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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?




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.


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.


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


Refugees occupy the TV tower

10 Jul


“I’m sorry, but the tower is full” says the security guard at the entrance to Berlin’s Fernsehturm. “You’ll have to try again later.” The tourists turn away. But I’m not convinced, I had heard something else was going on there. I ask her: “Are you sure it’s just full, and not occupied by refugees?” She feigns shock: “What do you mean ‘occupied’? It’s full!” Alexanderplatz is packed with dozens of police vehicles. Officers in riot gear are blocking every entrance to the tower. Because it’s full?

On Wednesday, 37 refugees occupied the viewing platform 203 meters above the city. They bought tickets and went up at 3pm and refused to leave. In a statement they explain that they have been active in political protests for several years:

Everywhere we are turned away. Everyone has the same answer for us. Everyone refers us to the next person. No one listens to us. No one wants to be responsible for us refugees and the inhumane laws under which we live.

This group – originally from many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – have come together from Lager (camps for asylum seekers) across Bavaria. Last week 70 refugees occupied the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Nuremberg, hoping to find someone who would listen to their demands. They were evicted by the police.

“You have to talk to someone in Berlin”, one of the activists recalled hearing. So they went to East Berlin’s emblematic tower. “We selected this place to find public support. The people of Deutschland must understand our problems.”

These refugees say they have been in Germany for three, four or five years, waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. They aren’t allowed to work, go to school, or travel outside of the Landkreis of their Lager. They are demanding Bleiberecht (a right to stay) as well as an end to the Residenzpflicht that prohibits travel.

The police refuse to let the press up into the tower. Fabio Reinhardt, member of the Berlin parliament for the Pirate Party, buys a ticket, but only after several hours can he go up to participate in negotiations.

Via social media, dozens of supporters at ground level can see the police breaking up the sitting blockade. “Please translate for us,” one refugee calls out the the police in a video, “since we are not allowed to learn German”.

Over the next few hours, they are let out one by one after their papers are registered. “We are here, and we will fight,” the crowd chants at each new arrival, “freedom of movement is everybody’s right.” The activists show bruises and cuts they got from the police. “They have no respect for us as human beings” says one young man with a bruise on his face. He claims they weren’t allowed to use the toilet for hours. The company that manages the tower, the Deutsche Funkturm GmbH, which belongs to the Deutsche Telekom, had pressed charges against the refugees.

As darkness falls, up to 20 Nazis from the NPD organize a demonstration against the refugees. They are protected by the Berlin police and leave with an escort after one hour. I notice at least one with the stretched earlobes and unkempt beard of a Nazi hipster.

During the occupation, the viewing platform is closed, but a constant stream of people with reservations is still allowed into the restaurant one floor above. I ask people coming out if they saw the refugees. No, they assure me, they just had their meal. Videos have been posted on Facebook showing a cacophony of screams as the police drag away the activists. “But we didn’t notice anything”, the tourist repeats. Why, I wonder, do Germans always say that?

The refugees end their statement with the reminder: “Every day, people kill themselves in the Lager because they can no longer live this hopeless and painful live. We demand a conversation with the responsible politicians. We are people too.” After the eviction of the Oranienplatz in April and the partial eviction of the school in the Ohlauer Straße last week, some racist politicians might have hoped the refugee protests would die down. But as one banner at the time already warned them: “You can’t evict a movement.”

Police violence is becoming surreal

8 Jul

Who is your favorite surrealist author? Breton? Hugnet?

Me? My favorite surrealist is the press officer for the Berliner Polizei.

For an example, how would the average joe describe the video above from last Saturday at Görlitzer Park?

I would say: A bunch of police ask a guy with a clown nose for his ID. Then they beat him mercilessly. Then more people come, then more police, and the beatings continue for several minutes.

But I’m not a surrealist. From the winged pen of Berlin’s police spokesman, this scene is described in an enthralling combination of dream and reality straight out of a film of Luis Buñuel:

… a 22-year-old got in the way of the officers and impeded their investigation. After the police had sent him off, in vain, and the impediments continued, an officer pulled the troublemaker to the side, at which point a group of up to 60 people interfered in the events … two bicycles were flung at the officers, and a policeman suffered a head injury that required out-patient care at a hospital. With the help of further police, the group of people was pushed away and two men (aged 32 and 46) and a 33-year-old women were arrested. They are being investigated for aggravated assault, attempted freeing of prisoners and serious breach of the peace.

Like in any great surrealist art, the absurdist elements predominate, but there’s tidbits of reality to connect the narrative back to our world. So around the 2:24 mark we do in fact see a bicycle enter the frame. But the police officer, far from being injured, flings it right back. Did he injure someone? This is where great art makes us think: What does it mean to claim that “six police were injured”, when all we can see are citizens screaming in pain? Do the police reside in a different dimension than normal people? Does the bicycle exist at all? Is any of this real?

Last Tuesday, it was reported that police attacked dozens of underage school students with pepper spray. Their laconic explanation – “we didn’t use pepper spray” – for me qualifies as great art. Eighty-five years ago, René Magritte shocked the world with his statement: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” The Berlin police are going even further: “Dies ist kein Pfeffersprayeinsatz.” It’s up to the art critics to decide.

P.S. There’s lots of discussion in the press about what might have actually happened. We’ll sift through all the “evidence” in the comments.

Just let the refugees stay!

2 Jul


Kreuzberg is under a state of siege. For the last week, 1720 police have sealed off four city blocks surrounding Ohlauer Str., where a former school housed a hybrid crowd of squatters and refugees. Residents are only allowed to go to their houses if they show an ID. No one else can go past the police barricades.

Why has an entire Kiez been locked down? The police operation is directed against 40 refugees camping on the roof of the school on Ohlauer Straße. The former Gerhart-Hauptmann-Schule was occupied a year and a half ago by activists from the protest camp at Oranienplatz.

Lots of people moved in, perhaps as many as 600. The sanitary conditions were terrible – just one shower in the whole building! – and there were repeated cases of violence, which shouldn’t be a surprise when people from so many different cultural backgrounds (from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa to the Balkans) and with so many legal situations (some have some kind of visa, some are refugees, some are totally paper-less, others are Germans or have a Schengen passport!) are forced to live with 20 other people in one room. But the refugees preferred this to the Lager (camps) they are forced to live in as asylum seekers.

Last week, on June 24, the Bezirksamt (district government) ordered the eviction of the school – supposedly so it could be converted into an official refugee centre. They wanted the residents to leave “voluntarily”, but brought along over 1000 heavily armed riot police. Under this pressure, several hundred people left. Supporters report, however, that they were not allowed to take their meagre possessions, and some are now living out on the street because they couldn’t get into the promised housing.

Forty fled onto the roof, demanding a right to stay and to maintain the school as a self-organized political space for refugees. They were and still are to this very moment threatening to jump if the police try to storm the roof.

So on Tuesday, the neighbourhood was under police control – not even the press could get in. “I went to get groceries from Penny,” said Belén, who lives on nearby Lausitzer Straße, “and they wouldn’t let me back in.” She has a Spanish ID that doesn’t contain her Berlin address. After a long discussion, the police accompanied her all the way to her door.

“Bist du taub, du Wichser, du kannst hier nicht rein!” one police officer screams at a man who wants to get past the blockade. The men in black (or green) Robocop uniforms, who have been brought in from as far away as Bavaria, let a Pizza Taxi through for themselves – but held up an ambulance for a resident.

Almost 100 local shops haven’t seen a single customer in the last week. On Monday, more than 50 AnwohnerInnen met up and decided to write a protest letter to the district, followed by more direct action through a successful storming of the blockade later that afternoon. “It’s a bit beklemmend to have to show your ID just to go home,” says Martin, who lives on Reichenberger Straße

Trying to keep a sense of Berlin’s playful anarchy, some protestors traded in storm tactics with a friendly game of badminton – over the heads of the police lines. A shuttlecock of resistance. A neighbour told the Tagesspiegel: “In the past two years I’ve walked past the occupied school almost every day and I never felt unsafe.” Now he sees police attacking peaceful demonstrators.

Yesterday, 2000 students went on strike to support the refugees (just like in February). The police brutally attacked underage demonstrators with batons, pepper spray and dogs: one had his nose broken.

As the strike ended at 12:45, news came that Hans Panhoff, the Kreuzberger Baustadtrat from the Green Party, had washed his hands of the matter and faxed a Räumungsersuchen (a request to evict) to the police. All hell broke loose: sirens were blaring throughout Kreuzberg and in the next few hours there was extreme violence against peaceful sit-ins. I personally saw at least one broken arm and one broken foot.

Now none of the politicians want to take responsibility. Kreuzberg mayor Monika Herrmann has disappeared and there are rumours she has called on her party colleague Panhoff to resign. The Green Party is contradicting itself with every new statement: they are against an eviction, no eviction was ordered, and an eviction wouldn’t be so bad. In the Green heartland of the middle-class Öko apartments around Ohlauer Straße, people are angry.

Why can’t they just let the refugees stay? Paragraph 23 of the asylum law would make it possible to grant them all asylum for humanitarian reasons.

But Berlin’s interior Senator Frank Henkel from the CDU says “the state can’t let itself be blackmailed”. He doesn’t like to mention that he came to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1981 as a refugee from his native country, the GDR. He didn’t fulfil any of the conditions he now demands from refugees, such as proving he had to flee for political and not economic reasons.

Demonstrators and activists are calling on Berliners to help break the stage of siege: Go to the Ohlauer Straße and join the sit-ins!


Photo: John Riceburg

We don’t need kings in Madrid or Berlin!

10 Jun

On June 2, King Juan Carlos I of Spain announced he was abdicating the throne to his son Felipe. That very evening, 300 people gathered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to demand that the son and the whole family leave as well. There were dozens of demonstrations across the Spanish state. The young peopled called for “the right to decide”: they want a referendum about the “Third Republic”.

Back in 1931, Alfonso XIII fled Spain when the Second Republic was proclaimed. Even though Alfonso supported the fascists in the Civil War, the new dictator Francisco Franco didn’t want the royal family to return. Only at the end of his life did Franco begin to groom Alfonso’s grandson, Juan Carlos, as a successor. He became head of state in 1975 and has stuck around for almost 40 years.

Spain’s monarchy is at the nadir of its popularity. In the midst of an endless economic crisis, with unemployment over 25 percent and hundreds of evictions every single day, the aging monarch went to Botswana to hunt elephants. Son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarin and daughter Infanta Cristina have been charged with corruption. And the monarchy represents the keystone of the political regime of 1978, which has been challenged by millions of young people occupying plazas and demanding “real democracy now”.

Just a kilometre away from the demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate, construction is in full swing for Berlin’s City Palace. It was supposed to cost €590 million. It might end up closer to several billion. And what is this for?

It’s not entirely clear if Berlin’s current rulers have noticed that the Prussian monarchy has been gone for quite some time. On November 10, 1918, while his capital was in the throes of revolution, Kaiser Wilhelm II left for the Netherlands and took his dynasty with him. While there are still a few monarchists in Germany who want Wilhelm’s great-great-grandson to restore the House of Hohenzollern to power, there are still no plans to have a member of that dynasty move into the new palace.

Now is there any danger of the Prussian kings returning? Might sound like a crazy idea, but think about it: why would the German government spend a billion euros to re-build an imperial palace? If all we needed was a space for museum exhibitions, there was already a perfectly good “Palace of the Republic” in the spot which had been cleared of asbestos yet was demolished out of pure historical spite. With the limitless popularity of Game of Thrones, perhaps people in smoke-filled rooms have decided the time is right to turn back the clock of history.

So will the Spanish monarchs be invited to Berlin? Would it make sense for the House of Bourbon, like so many of their countrymen, to move from the Manzanares to the Spree? It is in this context that I think the guillotine has gotten a bad rap. The guillotine was invented during the French Revolution as a means of execution that was both humane – at least compared to strangulation by hanging or decapitation by axe – and equal for all citizens. It might sound gruesome, but the swift drop of the blade seems preferable to being ruled by an aristocrat, right?

Then again, let’s not be bloodthirsty. Back in 1993, the Canadian acapalla band Moxy Fruvous produced a roadmap for precisely this situation. Their “King of Spain” tells the story of a monarch who decides to leave his position in order to work for minimum wage at a pizza joint in Canada. “So next time you drool in the pizza line, remember, slower pizza’s more luscious. The King of Spain never rushes!” I think when Felipe survey’s his options he’ll see that pizza selling isn’t so bad.