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Five hipster babies from Kreuzkölln cafés that need to be drowned in the canal

17 Oct


It happened again this Sunday: All I want to do is enjoy a ridiculously overpriced, eclectic brunch in a Kreuzkölln hipster café (it’s level five vegan!) but I just can’t escape them: their vintage bottles, nursery rhymes on vinyl and antique handmade toys from 1950s Japan… Yes, the hipster babies. Once they start bawling – ironically, of course, but still very loudly – I can’t help looking out at the Schifffahrtskanal and daydreaming of a quick solution to my problem.

Here, without further ado, here are the worst of the hipster babies:


Now, if you’ve read this far, you have participated in an experiment. I am trying to find the most popular blog title of all time. For the last year, I’ve been blogging for Exberliner, and have been working on a scientific formula for getting clicks. Sometimes I write down a personal and informative story, and while I think it’s good work, these never go viral. Yet whenever I do a hyperbolic, foaming-at-the-mouth rant against Germany, people hate it – and I get tons of Facebook likes.

For the record, I’m not very passionate about babies one way or the other (although I am enthralled with my cute little nephew!). But I think this title fulfills the five rules for being a successful blogger. Whenever I’m mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, these rules never fail to get my attention:

  1. It needs to be a list, since I’m actually supposed to be working right now and only want something short that I can skim over.
  2. It needs to be something provocative that I’ve never seen before – murdering babies seems about right
  3. At the same time, it needs to reflect a horribly guilty pleasure – something I caught myself thinking once and felt awful about. So while it’s offensive, it creates an embarrassing sense of community. Because who hasn’t heard a screaming baby and had a dark thought on some deep level of the subconscious, right?
  4. It also needs to be cute – since who can resist tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos?
  5. Lastly, it needs lots of buzzwords. Names of trendy neighborhoods, “Nazis”, the phrase “the worst”.

My experimental thesis is that this will be the most successful blog I’ve ever written – at least more successful than my heartfelt stories about the views of sex workers or the stories of refugees.

The Exberliner editors insist on quality writing, ‘Likes’ be damned. And they deserve all the praise in the world for their principled stand. But the swarm doesn’t want good writing – journalism is dying an being replaced by Buzzfeed and Clickhole and more idiotically formulaic lists. I’ve always felt like a writer, but even I’ve noticed myself becoming addicted to social media recognition.

As a proud member of Berlin’s Kreativprekariat, let me end with an appeal: I need clicks. Please, please, please like this article. Please share it on twitter. Please like my Facebook page. Please. I’m desperate.

If you do, I’ll give you those tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos again. Or maybe I’ll drown a hipster baby. Just give me a click!



John Riceburg: Support the strike

9 Oct


Imagine: Someday in the future, technology will be so advanced that public transport will run normally during the winter. In Berlin, however, as the days grow shorter and the waits for trains grow longer, that future seems far off…

“Dear passengers. The Trade Union of German Trade Drivers is calling for strikes. Please inform yourselves.” That was the announcement I heard, in German, when I wanted to take the S-Bahn on Tuesday around midday. I was wondering why the platform was full and the next train had been cancelled. The signs even included some information in English.

“Well, fuck this,” I thought to myself as I headed towards the U-Bahn (which is run by the BVG and therefore not affected by the stoppage). Not only is it morally repugnant to travel with scabs – it can also be downright dangerous if they don’t know what they’re doing, just see the two scabs who died during last year’s strike on the San Francisco subway.

But then I realised: the strike was only set to begin on Tuesday at 9pm and continue until 6am the next day. So the massive delays I was experiencing had nothing to do with the strike – it was just Berlin’s normal S-Bahn-Chaos. Winter is coming, and for the last five years that has meant massive delays for Berliners. And this has nothing to do with technology. As Exberliner has reported, this is a result of the S-Bahn skimping on maintenance.

Isn’t the S-Bahn a public company? Yes and no. It’s owned by the Deutsche Bahn, which is a private corporation that is 100 percent property of the German state. And therefore DB is not so much committed to providing transport as to maximising profits. The S-Bahn is heavily subsidised by tax money to help Berliners get around, but these subsidies are siphoned off so the Deutsche Bahn can invest in buying up bus companies in the Czech Republic or whatever their latest get-rich-quick-scheme is.

In the coming weeks, you’ll hear a lot about the “evil train drivers” who are ruining your commute for selfish reasons. But these men and women work terrible hours in a highly stressful job (that includes occasionally running over people on the tracks!). All they want are better wages. The press is simulating an outcry that the train drivers, like the pilots a few weeks ago, are “taking passengers hostage”. But that’s a lie. They’re striking. Stopping work to demand better conditions – it’s why unions are set up.

The Gewerkschaft deutscher Lokomotivführer (GDL) has been aggressive about its demands in recent years. They strike more often than the larger union for train workers, the rival Eisenbahn und Verkehrsgewerkschaft (EVG), which is closely connected to the train company’s management (former EVG president Norbert Hansen went on to be head of human resources at the Bahn!). Now the government is talking about restricting the right to strike: The proposed Tarifeinheit (collective bargaining unity) would only allow the largest union in a company to go on strike, destroying smaller unions like the GDL or the pilots’ union Cockpit.

For me, the train strike will mean a few long waits on S-Bahn platforms. But that was already inevitable. And if the train drivers win, there are better chances that people like me from Berlin’s Kreativprekariat will get their act together and also fight for better wages and conditions. So don’t fall for the media hype against the train drivers. They are fighting the same people who ruined our S-Bahn. They are fighting for the right of all of us to strike.

Surely, that’s worth a few minutes’ wait on the platform, right?


My hipster visa wedding

2 Oct


Eternal love? Whatever. For the non-Germans among us, getting married in Berlin might not be romantic – but it sure is pragmatic. John Riceburg tied the knot and couldn’t be happier about it.

What am I doing here? I’m sitting next to my girlfriend in a Wilhelminist chapel in Berlin. Stained glass, brass chandeliers, angels painted on the wall – the only thing out of place is me. A middle-aged woman is sitting behind a desk with a book and an absurdly large stamp. There’s no question about it: I’m entering the holy bond of matrimony, Prussian-style. But what I’m feeling is more than cold feet – it’s more like existential doubt. Why would anyone in this day and age want to get married?

The story began almost a year earlier when I went to a consultation about getting a work visa in Germany. Within 18 months after getting my university degree, I would need to show a full-time, permanent job contract that was somehow related to my field of study. He warned me that the clock would start ticking the day I got my diploma. So I mentioned I had a German girlfriend. “Then definitely get married,” he said. Hands down the best option.

I broached the subject with my partner, as carefully as I possibly could, and she agreed it just made sense. So we set off on our paperwork adventure.

The main thing we needed was an Ehefähigkeitszeugnis, a certificate stating neither of us were married to anyone else. Any German citizen can get this from the Bürgeramt, but as an American, I couldn’t. Instead, I had to go to the US consulate and swear to a clerk that I wasn’t married. They provided a form, in English and German, explaining that I had made this declaration and that they had no possibility to check whether I was telling the truth. The cost? Fifty dollars.

Next, we went to the Kammergericht and asked for an exemption of the need for an Ehefähigkeitszeugnis. After two weeks, the court gave me an individual exemption that was good for exactly six months. Then all we needed was my birth certificate (translated from English at a cost of €25!) and we were off to the Standesamt, where we had to fill out a form assuring them we were not getting married for immigration reasons. Well, not only those reasons…

Friends had told me their marriages were “checked” by the bureaucrats: They were put in different rooms and had to write down the story of how they met. Others got a home visit to see if they slept in the same bed. I asked, ever so carefully, if we would be checked. “Don’t worry,” the registrar said with a big smile. “We only do that with Turks or Africans.”

“This is all so unromantic!” my partner complained. It was true; all the forms and stamps were making our relationship start to feel like a visit to the tax office. So it was at the 2012 Fusion Festival, that I dragged her to the theatre at 4pm sharp, somehow successfully convincing her we absolutely needed to go see a documentary about light bulbs. The lights went down, and the Latino theatre organisers, happy to help me win the hand of “la mujer de mi visa”, projected a one-minute film (thoughtfully including German subtitles!) in which I asked her to marry me. I got out some gigantic neon-pink rings I had gotten for €5 each from H&M. She said yes – but then again, she didn’t have much of a choice with 500 people watching.

Paperwork? Check. Proposal? Check. In our eyes, we were done, but to our chagrin, our parents insisted on bringing together dozens of relatives for a traditional ceremony. Still, we refused to sacrifice our individuality. After we left the chapel, we celebrated at Tempelhofer Feld, where we all sung the song “Lieselotte XXL” about an old woman, Lieselotte Meyer, marrying a young man from Kurdistan to protect him from deportation. Next, we went to an abandoned building and had a big group of seniors spray graffiti. I almost wished the police would come so they would admit this was the sweetest case of Sachbeschädigung ever.

We had strange colours, boots, masks, and a bolo tie made by my grandfather. It really was an individual ceremony… or so we thought until a few weeks later, when we encountered the next hipster wedding at Tempelhof, complete with hodgepodge outfits and a singalong.

So, the balance sheet after a year of marriage? It still feels anachronistic to talk about having a “wife”, but besides that, It’s fucking awesome to be married! My last trip to the Ausländerbehörde, previously an hours-long affair, took just seven minutes. Plus, my partner is saving a wad of cash thanks to Ehegattensplitting, the rule by which a married person pays the average tax rate of the couple – she’s the breadwinner among us, so her rate has dropped significantly. And there are even more legal advantages that I don’t want to mention in case a right-wing politician thinks to close the loopholes.

At the end of our marriage ceremony, the racist registrar told us: “Now, the two of you have joined up on a common path. But maybe soon it will be three, four or five people.” My partner and I looked at each other in shock. Did a bureaucrat just encourage us to enter a polyamorous marriage? Oh wait, we realised simultaneously, she was referring to kids. Now that would be really anachronistic! Why would we want a baby when we’ve already got legal residency?

Tying the Knot: Oct 8, Laika, Emser Str. 131, S+U-Bhf Neukölln.


24 Sep


I have always had a soft spot for the Greens. Imagine me, in my last year in high school in 2000, going door to door in Texas and asking people to vote for Ralph Nader and the Green Party. (Yes, in Texas!) For those of you who are too young to remember, that didn’t turn out well. Around the same time, I was psyched that the Greens were in government and the photos of foreign minister Joschka Fischer that had just surfaced showing him attacking a policeman at a demonstration in 1973 gave them a certain edge.

In time, however, I learned that the Greens were in favor of things like the war on Afghanistan or the Hartz IV reforms, the biggest cuts in social services in Germany since 1945. Wasn’t this the kind of stuff the Green Party was founded to oppose?

So when I read Konrad’s piece yesterday, I was torn. Yes, the Greens had voted to make it easier to deport Roma and Sinti to Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. But does that make them “shape-shifting lizards”? Let’s ask them. Claudia Roth – the former party leader, and not exactly a left-wing radical – said to the Bayerischer Rundfunk that it was “not a good day for the Greens”. And as refugees were in front of the Bundesrat chanting for the Greens to “feel ashamed”, the leader of the Green Youth responded on Facebook that he was deeply ashamed.

Refugees occupied the Green Party headquarters in Mitte last Wednesday to demand they vote against the asylum law. The party co-chairperson Simone Peters said she “calculated” that the Greens in the Bundesrat would vote no. “Stop the bla bla’ said one of the refugees. And Peters’ “calculations” were just that. Sure, the Greens had put up election posters saying “I am a refugee”. They had specifically demanded a better treatment of Roma and Sinti in their election program. But Winfried Kretschmann, former Maoist and now Green head of Baden-Württemberg, decided to support the government anyways. Say what you want, but at least the CDU is honest enough to say they hate refugees.

This comes, of course, after the Greens in Kreuzberg evicted the protest camp at Oranienplatz, and then had thousands of police lock down a whole Kiez for a week in order to evict the school in the Ohlauer Straße, while allegedly using pepper-spray countless school students in the process. In Hamburg, the SPD’s anti-refugee policies led to a massive FCK SPD campaign, with thousands of RUN DMC-style t-shirts worn all over the city. Now a FCK GRN campaign for Kreuzberg has popped up.

So what to do? Well the Green’s competition doesn’t look much better, with the Pirates collapsing before our eyes and many prominent members like Anke Domscheit-Berg and Anna Helm resigning over the weekend. All I can think of is to keep supporting the refugees’ protests. After George Bush’s election in 2000, lots of people said “Fuck the Greens”, accusing Nader of spoiling the election and giving it to Georg W. Bush. Now I’m going to join them and get myself a FCK GRN shirt.

Comedian Marc-Uwe Kling once said the Greens are like bananas: “Today green, tomorrow yellow, the day after black.” Yellow, of course, stands for the neoliberal FDP. And black represents the conservatives. I worry the Greens are turning into brown mush.


Performance: Tying the knot

16 Sep


Oder: Ein familienrechtlicher Verwaltungsvorgang nach BGB §1297-1588, durch den ein Mensch ohne die Staatsbürgerschaft der Bundesrepublik Deutschland bestimmte aufenthaltsrechtliche und steuerliche Vorteile erlangen kann.

the adventure of getting married in Berlin
a performance in Englisch and German
with high-tech audiovisual effects
by journalist John Riceburg

Wednesday, October 8, 20:00
at Laika, Emser Str. 131
S+U Neukölln, S+U Hermannstr.
free, but suggested donation: 5€

I don’t have a womb and even I’m pissed off!

10 Sep


It was a dark winter afternoon in Berlin. A Sunday. A Spanish exchange student and I were wandering through Prenzlauer Berg, from one gynecologist’s office to the next, trying to get the morning-after pill, and it wasn’t going well. In Germany, you can’t get the pill without a prescription, but most doctors’ offices are closed on Sunday.

Our experience was not unique. A friend went to a hospital on a Sunday and waited 90 minutes before giving up and going to the doctor the next day. Another friend broke down in tears at the pharmacy – and the pharmacist eventually gave her the pill without a Rezept.

Why should anyone have to go through this? The pill is more effective the sooner it’s taken. And Germany’s Bundesamt für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (BfArM) has declared the medication safe as far back as 2003. So is there any medical reason it shouldn’t be available over-the-counter?

No. There is only a cabal of (mostly male) conservative politicians who are demanding these medically unnecessary trips to the doctor. Their thinking seems to be that if a woman wants a normal sex life (which will inevitably include an occasional emergency), she should be subject to degradation.

This is only one example of the fact that reproductive rights in Germany are not as far developed as you might think. The infamous Paragraf 218 of the criminal code – which millions of people protested against in the 1970s – still penalises abortion with a jail term of up to three years. But the procedure is decriminalised in certain cases, such as if a woman is raped, if her health is in danger, or if, within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, she goes to a state-sponsored consultation and then waits for three days. “Advertising for the termination of a pregnancy” is also prohibited – with up to two years in jail – making it difficult for providers to offer information on the internet.

Even rape is, in modern Germany, not technically illegal. It is criminal to have sex with someone using force or violence or the threat of force or violence. But having sex with someone against her (or in much rarer cases, his) will is not by itself a crime. This means that judges look at how a victim physically defended herself – one court in Essen decided that since a 15-year-old girl didn’t scratch or scream, the rapist hadn’t committed a crime.

Next Saturday at the Brandenburg Gate, fundamentalist Christian, anti-choice demonstrators – so-called Lebensschützer or “protectors of life” aka 1000 Kreuze – are marching against the severely limited right to abortion. But this isn’t just a lunatic fringe, either. Thousands of people attend the march every year, which gets greetings from CDU politicians and Catholic bishops. Catholic bishops that are paid from your tax money – whether you’re Catholic or not.

Now, I don’t mind if these celibate men don’t want the morning-after pill for themselves. But they have no right to order their tax-funded hospitals to deny a safe, reliable medication to the victim of a sexual assault.

I’ll be going to be out on the street next Saturday, together with the Bündnis für sexuelle Selbstbestimmung, to protest for a woman’s right to choose. That’s a much better way to spend the day than trying to find an open gynecologist’s office.

Protest: Saturday, September 20, 1pm, Platz des 18. März


Five reforms to bring Germany out of the Middle Ages

27 Aug


John Riceburg is currently lying on a beach somewhere in crisis-ridden Southern Europe. Before he left, he sent us this letter…

Ask any member of the American expat community what we like about Germany, and most of us won’t have to think for long: Health care, public transport and science education all seem to work (give or take).

But having settled in, one starts to notice things that seem downright medieval. Here’s my list of Germany’s top five legal anachronisms. In the tradition of Mark Twain’s suggestions for improving The Awful German Language, I’d like to think of this as some more friendly American advice.

1. Stop giving tax money to the church

Every modern country is based on the separation of church and state, right? Well, the German state collects a Kirchensteuer (a church tax) from every member of the the Katholische or the Evangelische Kirchen. They take an amount equivalent to 8-9 percent of your income tax right out of your paycheck. Theoretically this is all voluntary, but many people are signed up at birth. If you want to get out of this racket, you might be forced to pay up to €60! In this way, the Catholics get €5.2 billion a year and the protestants €4.6 billion (2012 statistics).

It’s no problem if the churches need cash (“God is all-powerful, he just can’t handle money!” – George Carlin), but they should have to collect it themselves!

2. Drop the multi-tiered school system

Most of Germany’s universities are mostly free (which is great). But to go to university, you need the Abitur or an equivalent. Students are sorted into different kinds of schools when they’re only 10, 11 or 12 years old. Only those that get selected for the vaunted Gymnasium have a real chance to go to college – all others have at best a rocky road to higher education. Now this might have made sense when the Gymnasium taught the children of the landed gentry Ancient Greek and Latin. But now it means that Germany’s school system shows a particularly high correlation between social status and education level in comparison to other OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). In other words, poor kids are less likely to get a decent schooling.

Send all kids to schools with the same quality!

3. Give people citizenship

My friend at university had been born in Germany. Her parents had been born in Germany. Her grandparents had come here from Turkey in the 1950s. She spoke some Turkish, but German was her mother tongue, and she had never lived outside the German borders. So her passport? Turkish. At the same time, Russians who have no connection to Germany except for some distant ancestors who lived in Germany centuries ago can get a German passport relatively easily. This Blut und Boden concept of citizenship has to go! Now the Große Koalition has plans to give people born in Germany the option of double citizenship. But why not just introduce the tried-and-true American system? Anyone born here is a citizen. Period.

So just give people who live here citizenship. And don’t even get me started about the need to just let the refugees stay!

4. Introduce bilingual education

The banker’s toddler has to go to a Kita with a Chinese immersion program. And Berlin has a score of Europaschulen offering classes in German in combination with another European language. This is a great thing: not only does everyone benefit from learning multiple languages, scientific research shows that kids who speak one language at home and start school in a different language have long term disadvantages. So why is bilingual education mostly restricted to the elite? Kids who speak Turkish, Arabic or other languages in their families need a chance to learn that language at school alongside German. Anything else means they will be way behind their German-speaking peers.

Let every child learn in their language and German!

5. Again, stop giving tax money to the church

Now the €10 billion the two churches get from the “church tax” every year is surely enough, right? Well… Back in 1803, Napoleon expropriated certain church properties on this side of the Rhine. Cities and states paid compensation: a city might agree to give the local bishop six cows each year. This wasn’t intended to go on forever, but it has been 211 years and counting. All these payments add up: The state gave the churches €480 million in 2012 with no sign of stopping. This is tax money, paid by everyone in Germany regardless of their religious beliefs, to finance the luxurious salaries and houses of bishops and other religious functionaries.

Have the church pay for itself! Then all those Berlin churches, which are mostly empty anyway could finally be turned into dance clubs.

Now I’ll be gone for the next few weeks. Any chance of getting this done by early September?

P.S. What reforms do you think Germany needs? Let me know in the comments.


Partitioned positions: Israelis in Berlin

20 Aug


It’s not easy being an Israeli in Berlin these days. Many are unhappy about the war in Gaza and the right-wing government in Jerusalem and at the same feel the sting from other Israelis about not supporting the Jewish state, while at the same time anti-Semitic attitudes have sporadically popped up from Germans who can’t make a distinction between the state and its people. John Riceburg spoke to a few cultural and political activists…

It was supposed to be a “peace party”, but the reactions weren’t unanimously peaceful. The Meschugge party in early August at the Sophienclub in Mitte featured DJs from Israel, Turkey, Egypt and Iran, united in saying “Khalas!” (Enough!) to war and conflict. The Meschugge parties are an institution for both the local “Oriental party scene” and Israeli émigrés.

But with the current war going on, “I didn’t feel like doing an Israeli party”, says party organiser and DJ Aviv Netter, (photo) who’s been organising the legendary “un-kosher Jewish” parties in Berlin for the last seven years. So he cancelled one date. And as the next date rolled around, and the war still raging, he decided to host a peace party instead.

At a Meschugge party, an international mix of beatseekers throw their hands up to the throbbing sounds of Oriental dance music and traditional Jewish music. It’s likely the only party where people of Arabic origin will dance under blue and white Israeli flags in Berlin. And while the “peace party” was a sign of genuine multikulti harmony, Netter (who tellingly DJs under “Aviv without the Tel”) also got angry reactions.

“Dirty pig” wrote “Ibrahim” via Facebook. Netter responded that his uncle was also named Ibrahim, and wished his harasser “peace” in Arabic. “No matter what, one shouldn’t hit back,” he explains. “I learned that in high school!” Two years ago, the plucky promoter brought his party to the southwestern town of Heidelberg. When Palestinians demonstrated in front of one of his parties and handed out cookies with the Palestinian flag, he invited them to distribute the cookies inside.

But resistance from outside the Jewish community wasn’t all Netter got. “Traitor!” also appeared on Facebook.

For Netter, the Meschugge parties are intended as cultural celebrations. But “everything in our day is political,” he laments. Like most Israelis here, Netter wants to be a Berliner… yet he often finds himself forced to deal with a conflict thousands of kilometres away.

Diaspora in Berlin

According to official data the Israeli community has grown from 2849 in 2008 to 3578, a 25 percent jump. From leftist and anarchist Israelis dissatisfied with the political climate back home, to young professionals with children taking advantage of the Berlin tech-industry buzz, while the cost of living back in Israel skyrockets, it’s hard to pinpoint one precise cause for the influx.

Berlin’s Israeli community now reflects the full spectrum of political opinion. The Facebook group for Israelis in Berlin, several thousand strong, might feature a convocation for demonstration against the war in Gaza, but also plenty of unfriendly responses. And even when some try to ignore Israeli politics, Israeli politics (and its critics) won’t ignore them.

Taking to the streets

On July 27, half a dozen Israelis sat down at the bar Südblock at Kottbusser Tor for an ad-hoc meeting. They had just been at a demonstration with a few hundred leftists against the Israeli attacks on Gaza, as well as the ISIS attacks on the Kurdish regions of Iraq. They couldn’t agree on much – “We’re still discussing about whether we’re post-Zionists or anti-Zionists,” one participant recalls – but as 34-year-old Iris Shahar explained, there was consensus that an Israeli voice against the war was urgently needed. Shahar has been studying history in Berlin for just a year now and didn’t have much street protest action under her belt. But when Israelis called for a demonstration against the war at Heinrichplatz on July 30, she was the one to read out their communique, looking both angry and nervous. Nearly 500 people marched to Kotti that day, chanting “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” in Hebrew and a handful of other languages as well.

With his long black dreadlocks, 27-year-old programmer and musician David Nelband, looks the part of Berlin protester. In comparison to the current conflict in Israel and Gaza, Nelband is a relative veteran to Palestinian-organised demonstrations in Berlin. At Adenauer Platz he heard a man shouting slogans against “Judenschweine”, with several dozen people chiming in. “A devastating moment,” he says, but he also emphasises that most demonstrations he’d been to clearly reject anti-Semitism.

For Shahar, Israel’s claim to be a Jewish democratic state is oxymoronic: “De facto, it’s mostly Jewish and hardly democratic.” That’s why she objects to anti-Zionism being equated to anti-Semitism: “Israel claims to represent all Jewish people, even in the diaspora, but it’s not true.”

Israel’s impact

“My friends in Israel are in a state of despair,” says Etay Naor, a copy editor and musician. Demonstrations against the war in different cities in Israel have been regularly attacked by right-wing thugs, with the police looking away. In the month of July alone, there were 33 different right-wing attacks. “It’s much more dangerous to be an Arab or a leftist in Israel than to be an Israeli Jew in Berlin,” he explains.

The four-year Berliner doesn’t minimise the danger of anti-Semitism in history or today. But despite all the talk of a new wave of anti-Semitism on Germany’s streets, he can’t recall a single bad experience.

David Nelband can recall one incident in a döner shop in Wedding. When asked where he came from, he replied, “Russia.” But that was his choice. “I felt bad about it afterwards,” he regretfully says.

For Shahar, Israel’s wars “encourage anti-Semitism in the world” and even “endanger Jews in the diaspora”. That’s why she feels a responsibility to protest – to show that not every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

“I understand the German public is scared to touch this subject,” says Naor, but he knows one thing for certain: Israelis who are against the war need support. Especially because Germany isn’t some kind of neutral observer in the conflict: “Germany supports Israel both diplomatically and by sending weapons.” Nelband adds that Israelis participating in anti-war actions can help de-legitimise anti-Semitic arguments, showing that not all Jews support the state’s policies.

Conflict belongs to the politicians

“Being Jewish has never been easy,” Netter says, but he hasn’t had many problems in eight years in Berlin – except once, when an enormous and inebriated Chechen on the subway saw him reading a book in Hebrew and things got a little ugly. Netter thinks people in Berlin see the conflict “from a distance”, since it really “belongs to the politicians”.

He also doesn’t believe the pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Berlin were anti-Semitic. He remembers his first gay pride parade in Jerusalem in 2001: “The media coverage focused on people in extreme S&M gear and drag garb, even though the majority of people hadn’t put much thought into their outfits.” In the same way, the media at Berlin demonstrations focus on the few individuals with anti-Semitic slogans, since that attracts the most attention.

Berlin, at end of the day, is a city where young Egyptians can dance to the latest Israeli pop hits. Netter might not go to demonstrations – he thinks that these days political protest, just like party promotion, is more effective via Facebook and other social media. But he is still a strong believer in peace. And a basement party, just like a street demonstration, can sow the seeds.


Photo: Michal Andrysiak

Let us stay on Tempelhofer Feld!

13 Aug


The security guard in the puffy black jacket was shining his flashlight in my eyes. I had turned on my iPhone’s flashlight and was shining right back at him. We held this pose for at least a minute. If this were a Western, I’m sure I’d be in the John Wayne role. But to an impartial observer, our flashlight standoff might have looked rather silly. How did we end up here?

Night was falling on Tempelhof Park and a group of friends had just finished their Grillfest. We were gathering up the grill and the blankets – the beer bottles had long since been snatched up by Flaschensammler – when security came to tell us that it was one hour after sunset and we had to leave. We said we were already on our way, but the bulky young man insisted on illuminating us while we worked. The only way I could explain to him that he was being annoying was a practical demonstration.

I won that standoff – he moved on – but it got me thinking: Why, exactly, does Tempelhof Park have to close at night? Over 700,000 Berliners voted to reject the construction of luxury apartments and keep the field open. But why does that only apply during the day?

I asked the PR agency – the brave souls in charge of spreading the lies of the construction mafia – but they couldn’t give me a straight answer. They also wouldn’t tell me how much the city spends on the nightly evictions.

The park needs to close at night because of “Sicherheitsaspekte” (security issues) apparently. But whose security is in danger? The neighboring Hasenheide is open 24 hours a day, and I’ve walked through at night without being murdered even one single time. Or are they worried that people will damage things? What, exactly, on that giant empty field?

The decision was made by Grün Berlin GmbH, a company that belongs to the Berliner Senat. Grün manager Christoph Schmidt and his team get to decide which gardens, which parties and which demonstrations are allowed – and how much they have to pay.

The field isn’t a public space – that’s why they can throw us out whenever they want. Grün isn’t really accountable to anyone – they don’t even have to answer to the Senat, let alone to park visitors. The Pirate Party, for one, demands that the parks stay open at night. The private company should be replaced by a public institution under at least some democratic control.

But still, why kick us out? An architect friend explained that there’s a whole science of making people think a certain way about a certain urban space. When Grün kicks us out every night, they’re letting us know it’s not our space – we can only enter their space with their permission. That way, the next time they try to sell the land to their realty speculator friends (and that’s just a question of time) it won’t feel like the robbery it is.

To summarize: Your tax dollars are being used to kick you off your field. And the reason, it seems, is to make it easier to steal the whole thing from you.

Does anyone else find this displeasing? The field was only opened to the public after massive protests and attempts to squat it back in 2009 (“Did you ever squat an airport?”). Now I think it’s time to squat the park at night too.


The PARTEI has started!

30 Jul


If you ever find yourself in the EU Parliament’s gargantuan chamber in Strasbourg, look toward the back. No, further back – in the last few rows on the far right. This is the area reserved for the xenophobic wackos who aren’t in any parliamentary group. But in their midst, on seat 694, between the neoliberal AfD from Germany and the neofascist FPÖ from Austria, sits Martin Sonneborn.

Wearing the grey suit of a bureaucrat and the noncommittal smile of a politician, the 49-year-old Sonneborn doesn’t look out of place. “We’re not the craziest ones in the European Parliament,” he says. Marine Le Pen of the Front National, just one row ahead, won the European elections in France with diatribes against immigrants and globalization. Sonneborn’s Die PARTEI, in contrast, got their seat with a promise to “overcome substance” (Inhalte überwinden).

Die PARTEI was founded 10 years ago by editors of the satirical magazine Titanic. They wanted to re-build the Wall and crossed every ‘t’ for establishing a political party. After years of slow progress, their breakthrough came at the European Elections of 2014 after Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled to abolish the three percent hurdle for EU elections. The reasoning? Since the EU Parliament can’t decide much anyway, it can’t hurt to fill it with small parties.

Now Sonneborn can make EU politics interesting. Daily life in Strasbourg seems to consist of endless horse trading to fill positions, interrupted by speeches in front of a mostly empty chamber. It seems that many parliamentarians don’t find it too thrilling either and thus don’t bother to show up to work. The discussions about byzantine regulations are mostly theatre anyway, since important decisions in the EU are made by the Commission, not the Parliament. And any attempts to make it look interesting just result in face palms.

That’s why Sonneborn, while taking selfies with his right-wing neighbours, is quite open about his goal to get as much money as possible. The original plan, to have each representative resign after one month and then collect six months of transitional pay, has apparently fallen through due to red tape. But Sonneborn isn’t giving up: “We’ll bring them a 60 PARTEI cadre to Brussels – whether as office managers, interns or EU Commission Presidents.” He has given his word that he will get material benefits for his underlings.

The real question is how much satire is possible in the EU parliament. Udo Voigt, the head of the NPD (who has been featured in Exberliner magazine far too often for my liking), has just been elected to the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. What is left for a comedian to say?

The EU parliament used to have a directive about the required length and curvature of cucumbers. After endless ridicule, it was dropped in 2009. Sonneborn wants to re-introduce this directive but apply it to weapons: “Any gun barrel would need a curvature of at least two centimetres per 10 centimetres in length,” he told the newspaper junge Welt. “I believe that would be less suffering in the world if Germany, as the European champion in exporting weapons, moved ahead on this.” When did you last hear such a sensible proposal from the EU?

And he told the radio Deutschlandfunk his philosophy as a parliamentarian: “Basically I like anything that annoys the EU Commission.” Now that’s a politician I would vote for. If I could vote