Nostalgia for Red Army Faction in final act of German terrorist drama

A German television report and podcast appears to have produce more decisive leads than three decades of police work

The sense of an ending lingers over Markgrafendamm, a scrappy Berlin street south of the Ostkreuz train station.

Ruined railway buildings, some now underground clubs, line one side of the street and compete for space with classic signs of gentrification.

Billboards advertise Ugg boots and, before an empty site, a poster for an angular new apartment building named “Alaska” urges passersby, in the unironic sales pitch, to “think inside the box”.

If money doesn’t finish off this lingering pocket of Berlin’s left-wing alternative scene, the motorway set to run through here soon certainly will.


At 7am on Sunday the quiet street came to life when special forces officers in full protective gear swarmed into a ramshackle commune of shacks and caravans, hidden behind a graffitied wall.

Hours later a crowd of onlookers are still standing in silence behind a fluttering police tape and watch, alongside armed police officers, a massive civil defence truck ease its way on to the site.

A moustachioed man in his late 20s, watching everything closely as he rolls a cigarette by touch, says: “They’re looking for Burkhard and Ernst-Volker.”

He means Burkhard Garweg and Volker Staub, fugitive members of the left-wing terrorist Red Army Faction (RAF) who are still on Germany’s most wanted list. Feigning ignorance, I ask: what were the RAF again?

“They were a left-wing militia group,” says Mr Roll-your-own. “They thought West Germany was a continuation of the Nazi state, or at least had the potential to slide back into fascist ways because it had so many former Nazis in power.”

A radical breakaway from the West German 1968 student revolutionary movement, the RAF was also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang after two founder members, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof.

Self-styled underground urban guerrillas with Marxist-Leninist ideals, they trained themselves in weapons and explosives and, with the support of the socialist East Berlin and Moscow, planned to take down the capitalist system from within.

In 1972 Baader and others were arrested and put on trial before a so-called second generation, determined to force their release, launched the so-called German Autumn campaign of 1977.

By October of that year Baader, Meinhof and other RAF founding members were all dead after taking their own lives in their prison cells in still contested circumstances.

Their terrorist/revolutionary campaign continued without them and, in total, RAF members have been linked to 34 deaths of industrialists, bankers, public prosecutors and US servicemen stationed in Germany.

By the time a so-called RAF third generation took over the armed struggle, the end of the cold war had cost them important sources of support and financing. In 1998, the Reuters news agency received an eight-page faxed statement, purportedly from the RAF, announcing that its armed struggle “is history”.

While senior second generation members were released on parole a decade ago, three third-generation activists remained on the run. That changed a week ago when special forces raided a plain white tower block in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighbourhood and announced the arrest of 65-year-old Daniela Klette.

A recent television report and podcast – drawing on AI face recognition software – appeared to have produced more decisive leads than three decades of police work.

For the last 30 years Klette had been living openly as “Claudia”. From her Facebook page, she appeared to have been a fan of Brazilian capoeira combat dance.

When police raided the apartment where she rented a room, they found a pile of cash as well as a rocket-launcher, grenades, a submachine gun and ammunition.

Prosecutors say the woman in custody has refused to comment, except to deny she is Daniela Klette. She now faces charges related to a bomb attack on a prison building site in 1993 and a series of RAF raids on cash transporters and supermarkets – allegedly to secure financing for their life in the underground.

Back at the Markgrafendamm, Sunday’s police raids failed to turn up any further suspected RAF members, though investigators used a crane and lorry to transport away a caravan they claim was the home of Garweg.

In the growing evening gloom, overheard conversations suggest a palpable sense of nostalgia. At four decades’ remove, it seems home-grown terrorists are infinitely preferable here to more modern Islamist imports.

Over the weekend in the former West Berlin, once a hotbed of left-wing radicalism, a mattress discarded at the canal was propped up and repurposed for a graffitied message of support, in large letters: “Be strong, Daniela. And best of luck, Burkhard and Volker!”