Archive | April, 2014

What to expect when you’re expecting May Day

23 Apr


“Advertising with child soldiers!” was Monday’s headline in tabloid paper Berliner Kurier. The “Chaoten” (hooligans) are spreading “hate propaganda” on social media to mobilize a demonstration – and inciting children to violence!

Why is a Facebook picture of kids with wooden guns suddenly front-page news? This kind of desperate sensationalism in the Berlin press can only mean one thing: May 1, a day of politicized chaos and ritualistic destruction, is just a week away! Since 1987, Revolutionary May Day has taken place in Kreuzberg, and some years it attracts upwards of 20,000 people with riots until the early morning and hundreds of arrests.

But what can we expect for this year? Here are my five predictions:

1. Another week of shocking and largely fictional reporting. While we will be working on getting the facts and interviewing organizers, much better-paid journalists from the Springer empire will make up a whole series of ridiculous stories about a left-wing mafia breeding mutant dogs to attack police. Or something. Will tabloid fiction win the day? Probability: 95 percent.

2. A small trade union demonstration. May 1 in Germany is traditionally a day of the Social Democrats and the trade unions, and they will hold a small demonstration at 10am. But in recent years, they have only brought together a few thousand people. Will hundreds of thousands of precariously employed Berlin workers come out with their unions? Probability: 1 percent.

3. A gigantic MyFest which eventually turns into a riot. The street festival was started 10 years ago by the city and the police to force the disturbances out of Kreuzberg. But in recent years, inebriated festival-goers have been more likely than political demonstrators to throw rocks. Will the festival against violence end in violence? Probability: 70 percent.

4. An endlessly massive demonstration in the evening: Last year, the revolutionary demonstration at 18:00 made it all the way to the Brandenburg Gate, with a delegation of Greek workers in the front row. This demonstration has a “black block” tradition, but the current leadership is steering it in a more political direction. This year the route will lead to the SPD headquarters to protest against the formerly socialist party 100 years after the beginning of World War I. Will they get to the end of their route without being dispersed by police? Probability: 50 percent.

5. A May Day with no arrests? Some years are actually quite peaceful. A scientific study conducted at the Free University of Berlin showed that this was the case when police held back and didn’t harass demonstrators. But it’s not very often police choose to do that. If you do get into trouble, remember our survival tips. Will everyone be able to relax and forget about these simple rules? Probability: 5 percent.

The left in Berlin has plenty to be pissed off about – including the eviction of the refugee protest camp at Oranienplatz earlier this month – and a lot of that anger will be visible on the streets of Kreuzberg next week. But the probability that kids with wooden guns and black ski masks present the demonstration? I’m going to put that one at 0 percent.

If you want to get a feeling for how Revolutionary May Day developed over the last 25 years, check out the RevolutionaryBerlin tours which take you through the area around Kottbusser Tor. The next one is this Sunday at 15:00.



The end of O-platz

10 Apr


On Wednesday the headlines were all about it…

“O-PLATZ EVICTED!!!” This honestly wasn’t a big surprise. The protest camp at Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg, which refugees had set up way back in October of 2012, had been under threat from the very first day. After 18 months, the real surprise was that it hadn’t been evicted earlier, despite numerous attempts.

The shock came when I started reading Wednesday morning’s papers. Along with the news of that the refugees were gone, came this blast: “Refugees had cleared out the camp themselves.” I had interviewed many refugees and they had always declared they would not leave until their demands were met – the right to stay, to work, to go to school in Germany. I was pretty sure that hadn’t happened.

Reading the mainstream media, you would think that the refugees were trying to pack their suitcases but were attacked by Radikalinskis with black masks and Molotov cocktails who didn’t want to let them leave the camp. In fact, the Berlin Integration Senator Dilek Kolat claimed just that on Twitter: “Unbelievable how autonomists (…) are actively preventing refugees from peacefully dismantling their tents.”

On Tuesday evening, over 1000 people (even the police admitted there were 1200) demonstrated against the dissolution of the protest camp – even though it had supposedly been voluntary. A number of refugees and activists told me what had happened on April 8. Just before 6am, a group of refugees, armed with hammers, crowbars and knives, arrived to demolish the huts. This small group had signed an agreement with the Berlin Senate two weeks earlier. But of the eight official negotiators from O-platz, only three had supported the settlement.

Many refugees were still sleeping when their huts were attacked at the break of dawn. A video from VICE shows the fighting: People were threatened with iron bars and knives. The mayor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Monika Herrmann, had wanted to avoid a police operation. So while police forces were gathered en masse in the side streets, they refused to step in to prevent knife fights, even after they were called by supporters. The police came only at 3pm to drag away 200 protestors who refused to leave the square. So much for the “voluntary” and “peaceful” action.

A number of refugees from the camp have now moved into a hostel in Friedrichshain provided by the government. The Senate promised them a Duldung, a temporary waiver of deportation (often described as “permanent suffering”), for the next six months. Further promises were the individual reappraisal of asylum applications and as well as German classes. Plus, each refugee who went to the hostel got €100 in cash.

But the agreement stipulated that the refugees needed to dismantled the camp themselves – hence the vigor of that small group. “They think they are going to get a residency permit” said one student who had skipped school to go to the camp. “It’s so sad.” There’s no reason to think the refugees who worked as the Senate’s demolition crew will get any thanks for their services.

The next day, Oranienplatz was surrounded by a fence, warning tape and hundreds of police officers. When I stopped to take pictures, I was told I couldn’t loiter anywhere near the fence. But from a distance, I caught a glance of three activists who had climbed into a tree so they couldn’t be evicted. They had spent the night in the cold and rain, but the police were stopping anyone from giving them food or blankets. “It’s police torture,” the refugee Amir told a reporter from his branch. Napuli, whom I interviewed for the March issue of Exberliner, said “They’re treating us like slaves.”

Let’s not forget that politicians wanted to evict the refugees so the public could use the square. But just a few days ago, you could sit down there to read a newspaper. “Someday” is what a police officer answered when I asked when O-platz will reopen. “Maybe when the grass has regrown.” Herrmann has declared the fence will stay up to prevent re-occupations.

The Senate has been successful in splitting the refugee movement – “divide and rule”, as the taz called it. They tricked some of the refugees into doing their dirty work. But they haven’t stopped the protests. In just a month, the March for Freedom is leaving for Brussels. The students who organised the school strike in February are planning further demonstrations. And there are hundreds of other squares in Berlin.