Basel, Switzerland, the first week of May 1969. A Renault car heads east along Elsässerstrasse towards St. Louis, where it crosses France and takes the N66. Destination London, with a stop in Paris.
The driver is Yves Stohar, a man in his thirties, resident in Basel and born in the neighbouring village of Wallbach. In the passenger seat next to him is his life partner, Rosemary, a beautician who has become a successful supplier of women’s fashion. At the back of the vehicle are two young men. A German student, who will go to Paris and continue on to Vienna. Beside him is a twenty-four-year-old architecture student, living in Basel, Urse Niethammer. Niethammer is on his way to London for an internship in an architectural firm.
Paris, May 1968
In Paris, they stop for three days. In May 68, the student revolt was violently repressed by the police and the CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité), which increased the violence. Police and the CRS repeatedly charged student demonstrators, who responded by knocking over cars and throwing paving stones. For days, student riots took control of the heart of Paris.
This encouraged workers to revolt against labour laws and practices that had not changed much since World War II. On 16 May, the 30,000 workers at the giant Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt, west of Paris in the department of Haute-de-Seine, voted in favour of a general strike which lasted 33 days. The example of Renault and the calls by the largest union, the CGT, for a national general strike led to the closure of 23% of the French factories and the stoppage of transport systems, including air traffic, airports, trains and the Paris metro. It almost brought down the government of Charles de Gaulle. By the end of the largest general strike in modern French history, de Gaulle had held a referendum on his presidency and lost; reforms were made to the French education system, particularly universities; workers obtained higher wages, increased holidays, a reduction in the working week from 45 to 40 hours, and improved job security.
It has also attracted the attention of the security and intelligence services and the police, not only of the French services but also of most, if not all, European services, in particular Italy, Germany and Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.
One of the main concerns was that the Soviet Union was infiltrating and manipulating the progressive left to weaken the West and pave the way for subversion and communist takeover by parliamentary means.
Yves Stohar’s special interests
Yves Stohar spent the three days walking on the 15th Boulevard. Saint-Michel, the Left Bank, – the most important sites of what would become known as May 1968. To see if there was any reference to these events.
But of course, things are not quite what they seem to be.
It was not by chance that Yves Stohar chose a Renault to go to Paris, given the symbolic importance of an association with the strike of the workers of the Renault factory the year before. Part of its camouflage. And it wasn’t simply out of fantasy that he stopped in Paris to study the last embers of the student revolt of the previous year, but rather out of professional interest. An interest that would determine Richard Bros’s fate the following year.
For Yves Stohar was much more than one could have imagined.
They continue to Calais, where they board the ferry to Dover. After disembarking in Dover, they continued on to London and the northern district of Islington. They took Upper Street, the High Street, past the Islington police station, then two blocks further on, they turned right into Theberton Street. One block further on, they stopped and parked before number 34, in the centre of a Georgian brown brick building. Two floors above ground, one room in the basement.
34 Theberton Street, Islington
Inside number 34 Theberton, on the upper floor, was a certain Mathias von Spallart, also from Basel, a student at the London Film School. Spallart, the son of a German actress and actor who had fled Germany in November 1944, an opportune time for such a move. Spallart was a successful actor and radio producer in Switzerland.
Urse Niethammer occupied the ground floor room. Three days later, Yves Stohar and Rosemary returned to Basel. Two weeks later, Mathias von Spallart followed them. Urse Niethammer moved into the ground floor room. The basement room was unoccupied.
The trap is set.