Tuesday, May 26, 2009


So I thought I would interrupt (hooray non-linear bloggos!) my regular blogging to catch you all up on something rather big in my job here. Remember that REALLY difficult class of 9th graders I have during the FIRST HOUR OF SCHOOL ON WEDNESDAY? I had my last class with them yesterday.
But Kate, you are in Germany until July! What gives?

Well, random voice, the 9th graders are packed off for the month of June to do internships in the work force for no real reason that I can see. They spend 3 weeks out of school following around professionals; I have some students going to the BILD (ugh), AirBerlin, hospitals (don't get sick here, people), and a day care center. So this week is Kate Saying Goodbye to Her 2 Ninth Graders Week. It's a little sad, but it's alsAdd Imageo kind of fun to see how they saw me.

Judging from the book put together by this class, the reactions were...well, take a look:


I felt warm about this one...this kid worked really hard this year.
Also, Texas, take note!

English Teaching: Maybe fail?

"I have never met such a crazy person like you"...I really like this one somehow. No idea who
this was

Teaching Kate-isms: it works!

I know the kid who did this, and I can say honestly say, BYE!

Awww...I like the "Yeah. Let's rock" bit especially

[Formal You] are very crazy. Bye

Catching up #2: My first day in Oslo

Well I should start telling my 17 may story, because I have so many others to tell too! Ok, so for years Jon has been telling me about Norway's national day, Syttende Mai, where Norway gathers to celebrate it's charm and coolness, and for at least a year I have wanted to go, and this year I got my chance to experience it in Oslo!

Day 1
I showed up on a Friday but still in the day, so I had some time to bum around on my own, something I rather enjoy doing. I saw the inner city of Oslo, took care of some stuff I had left back in Berlin, and took a nap on oslo's opera house, the finding of which turned out to be an issue since Norwegians do not pronounce "opera" like germans OR the English but rather like "Oprah huss!" Worth the asking though for sure. Check out the rad photos and video!

From there I could see jon's building (I will not go into detail, so we will say he works at Arthur Andersen since they do not exist anymore), and I decided, after he turned out to be running a bit late, to surprise him at his job. This turned out to be a bit more fun than it should have, since I had THIS exchange with the could-not-BE-nicer receptionist:

Can I leave jon a message?
Sure. Does he know you are here? Is it important?
Oh, he knows I'm here...just to harass him.
No! Not like that! In a good way! I am a friend.
Umm...what should I tell him?
Tell him his Comrade is here

A very confused Jon showed up on the lawn not 2 minutes later and just in time for me to make a happy southern scene in front of his branch manager. Haha!

We headed off to his place then, where I met his relaxed and charming roomie Henrik, who works at...let's say "KBR," since they too recently had a name change. He had his collar popped in true NU style, and sitting around in their living room with Henrik's sushi felt quite like hanging out at Norris Student Center's couches with some buddies after a long day, only this place had more IKEA and less UGG.

We had planned for a night on the town Oslo style, in which Jon and I would have dinner at a Thai place and then hit all the liberal bars Jon knew, a very sweet gesture on his part. The restaurant was pretty good ("I like Thai...you like hat?"), and was mostly noteworthy for two reasons: the staff was mostly Swedish (swedes: the low rent workers of Norway!) and every 30 or so minutes they would replicate a tsunami with the lights.

You know, because it is never too soon!

Now Jon does not go to my kind of bars as a rule. Generally he goes where tattered jeans and dirty shirts are indicative of you not belonging...let me use the word "chic" for his bars. That is his scene and I dig it. But as an amazing host he had hunted up a potential hotbed of Kate-bar activity, a square holding the headquarters of the labor party, Doctors Without Borders and the big trade union. The bar was even called The Internationale! The only problem was it seemed to be on the cusp between a "normal" shabby-chic bar and a hipster joint (hipster count: 13) with music so loud we coils barely talk. Oh well!

Ad proximum con vivium (Onto the next party)!

The next stop was an outdoor bar on the east side of Oslo that was so edgy that one of Jon's older co-workers (or maybe supervisor of something) was there, but the moneyed set blended easily with less attractive locals and kids with dredlocks. The whole thing felt like a damned good patio bar, an we stayed a while. On our way home at around 1 we swung by a bar to say hi to Henrik and his friends, and we ended up staying there until the first pre-dawn light colored the sky. The folks there were quite nice, although a bit less keen on being understood by me, which was well within their rights. I could hang acceptably and really liked hearing them speak Norwegian, a language I am on record as believing is one of the top 5 prettiest languages on the planet. Add to that some good beer and life was good!

On the way home things soured a bit as we ran into the Norwegian version of a redneck fight: two gelled mullet types white jeans versus two excessively drunk girls, a fight that should NEVER take place ever, but luckily a bouncer had waded in as we were figuring out what was going on. In a way, this let me know that we aren't the only state in the world who doesn't have it's act together. A bit of a relief really.

Back Issue #1: En Route to Oslo

Schonefeld is without a doubt the worst planned and handled airport like ever and for the following reasons:
1. It is in the middle of nowhere
2. It is serviced by a hella sketchy Sbahn that shows up basically when it wants to and almost never when you want it (a vendiagram would be useful on this case)
3. it is in the eastern quarter if the city, and extremely so (I won't say too much more about this, but it is noticeable)
4. The route from train to airport is longer and more complicated than at midway airport! And that does make a difference
5. The metal detectors are calibrated embarrassingly high, so all the women around me set it off
6. Real mean ladies working security

This occurred to me because I generally flip out around international travel and for totally justified reasons. Add to that a late sbahn and I was out for blood. I got to the plane though, which was oddly empty for Oslo on 15 may, but meh. Next to our gate sat an israir flight being guarded by a Bradley type military vehicle and several cop cars while spectators looked on.

Assignment to my readers:
bored? Looking for something to do? Figure out who on earth was in that plane to attract such shenanigans

The flight was plagued with unro, despite the general liquor ban on the plane. Turbulence was heavy over the water, which I filed grimly under "crap I don't need" but I remained hella stoked for seeing Oslo and jon and hearing a whole country speaking NORSK!

As many bad things as I can say against berlin's airports, so many good things I can say for oslos! Again, like Bergen, it is not all stone and glass but rather pleasant smelling woods for little reason other than to make you smil.

As we sat in the train into town the very helpful screen advertised "what's new in Oslo tonight?". The answer, among others, "mama MIA singalong!" Yup, I thought as I fiddled with the blonde wooden chair in front of me in thought, this is pretty much what I expected.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Where in the World is Kate?

So some of my loyal readers are probably wondering where the eff I am and why I have not regailed you all with stories of swashbuckling and shenaningans, and what I can tell you is

It is coming

Right now I am in Lausanne Switzerland with a hot cup of coffee and my boyfriend, a welcome rest after some seriously fun experiences. Here is the basic rundown of the last week:

15th-18th May- Oslo with Jon (Many stories to come, but the Cliffs Notes version is I HAD A GREAT TIME AND TOTALLY AM TOTALLY ON BOARD WITH THE NORSE VIKING SHIP!)
19th May- worked, and visited folks including new human being, Laeticia!
20th May- had last class with my "difficult" year 9s, debate practice, and then visit with Sara till 8:00
21st-24th May- Switzerland with boy-friend-o

25th-29th May- work
30th-2nd May- Epiphany celebration at friends house in the north, in a town called Ellerbrock


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Act III: A day at the fair is not always followed by a stroll in the park

WARNING: This entry is censored heavily. If you want to know how to get the full text or have any questions, leave something down in the comments, and I'll get back to you. Again, if you are easily rattled, you should only read the visible portions and constantly remember that I AM OK. Love yas all!

So at the fair we had hooked up with some of Stefan's friends who were in the DGB, the German Association of Trade Unions (I think that's what it stands for, but exactly, I might be wrong, but they're unionists), and also fairly far to the left, holding membership in the Social Democratic Party. For the most part we kind of blended into the crowd at the street fair, some young people out for a nice time, but around 6PM we split from the jovial street bunch to the last march of the day. This is always a big one. It isn't the biggest--that one happened earlier that day along the big avenue near the Brandenburg Gate and was very well attended. No, this march is the one that the police make it a point to monitor and control, the one where you see the Black Block (BB) making cameos. In preparation we had all written on our arms the number 69-22222, a number they kept repeating throughout the march, the number of who to call if you ended up in more trouble than you were qualified to handle, who would come help you. We all wrote it on our arms, like we were just asking for it or something...it struck me as very odd, and I resolved RIGHT THERE that I wasn't going to be one of the ones in trouble.

Why on earth would you want to go in for something like that?

Well, I wanted to take part in this march for a few reasons:
1. I believe in workers' rights (though "Alles fuer alle und zwar umsonst" would NOT describe my philosophy)
2. I am really frustrated at the crisis, and I think it's good to get out that frustration by yelling REALLY loudly at "the man" or whatever cosmic forces are keeping me down (better than reading Paul Krugman, drinking a bottle of 2-buck-chuck and crying myself to sleep like I suspect Jim Kramer does every night)
3. I'll admit, I was curious. In America we don't have a BB, and I've seen some of them before, though not in action. I've always wimped out and elected to stay away from the masked kids, to stay at the hotel and study rather than put myself in their path, but this time I was feeling brave and informed enough to jump in. Mistake

We started off with a tedious rally before the actual march. It featured an odd combination of rhetorical hot air from an 84 year old communist women and someone calling for a general education strike (both painfully idealistic, but I support their existence if not their specific philosophy) but then a rap artist, which made us all groan until he said "OK! Last song!" At which point we switched to cheering...the fact that it was over. Then we stood around for another long stretch. Didn't I say earlier that most of marching is actually just standing around? A Note on the Music: the music kept going almost the whole time, and it was not calming music at all, nor was it excessively political. It was angry music. It was music not meant to calm or motivate but to rile. There were some stirring Trotsky-ite tributes calling people to arms in swashbuckling stanzas, but these were in the extreme minority. What we got was thumping base so loud we could barely talk and the sounds of angry young men venting to music as the angry young announcer yelled at us to "take care of the police." I think that a little Indigo Girls might have kept the night from ending as it did, but no one asked my opinion.

It turns out that the reason we were standing so long (remember too when I pointed out that that was the big mistake of the day?) was because the police were changing the parade route. I understand this move. Having watched enough episodes of Dexter, I know that when you change the conditions of something, you are establishing that you have power. On this day, the police clearly thought it necessary to prove that they could throw a monkey wrench into the plans of the organizers, and that they certainly did with some very negative consequences. For a while we had considered just turning around and going back for a drink, but as I pointed out, I had come this far, and I wanted to not go back, so we stuck around until things actually got moving.

As we were gearing up, the DGB fellow in the Young Socialists shirt kept talking about how he had an extra pair of clothes should there be water cannons, and Stefan kept saying that we needed to keep the BB in front of us as opposed to behind. For me, though, as I looked at them up close, all I saw were a bunch of 19-25 year olds in black rain coats with H&M brand black scarves (like the women's department sells in the winter). This was not something that was particularly intimidating to me. If you really are against the capitalist system, I reasoned, and you're so dedicated, then why not...umm...NOT shop at a store in which the prices are so low because they hire enough Cambodian child laborers? I guess this just didn't occur to them. As I was laughing at them, Stefan said "but they will be causing trouble." "Naw, I bet it'll all come to nuthin." "Oh yeah, what will you bet?" "A night of gin fizzes vs. I make you dinner. Go out and buy your gin, kiddo!" Mistake...mistake...MISTAKE.

The parade was surrounded by people taking pictures, though surprisingly little police presence as we looped around the street festival, picking up some people from the crowd. I felt watched, but it wasn't particularly awful. The announcer was yelling about some of our comrades having gotten into some trouble, but the mood of the crowd was good to fine, and so I didn't worry too much. One thing I did notice, however, was that we kept being threaded through not the main arteries of traffic but small, cramped streets...the kind of streets where, if things should start to go wrong, you couldn't easily get the Pho (get it? like the name of the Vietnamese soup? Pronounce it correctly and it sounds--nevermind, my grandmas read this blog) out. This was slightly worrysome, as was the input from one of our taller comrades that beer bottles were being thrown up ahead, and some of the pavement stones were missing.

A Word on the Pavement: for some odd reason the Berliners REALLY like cobblestones. I guess watching chic girls falling over them is fun or something, I don't know, but they are stones of about 3 inches squared, packed into tight sand. This is not concrete, however, and the stones can be dislodged, sometimes from weather, or normal wear and tear, or someone in a black raincoat kicking at them. I don't know why they don't pour that cement and get ir done right!

So things were amping up, but then we got to the Church on Goerlitzer Strasse. This church sits in a large clearing, full of shops, and across from a big park, and this took off a lot of the pressure on those of us in the march. There were police all over the place, but we were more relaxed. They even started playing goofy ska music, which prompted Stefan and I to dance about, him spinning me until I spun out, flailing my arms in a silly fashion. It was a great moment...until I in my dizzy insanity almost ran into a line of black-clad, helmeted, unnamed riot police. Oops!

A Word on Name tags: American police are required since the craziness of '68 to wear name tags or badge numbers. Why? So that if they get out of control, if they become brutal, you can report them. It provides at least the illusion of accountability to the public. The German police have none of this. They are not named, they are not numbered, and worst of all, they monitored US like crazy. Everywhere there were police on the rooftops taking pictures; when they would run into crowds with riot shields, you'd see the conspicuous "video camera on a stick" bobbing up and down. Not only is it a little creepy, it's wrong. This is a throwback to when Germany really was a police state (60s, 70s, I'm looking at you), and it needs to be changed. What was even more troublesome was that when things heated up it was those on the left with video cameras who were some of the first to get wanged up side the head with billy clubs, making me REALLY glad I forgot my camera that morning (but I remembered the sunscreen!)

So we made it through the circle and were then channeled into a narrow street where we were again made to stand. This was where it became crystal clear that something bad would happen. The announcer kept saying things like "The police want us to stop our march!" which was greeted with boos. To calm us down, of course, they pulled up the rapper again, but I didn't listen to him too closely, because Stefan was getting nervous. The BB was putting their masks up, and we were so close together that it wasn't easily managed to get out behind them. Then a troupe of Kurds appeared waving a flag with a very generic looking mustachioed man on it. "Is that Ataturk?" someone asked. It was not. They got a shout out from the announcer, and a few minutes later we were on the move again, but this time things seemed more tense. Everyone wanted to get out of there and at the same time.

After this little road, we joined a slightly bigger one, but we had to manage a 90 degree turn, at which point we could see that the BB had consolidated to about 200 people (if you read the papers) walking together, looking MAD. We stayed to the side, but clearly we weren't far enough away from them.

Then it happened, a cop car had been parked in the middle of the road, without a driver. It was clearly there to draw fire, and that it did, quickly being engulfed in rock throwing black-wearing people. As I saw this happen, I calmly noted a row of shiny black helmets TEARING through the crowd. "Die Bullen!" I said. I didn't feel real fear though. It was just so, almost entertaining to see them slice through the crowd as they did. Then someone set off a firecracker, and all kinds of hell broke loose. The air grew acrid, and the crowd broke FAST. The police (special forces types) had clearly done SOMETHING to get them moved out. I'm going to say perhaps tear gas, but again, I don't know. What I do know is that we were quickly shoved against a firehouse, our group still all together. Stefan said that running would only make us look bad and draw police attention we didn't want, so we would have to edge our way out. We were almost even with the police car, to the right of the center of the action, but not far enough away to escape easily.

The cops fanned out, whopping anything in their path, perhaps trying to clear the area, but clearly not there for crowd control (they didn't have those plastic handcuffs on them; their mission was instead to whop). We kept being pushed more and more, but something was standing between us, the tee shirt wearing civilians, and bulls seeing red: the Black Block. I kid you not, for a few seconds they were between us, taking the blows. Of course, some will argue that they too were just trying to get out, and that maybe they deserved some beaning, but in my eyes they saved us a few seconds of real annoyance, but then they cleared out. They had a plan, and we didn't. I had my back to the action now, my head nestled against Stefan. My face being my moneymaker, I had NO intention of being a bloody-nosed hippy like they show on TV, and then I heard it. "Now comes the pepper spray, but it will soon be over."
Stop. I am QUITE familiar with pepper spray, and I am NO fan. This was when my "oh HELL to the NEIN" instincts started to kick in, and someone in our quartet started edging us away further. "Don't run!" yelled Stefan, and with good reason, though I was quite mad at him for saying it. We made it past the firehouse to an ice cream shop (boarded up of course) when the police made another run at us (I don't remember, but I think this was when the second wave of BB was hitting our location), and this time we ducked behind a sign advertising sundaes for 1 May. I thought "this won't end well," but we didn't really have a lot of choices, and as I stood there, opposite the wall and a pissy looking young man in a keffia, the cops slammed into the sign. "Yup, knew THAT was coming." It slammed into the guy, who looked indignant. How DARE they jam Gabriel's finger? Just who did they think they were?! And he revved up to shove back. I grabbed his shoulder. "Hei, das war die Polizei; lass es!" and I rubbed his shoulder twice, while he gave me his injured and PMSing look. Brat.
If I remember correctly, this was when my AHS-honed instinct of avoiding major trouble took full effect. I felt the police leaving to wang on someone else for a few moments, and I made my move. Just as I was pulling away I saw a kid push over a bench, and someone said "Shit! They're putting up baracades." It was either get out now or face an aggressively annoying situation. The whole "don't run" thing was forgotten, and I grabbed two hands and moved my ass. I don't know if I ran or speed-walked granny style, but I led us out. I led us past the barricades on the BB line (to try to get past the police would have been foolish, and would have landed us further from the train out), past the BB kids who were giving each other hand signals, past the panincking civilians.

A Word on the Coordination of the Black Block:
Urban warfare has grown in many ways quite sophisticated. Take for example the tactics of the BB. As they ran through the crowd, they would run in small groups of 10 or so, holding each other's shoulders like an anarchist conga line, just the same way the police were doing. They also had their own ways of silently communicating. One boy I saw held a fist in the air, then held up one finger, and then pointed it in a direction, which a few people then followed. These kids knew their stuff to a reasonable degree.

So we got past the circus, and onto a larger street, and I'll tell you, I let out a holler that felt SO GOOD. My legs were shaking, my whole being felt alive, full of adrenaline, pride. I hooted and hollered and "OH MAH GAWD"ed for a while. I wasn't the only one who had gotten a bump from this encounter though, the kid in the Socialist tee shirt was also racing. I was glad to be safe, but I was also glad that I had stuck it through, gotten out, and could say that I had a run-in with Berlin's annoying-est. The crowd blew up again, running in a heard down the street where we were yelling "WATER CANNONS" but the police were headed in the opposite direction, taking all the caterwauling with them and leaving us in peace to figure out what the heck to do next. My whole existence was tired, though oddly geeked up, so two of the guys and I decided to go home (though I took a more...roundabout way than the others) and Stefan ventured into the street fair again to look for his friend. It was an amazing encounter, and
from it I take the following pieces of information:

While I concede that the Black Block made a good deal of the trouble, I think the Berlin police are the ones who should be ashamed. This kind of thing happens every year, and who is more capable of intelligent change: mad 19 year olds or a honed system of educated law enforcement officers?

It's the same instinct on both sides, really. I woke up that morning to an sms saying "are you ready to kick some nazi butt?" Some cops surely woke up to the same message but saying "leftists." The police volutneer often to work on this particular day. This is the same testosteroney energy that is channeled in two different directions that become diametrically opposed for about 24 hours in May

The street festival for next year has been cancelled (no surprise), but such things, putting partyers in the middle of an awkward situation, is unwise

EVERYONE needs to take lessons in crowd control and deescalation, from the event planners, to the speakers at the marches, and ESPECAILLY the police

I truly think America lacks a black block, and I have no idea why. I will do more thinking on this, but I think it is because we are either that apathetic, or we feel like we have other channels. Here it seems to be born from the APOs (out of parliament organizations) of the 60s and 70s, and in the States, though we have had our liberties quite curtailed at times, it has not been that bad, so the tradition leading up to it simply does not exist

I am sorry if any of this was alarming to you guys, but i am fine and so is almost everyone who went through the day

Monday, May 4, 2009

Act II: An Afternoon in Berlin

Having seen some people who I knew at the anti-NPD demo (demo = demonstration), I was in a rather social mood, and apparently so was everyone else on the crowded SBahn back to Berlin Proper. Some people had been drinking since the night before, others were on their way into town for one of the street festivals. It was a rather strange mix of people, but they were pretty genial if you overlooked the drunken tomfoolery.

One of the days' recurring themes that we saw from 9AM to 11PM was PEOPLE ON THEIR CELL PHONES TEXTING AND TRYING TO COORDINATE IN MASSIVE CROWDS. If it were America I would speculate they were all tweeting, but it was mostly--and we were doing it too--"how can we move person A to location B?" I found it rather cool.

There had been some news that said that local public transit would be shut down in the XBerg neighborhood, so we got out and walked into that part of town, which was also very nice. The boys got a cool beer, I sat there getting pinker in the friendly sun (Texas sun = not so friendly), and plenty of totally normal Berlin-ites came strutting by on their way to the street fair.

A Word on the Street Fair: XBerg has a HORRIBLE reputation for the 1 May, as being a place where punks and bums collide and cause trouble. As a way to combat this the neighborhood put together a street festival of more bands than you can count, grills a plenty, and drinks all being sold from folding tables on the street. It's a really cool vibe. You almost don't notice that all the banks, shops and anything remotely capitalist is boarded up like Hurricane Katrina was coming through. You only notice it if, like me and Stefan, you need an ATM and whoops.

We stopped on the way into that part of town for a little grub-a-dub-dub, and I discovered the niftyest sandwichy thing ever. It involves hummus (double YAY!), lettuce, chicken, and some kind of pita but like thin pita, and it just tasted lovely. I almost finished it all too, so hungry was I. It was nice to kind of dial back from the intensity of the morning and let our legs rest, our cellphones charge (good thinking, bringing that charger, dude!), and chat.

There were at least 5 stages for bands set up all over that part of town, playing music that...well...I was not totally into, but I was into their existence. There was some pretty decent rap (ok, for Wolfgang's sake, I'll say it was good for Berlin rap, happy?), a bit of yelling alternative, and a touch of emo rock in addition to mad screamy rock. It was a big deal, and there were people and balloons and life all around. This wasn't the angry crowds I had expected, but approximately the same crowd we in Texas get at MayFest...sans the hail, rednecks, confederate flags, and Mexican food. There were families setting up booths on the sides of the street selling beer, grilled burgers, cheap eats and expensive "mojitos." Some of the areas around the drum circles smelled of acrid smoke, but there was no big police presence that was visible (they were preparing for events yet to come I suspect), and everyone was having a good time.

In the crowd we somewhat improbably found some of Stefan's friends and friends-of-friends, and we all sat down briefly to chat. One of them, in a trade unionist tee shirt, had a number scrawled on his arm, and I asked about it. He told me it was a phone number of a law firm to call if you get mistakenly arrested by the "bulls" (aka cops), and he told me to write it down too. I found this a bit silly, but I ended the day rubbing ballpoint ink off my arm, so there you go. We walked about and eventually, at an old squatters' collective grounds, we found the political party tents and refreshment stands. There were:
Turkish...communists? (I don't know, my turkish isn't what it should be)
Green Partyists
Naomi Klein groupies
etc, etc

People kept sort of filtering in and out, but 6pm was approaching, and it was time for us to be moving on down the road as it were

A Blog with Built in Censorship

Before I get started, I want to warn you this is a SEVERELY EDITED version of the events of May 1 here in Berlin. If the text isn't visible to you, I would recommend that it stay that way. This is a story that I want to tell friends, but I realize that certain family members should not read it. If you in any way a protective family member, I want you to accept that this text is edited for you, and you should leave it that way.

, I'm fine. Not a hair on my now rather sunburned little head was hurt, I'm perfectly fine. I'm safe and happy and I feel that much closer to my friends and the causes for which I stand. I'll say that before anything gets started so as to calm you down and maybe spoil the ending.

So those of you who live up north in the us will know a little something about May Day--namely that you give baskets to your friends and neighbors in a very cute tradition. Some people even still have May Poles decorated with ribbons (though it being past 1920, I don't know how much traction ye olde pole still has culturally). That ain't the case for people in Berlin. Here it is the DAY OF THE WORKER and is marked by riots, protests and general insanity.

Before I go any further, let me clear up some terms that I will be using this entry
1. Autonome- a person, usually a young anarchist, who goes to protests clad in black hooded jackets with their faces covered to cause trouble and provoke a confrontation. They exist on the left and the right and don't advance any real agenda

2. Black Block (BB)- a large collection of autonome who travel in a group to promote their ends of chaos

3. Kotti- kottbuser tor, a traffic circle in the working class neighborhood of kreuzberg where the biggest conflicts usually occur. During the year the place has a reputation for being full of drug addicts, punks and Turks

4. Goerlitzer- a subway stop next to kotti but slightly more chic, next to a large and relaxed park

5. NPD- National German Party, like it sounds, the latest incarnation of the political far right, considered by most to be an illegal neo-Nazi party.

6. Antifa- antifascist, usually a on the far left, leaning more toward "punk" than "hippy" but still possessing an agenda, which they have been known to advance through rough tactics

7. Koepenick- an anonymous quarter of Berlin, think like "Rowlette" for those of you who know Texas

8. S bahn- city train, like the eL, above ground

So consider that your glossary.

I woke up that morning with the intent to go blockade an NPD march in Koepenick with Stefan and his friend, and then to go to Kreuzberg for the street fair and then protest.

ACT 1: Koepenick

The train on the way was more crowded than anything I encounter on a regular basis, all with people holding signs, flags, twirling their dreadlocks, texting friends with "where are you?". "I'm next to the white kids." Oops. At one point we heard a commotion at the stairs, someone had come down wearing a far right tee shirt and the crowd was itching for a fight. In one of the few truly smart moves of the day, the police made him remove the shirt, after which he too was removed. The crowd cheered the cops; this too was the last time this would happen for the day. In the train I was shoved into T's armpits, for which he continuously and charmingly apologized. I called it a "bonding experience."

When we got off the bahn onto the platform there were so many people packed so tight that we could barely move. This seemed to make sense/be expected for about 5 minutes until we realized that we were not moving at all. This is where Crowd Communication comes on. CC is the tightly packed, worried, exaggerated spread of rumors in place of real information in a crowd. I could not tell you if these things are absolute truth, but for us they were. It said that the police were frisking everyone who came down the stairs, so it was slow going. After a few minutes though, that changed. The story became no one was getting out, the police were keeping us there--why?
Were they blocking us from the protest?
Maybe, but the prevailing belief was that the NPD would be arriving in town on the same platform, and they wanted us to be separated and controlled when they arrived. Drums started beating loudly, media and bystanders surrounded the station looking.

THIS IS WHERE THE MISTAKE OF THE DAY FIRST APPEARS: the police were not sharing information with us, letting an uninformed and nervous crowd stand still for a long time, the more time spent in the warmth packed in an agitated group makes escalation all but inevitable.

Even I know this. Eventually it became common knowledge that the NPD would arrive there, so the people closest to the exit sat down to block their arrival. Rather than telling us what was going on (I suspect that at this point they had already shut down the sbahn in both directions for a while) they lay into the crowd.

Cops without name tags or badge numbers (not required for these cops, which I find infinitely troubling) and body armor that made them look like turtles with heads and arms poking out began hitting and pushing the sitters and everyone close to them (read: us) out of their way, pepper spraying the people opposite where we were, whenever they linked elbows and tried to remain.

This was out of control and We needed to get out, but our options were limited to say the least. We could jump onto the track and run, or we could try to get past the line of cops. We were right on the edge of the platform, being pushed ever closer by the police, but we decided to try our luck. It turns out though that for a group of kids in washed hair and bright tee shirts in a crowd of "hippies" this wasn't so hard actually. The police let us through and we saw the bombardment of media, auxiliary police and rubberneckers at the bottom of the stairs. To regroup we ducked into a bakery next to the stairs. From there we saw the police violently hauling down the sitters, whose faces were obscured by tears and covered by police gloves. For some reason the police were covering their mouths! People kept coming in for water to wash their faces, an we realized we had lost one of our group, who we later found out was caught on the other side and was sprayed too, though he wasn't sitting.

We moved out to the protest grounds after this, to participate in the age old protest tradition: sitting around, listening to speeches and waiting for something to happen. Occasionally reports from the station came down: they were arresting everyone, the NPD was not coming in through there, a group of protesters who had walked in were being blocked by the police. We sat in the sun, calling around, T making gentle fun of the politicians, trying to talk along with them ("...und dass darf nicht sein...sein...Punkt.") and clapping along. It was pretty funny that the hot air of the politicos (who, I will add, enabled the NPD to have their gathering there and haven't done enough to get them forbidden as a political party) is indeed THAT predictable.

The weather has been light and awesome here, and as I was leaving home that morning, I grabbed some sunscreen, and we sat down on the street, everyone rubbing it into their arms and faces; I probably made mama proud. The crowd was pretty big and representative of the leftist spectrum: social democrats, green party, older folks, hippies, angry antifas, but no really "riled up" folks, and that was a good thing. In all the time we sat there I never ONCE saw or heard a single NPD member, because they had entered in another way, so our protest was able to go on without any real obstruction.

At one point on the march, those in the front accidentally steered us down a street, and we had to go through the unreasonably long process of turning the whole show back around, made longer by the fact that the van containing some of the PA equipment was even worse than my family's late PEPE THE DYING CAR and was being pushed! 'Twas a noble van though, playing some of the famous songs of the left here in Germany, including one that was the Anti-fascist anthem that basically went (and I'm saying basic because I KNOW it's out of order)
awww, your parents didn't have enough time for you
ooh, so this is why you're doing what you're doing
It's just a cry for attention...

There was one even that marred the march itself from being a fully eventless but refreshing excersize in leftism. As we were marching down the streets, people in their houses were peeking down at us, no biggie. Then one of the viewers did a nazi salute, and all heck broke loose. The parade stopped; there was booing (depressingly, the pictures from 1 May in Moscow show people doing the same thing with NO consequences), and the police rushed into the building to fetch the man down and detain him either for the salute itself or for distrubing the peace.

Other than that it was just a walk in the suburbs. It felt a bit pointless, because we were never able to come into contact or exchange with the NPD, but I realized after a while that wasn't really the point. We showed our strength against intolerance, and I got to get a preview for the police behavior for the rest of the day...though this was just a preview.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

100th Bloggo!

So this is apparently my 100th blog!

I was going to tell here a story about some of the May 1 happenings, but I don't know quite how to tell it yet; I also have quite a bit of back-blogging to do about Philippe's Berlin visit and a field trip day my kiddos and I made to the zoo, but since it is a big day, being my 100th, I will comment on a big FEST that takes place in Sweden and, if you're me, with Swedes in Exile. It's called

And the Viktoriaversammlung took it and ran with it, making a very cute bonfire, serving some AMAZING Swedish waffles, hot dogs (they came out of a can, so I chose to not partake), and singing. It's not unlike the May 1 parties in Tuebingen, where the fraternities wandered about singing about how great it was to be alive in May (somehow this was interpreted as them being quasi-fascist, but apprently that's a reputation well earned on their part).

They also sang some classic Swedish songs including the Student song, which Sara was VERY excited for. A good portion of the adults in the crowd brought their student hats

like a mortabord, but more whimsical

and there's exactly ONE line in the song, at which point you hoist the hat, when they sing "Hurrah!" Ok.
PS. did you know that Swedes mostly say "Hurrah" four times?! Unless you're in the north, where "they're less enthusiastic"

And then they took down the flag for the night and we sang the national hymn, and it was really sweet, just a bunch of swedes running around in the warm air, me and Sara hanging off of playground equipment and sipping beers.

I know that I don't usually use the bloggo to make direct shout-outs, but I decided that in honor of Caro, Chicago's resident Swedish groove machine (Christian officially gets Lausanne's title, and Nils Landgren...well...which ever German city he's living in this week) I'd make an exception. I wish you could have been there, lady!

So the Valborginess continued until dark, and then most people went home, but Sara and I were planning on going out with one of the girls who works for the church (she also lives there along with most church employees), so we stuck around to help Pastor clean up and then to hang out with said girl. I have to say, there's not much stranger than sitting on a church terrace, drinking dornfelder and listening to ABBA..yeah...not much. But the company was great, and it's nice to sometimes just chill in a summer evening.

Some visitors of Sara stopped by to get her hosue keys and they asked about 1 May in Berlin. "Are there any parties?" asked one schickie-mickie. "None that you should be getting anywhere near" I thought to myself, since this city has a...special 1 May dance that it does every year. But that was amusing as well.

After a few bottles of wine and debating where to go, finally, relatively late in the night, we headed back in good cheer. I had to get up early to make it to Koepenick, and Sara wanted to get home before the trains stopped for the night. It was a thoroughly nice Valborg, though, and I'm glad I got to celebrate it with such cool folks.