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<nettime> Zonk! Pow! Nosh! The Crusader Caper Pits Goodies vs. Evil
Heiko Recktenwald on Mon, 3 Jul 2006 09:43:10 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Zonk! Pow! Nosh! The Crusader Caper Pits Goodies vs. Evil


As reading help:

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 2, 2006; D01

HAMBURG, Germany -- It began as a quiet Friday morning at the Fresh
Paradise gourmet grocery in this prosperous northern German city. A
few well-heeled customers meandered through the aisles, looking for
the perfect chevre to pair with their favorite Gewurztraminer.

Suddenly, half a dozen costumed superheroes appeared, their shopping
baskets filled with prime Kobe beef, Manchego cheese curdled from
the milk of Spanish sheep, handmade French chocolates from the Rhone
Valley. Some $2,000 worth of fancy groceries darted out of the store
before employees realized they'd been robbed by a gang of cartoon

The leader was a skinny person of indeterminate gender, clad
head-to-toe in a lavender nylon bodysuit. One accomplice was wrapped
in a red costume with a lightning bolt, a la Flash, the comic-book
speedster. At least four others wore an assortment of capes, wigs,
sunglasses and white gloves, the latter to avoid leaving fingerprints.
Waving their stolen booty outside the store, they pranced around and
flexed their muscles as yet another partner took pictures.

Before fleeing, the gang left flowers and a note for the stunned Fresh
Paradise cashiers:

"In case you do not know us yet: We are Santa Guevara, Spider Mum,
Operaistorix and Multiflex. We are precarious superheroes," it read,
in part. "Without the power of superheroes, there is no chance for
survival in this city of millionaires. Although we produce the wealth
of Hamburg, we hardly have anything to show for it. It does not have
to stay like this."

Police dispatched a dozen squad cars and a helicopter to the area, to
no avail. Two months later, no arrests have been made and no suspects

The April 28 caper generated front-page headlines in Germany, and a
group claiming responsibility posted statements on the Internet saying
the pilfered goodies had been given to the needy, including children
at a kindergarten.

It was not the first time the gang had struck: A year earlier, about
20 masked marauders barged into the Seven Seas Restaurant, a swanky
bistro overlooking the Elba River. As astonished diners watched, the
intruders dumped the entire buffet spread, right down to the wild
salmon ravioli, into trash bags before fleeing.

The self-styled caped crusaders belong to a movement called Hamburg
for Free, a loosely organized network with a simple and alluring
ideology: People shouldn't have to pay for anything they might want.
Short on cash? Scuffling for change? No worries! Just walk into a
store and help yourself.

While it sounds like a juvenile mixture of anarchism and
anti-capitalism, the people behind Hamburg for Free say they belong
to neither camp. The root of their ideology is basic: economic
frustration. The port city, with 1.7 million residents, is home to
more millionaires than any other German town. But the Mercedes and
BMWs clogging the downtown streets belie an unemployment rate of
11.3 percent, and the posh lofts and waterfront estates are a stark
contrast to the squatters and homeless who wander the streets.

Police investigators and sympathizers of the movement say the
ranks of Hamburg for Free are filled mostly by young adults of
middle-class origin -- people in their twenties or early thirties who
resent that their parents and elders are swimming in good fortune
while they struggle to find jobs. Despite its title of the biggest
exporting nation in the world, Germany has been slowly unraveling its
long-treasured social safety net, trimming unemployment benefits,
raising health-insurance premiums.

In the note they left at Fresh Paradise, the shoplifters provided
cryptic explanations:

"Superflex is familiar with every type of job contract: part time,
full time, internship. All the stress led him to a pleasant mutation
of his molecules."

"Operaistorix survived the last few years with the help of his
unemployment module."

"Spider Mum's mutant body developed somewhere between the kindergarten
and unpaid and paid cleaning jobs. In her hands, Ajax and a mop turn
into merciless weapons."

"Santa Guevara dodges all control checks and disappears without a
trace. With this power, he is able to escape from the boredom of call
centers and university seminars."

Although police have failed to catch the group, super sleuthing
skills appear unnecessary to track down members of Hamburg for Free.
A call to the student government offices at the University of Hamburg
produces a swift invitation: We'll be happy to talk.

Appearing in a park on a recent afternoon are a young woman and man
who claim to have participated in the heist at Fresh Paradise.

"It's not that we hate rich people, but we want this kind of wealth
for everybody. That's the point," says the man, a thin, dark-haired
guy in his twenties who describes himself as a university student
nearing graduation. "We wanted to show that there is rebellion, that
you can stand up and fight."

The woman, blond and soft-spoken, says she used to work in a small
clothing store but hated the "bad working conditions," like having to
stay until 8 some nights.

In addition to organized purloining of pat?, Hamburg for Free also
encourages individual acts of rebellion, they say. Favorite tactics
include taking longer-than-allowed coffee breaks at work, daring to
ride the subway without a ticket and downloading pirated software and
music from the Internet.

Law enforcement is not amused.

"The police must treat this as any other crime," says Ulrike Sweden,
a spokeswoman for the Hamburg police. "These robbery cases are given
the same priority as every other crime. It might be up to a judge to
evaluate the crime's severity, but it is the police's job to stay
neutral and find the criminals."

Authorities suspect many of the Fresh Paradise bandits are university
students, but "what the police know and what they can actually prove
are often two very different things," Sweden says. "The members came
and left very quickly; they left no trace."

Hamburg is home to an estimated 1,500 left-wing extremists, of which
about 470 have a track record of promoting violence, according to
Manfred Murck, a German intelligence official and deputy director of
the state agency responsible for monitoring domestic extremist groups.

Investigators believe only 15 to 20 people are actively involved in
Hamburg for Free, Murck says, and the group is considered more of a
nuisance than a danger. Their flair for publicity is undeniable.

"I think they do have more sympathy because they have more of a Robin
Hood type of image, or at least they try to have this kind of image,"
Murck says. "It's something between political action and violence, and
a game."

Carsten Sievers, general manager of the Fresh Paradise grocery, is
dubious about all the Robin Hood talk and even more doubtful that any
of his store's delicacies gave pleasure to the palates of Hamburg's

"How many poor people will really enjoy a bottle of champagne or a
high-value cheese?" he asks. "I think the object was just to get in
the newspapers and get publicity for their ideas. To help the poor
people, there is a right way and a wrong way. You cannot use the voice
of Robin Hood to promote yourself."

In reality, he says, the caper was much more low-key than the gang's
braggadocio suggested. A conspirator in street clothes performed a
reconnaissance mission to the store ahead of time, Sievers says, and
stuffed several hand-held shopping baskets with groceries. The baskets
were placed unnoticed on the floor near the store's front entrance.
When the costumed performers arrived on the scene, they ducked in for
only an instant to snatch the baskets and flee without a word. More
like cowardly crooks than superheroes, Sievers sniffs.

"That was it. That was all we saw," he says. "One of our girls tried
to follow them, but she lost them and they got away."

Also lost in the myth surrounding the crime, Sievers adds, is a
longtime store policy:

Twice a week, employees box up dated organic produce and other
perishables that have been passed over and donate them to a local
social-services agency to feed the hungry and the poor.

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