Monday, May 4, 2009

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.

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