Rausings targeted in protest against Berlin bookshop eviction

Sigrid Rausing denies financial interest in building, as court orders booksellers Kisch & Co to vacate Kreuzberg premises

A UK-based Swedish multibillionaire family known for their philanthropic donations to literature, libraries and other arts, have become the target of angry protests in Berlin over the eviction of a community bookshop from a counter-culture neighbourhood.

The bookseller Kisch & Co, which has operated for the last 24 years from a historic building on one of the main thoroughfares in the Kreuzberg district of Germany’s capital, was told on Thursday by a criminal court to vacate its premises.

The building’s owners were represented via video link in court by a Frankfurt-based law firm, which in turn was acting on behalf of the Luxembourg-registered Victoria Immo Properties V SARL, which bought the property for more than €35m in 2019.

Tax justice researchers believe Victoria Immo is a shell company that hides the investment’s real beneficiaries, members of the Swedish Rausing family, heirs to the Tetra Pak fortune.

Victoria Immo’s affairs are handled in a trust capacity by three Liechtenstein-based family lawyers who act in the same role for the Danish agriculture company Ingleby Farms & Forests, which is owned by Lisbet Rausing and Benjamin Henry Anders Rausing Koerner.

“We cannot prove for sure that the Rausing family is behind the company seeking the eviction of Kisch & Co,” said Christoph Trautvetter, a tax specialist researching Berlin’s ownership structures on behalf of the leftwing Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. “But I am 99.9% certain that they are.”

Thorsten Willenbrock, owner of the bookshop Kisch & Co
Thorsten Willenbrock, owner of the bookshop Kisch & Co, said he had wanted to discuss a lease extension for the store. Photograph: Jörg Carstensen/Avalon

Over the last year the heirs of the food-packaging empire have been the target of weekly protests outside the bookshop. Local members of the bands Einstürzende Neubauten and Stereo Total have supported the protest, and a petition mentioning the Swedish family as the probable owners has been signed by more than 20,000 people, including the Nobel Prize winning writer Elfriede Jelinek and the Turner-Prize winning artist Wolfgang Tillmans.

Outside the criminal court in the Moabit district of Berlin, about 300 people gathered to protest against Kisch & Co’s eviction, waving placards with the words: “Which members of the Rausing clan is really behind this? Is it you Lisbet?” Other placards carried the names of other members of the Swedish family.

One group of protesters performed a morality play based on the trial against the bookshop, in which the property’s owners were represented by two women and a man carrying a placard with the word “Victoria”. One of the lines in the play ran: “The family has to be measured by the mission statements of their own charities.”

Tetra Pak was founded by Ruben Rausing. His sons, Hans and Gad, were based in the UK from 1982. In 1993 they were listed as Britain’s richest men, their wealth at the time eclipsing that of the Queen. They have both since died.

The two daughters of Hans have each made a mark on the British art and literature circuit. Sigrid Rausing, 59, is the owner of the literary magazine Granta, and Granta Books. Her charitable trust has donated to human rights organisations around the world.

Her older sister, Lisbet, 61, is a co-founder of the Arcadia Fund, which says it seeks to “preserve endangered cultural heritage, protect endangered ecosystems, and promote access to knowledge”.

When asked by the Guardian whether the Rausing family directly or indirectly held shares in or received economic benefits from Victoria Immo, Sigrid Rausing denied any personal involvement, while Lisbet did not respond.

“I have no financial interest or ownership position in the building, and have made that clear previously to the owners of Kisch and various other people, including politicians, who have been in touch about the issue,” Sigrid Rausing said in an email.

Kisch & Co’s owner, Thorsten Willenbrock, said he could not condemn his shop’s supporters for targeting the Rausing family in their protests. “We have always tried to reach out to the real owners and discuss a lease extension face-to-face,” he said. “But we were only bounced from lawyer to lawyer and then slapped down with an eviction notice.”

Willenbrock said he was considering appealing against the verdict but expected that he would have to clear out his shop within the next seven weeks.

“What makes me so angry is that the anonymous people who bought the building knew that it is a well-known, much loved building filled with cultural workers and organisations,” said photographer Tillmans, whose studio is also in the neighbourhood.

“Why buy the place and then fire the people that make the neighbourhood attractive in the first place? It is not a sustainable investment.”

Contributor

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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