, however, these articles suggest that the number of politically motivated firebug attacks is increasing. The attacks appear to be an expression of both anti-gentrification protest and also of a more general grievance against ‘the rich’ as Germany attempts to navigate the global, economic malaise. The record annual number of car burnings in Berlin was previously 401 in 2009. In April 2012, it was reported that this had risen to over 700 in 2011. Whilst car burning incidents have taken place across Berlin, the majority cluster around the central districts of Kreuzberg, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Not surprisingly, these are places where the usual gentrification tensions arise between relatively wealthy incomers and poor long-term residents and play out against rising rents and property prices and the polarization of employment opportunities.
Trying to attribute arson attacks as politically motivated or copycat vandalism is not something that the politicians or police appear to wish to address although an unemployed man was jailed in April 2012 for seven years. He was prosecuted on 86 charges of arson involving 102 cars. As a motive he said that he: “hated the affluent”. Meanwhile, given the sheer number of car burnings, it looks as if many other disaffected ‘firebugs’ continue to evade detection, regardless of motive.
As a final aside, I was also interested to receive a comment from Emina Redzic who recognised the insects in the original piece. In Serbia they are called “palikuce” or as directly translated into English “arsonists”.
Perhaps these little insects may be even more mysterious than we originally thought.