Tag Archives: left

Ken Loach: “We’re unstoppable”

26 Mar

_MG_7154-as-Smart-Object-1

At this year’s Berlinale, British director Ken Loach was honoured with a lifetime achievement award for 50 years of cinema. The filmmaker and veteran political activist hasn’t lost his faith in the power of workers to bring about change. While in Berlin he spoke about the party he co-founded in 2013, Left Unity.

“The working class still exists,” presses Ken Loach before a crowd of Berlin activists – and watching Loach’s films won’t convince you of the contrary. Famously, Ken Loach doesn’t make films about action heroes or financial wizards. He focuses on the people who have to do the clean-up after a thrilling chase scene, or who get duped by greedy bankers.

The everyday struggles of the working class have provided material for a half-century of films, from the 1966 BBC homelessness docudrama Cathy Come Home; to 1985’s Berlinale Forum selection Which Side Are You On?, about the UK miners’ strike; to 2001’s The Navigators, about railway workers oppressed by management.

It might no longer be in fashion to make explicitly political art in the style of leftist provocateurs like Bertolt Brecht or John Heartfield, but Loach is somehow keeping the tradition alive. Does he see his art as a form of agitation to bring people out onto the streets? “That might be a byproduct, but that’s certainly not the function,” he says. His engagement has never been confined to the screen as exemplified by a lifetime of political activism, from Trotskyism to Labour to a brand new party: Left Unity.

On the same day Loach received his Berlinale honours, he gave a talk titled “The Crisis in Europe and the New Formation of the Radical Left” at Berlin’s Haus der Demokratie. At 10am on a Friday, the organisers expected about 20 attendees; instead, Loach spoke to a packed-to-the-rafters crowd of 150.

With his small frame and thick glasses, Loach has the friendly, unassuming manner of a bookkeeper. The man might not speak like a firebrand, but after nearly five decades of battles he still believes in the possibility of a fairer, better system, and people believe in him.

“We have power. And, my God, we need to get organised.” That’s the leitmotif of his career-long struggle: faith in the working class, despite the disappointments and setbacks. Sometimes the worst enemy might not be conservative forces but the constant infighting.

His political engagement started in 1964. By that point a television director, Loach, who had studied law at Oxford but not forgotten his working-class upbringing, became upset by the lack of working people’s voices in the media.

He joined the Labour Party and, a few years later, came into the orbit of a Trotskyist organization, the Socialist Labour League (SLL). The SLL wanted to replace the police with a workers’ militia, among other radical policies, but nonetheless formed a current within Labour, attracting several famous faces: actors Corin and Vanessa Redgrave were in the Central Committee, and John Lennon is reported to have made donations. Loach was one of a number of TV directors who worked closely with the organisation. Now, he says he was “a member” before correcting himself. “I was close to the SLL.”

Looking back, Loach sees a project paralysed by sectarianism. “Each little group had their own newspaper, and your biggest competitor was the man selling the newspaper next to you.”

The fierce infighting even affected Loach’s personal life. “A good friend of mine named Paul Foot was in the International Socialists, another Trotskyist organisation. We lived quite near each other and we both had small children. We used to meet and the children would play football. I got a call one day and it was the General Secretary of the SLL. He said: ‘What’s this I hear? Your children are playing football with the enemy?’ I said I was sorry and we stopped playing football. It was nearly 30 years before I was on a platform with Paul Foot. And we agreed about everything.”

When the SLL ditched the Labour Party and gradually drifted towards supporting Arab dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, Loach stuck with Labour – for which he was branded a traitor by his former comrades. He remained a member for 30 years, but lived through two “critical moments” that showed this organisation didn’t have much to offer working people.

“First was the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, when the post-war settlement of the welfare state came under attack,” he recalls. Mines and factories closed – three million people lost their jobs overnight. Loach witnessed how the trade union leaders held back every struggle in the name of negotiations that went nowhere. “The second was in 1985 with the huge strike of the miners.” Here too, the trade unions and the Labour Party boycotted the struggle. “And we lost,” Loach recalled. He resigned from the party in the mid-1990s.

As Labour governments got involved in privatising health and education and carrying out unpopular wars abroad, Loach lost faith in the existing parties and started looking for an alternative for the real left… only to find a panoply of smaller organisations, many working at cross purposes.

Loach is convinced that during the Iraq War, when up to two million people marched in London against the Blair government, they missed a historic opportunity to build up a mass party on the left: “If only we had had a table every hundred metres that said ‘sign here’…”. The Socialist Alliance and the RESPECT coalition had already given it a try. But, like the rest before them, they had fallen victim to bitter infighting. “So now we’re trying a third time.”

In March of last year, Loach launched a call to action. His documentary The Spirit of ’45, about the sweeping social changes in Britain after the Second World War, had just premiered at the 2013 Berlinale. Inspired by his protagonists, who “transformed the lives of ordinary people”, Loach appealed for a new, unified party of the left. Ten thousand people signed his online petition, and in November, the party Left Unity was formed at a meeting of 400 in London. Loach claims the party now has over 1400 members – and, already, plenty of disagreements.

“There is a large number of individual campaigns,” Loach explains, but his aim is to unite all these activists under the umbrella of one party. “If we’re all on the same team, we’re unstoppable.” The veteran of social cinema hasn’t lost his faith in the power of the people.

“My ambition is to be a rank-and-file member,” says Loach. “Also for reasons of age.” Though the 77-year-old works more as a grey eminence than a leader in the new party, by most accounts, he has a giant influence on the debates.

But how does it feel to be a socialist at the Berlinale being driven around in giant Audis and accompanied by three bodyguards? Loach briefly seems lost for words as he turns to the young man standing next to him with a suit and an earpiece. “We’re friends!” he says, and they both smile.

Originally published in Exberliner #125, March 2014.

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/features/people/were-unstoppable/

Photo: Veronica Jonsson

Advertisements

The first demonstration of the year

8 Jan

8383341890_f0227a2fb5_b

Do you have plans for this Sunday at 10am (as the MDMA is starting to wear off)? I’m going to a real Berlin uniquity – and also the first demonstration of the year.

It’s been 95 years since Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered. She was a Polish Jew who was known for her unmatched polemical tongue; he was a son of the founder of the SPD and was the only member of the Bundestag to vote against the credits for the First World War in 1914.

When the revolution reached Berlin on November 9, 1918, this duo – who had spent most of the war in prison – became instant heroes of the insurrectionists. They founded the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD) on the first day of 1919 and worked tirelessly to drive the revolution forward.

It was Liebknecht who reminded the masses that the revolution hadn’t ended with the abdication of the Kaiser: the workers’ and soldiers’ councils needed to take power, destroy the old state and create a socialist order. For the ancien régime it was clear: in order to cripple the communist revolution, Liebknecht needed to be eliminated.

The government was now composed of Liebknecht’s former comrades of the SPD, who had expelled him for his anti-war stance. They didn’t want to take the responsibility for a political murder – this job fell to Waldemar Pabst, commander of a proto-fascist Freikorps unit. But as Pabst revealed decades later, the order to pull the trigger came from the SPD leadership itself.

The funeral procession turned into a mass protest, and for the last 90 years the second Sunday in January has seen a commemorative demonstration. The original monument at the cemetery in Friedrichsfelde was destroyed by the Nazis but rebuilt by the East German government in 1951. In the GDR, hundreds of thousands would bring red carnations to the grave (kind of like a communist version of “poppy day”).

Now, of course, the event is much smaller. Up to 80,000 retirees will come in the morning to bring flowers. At 10am, a few thousand will gather at Frankfurter Tor for the LLL-Demonstration and proceed to the cemetery (the third “L” stands for “Lenin”, who died in January of 1924). Observers have called this demonstration a “carnival parade of sects”, since there are countless Maoist groups from Turkey who only seem to come out once a year. Recent years have seen fighting around a memorial to the victims of Stalinism opposite the graves – for the more hardcore Stalinist groups, this is an insult to the beloved leader.

Clearly it’s a bit weird. But it’s fun. And it’s a uniquely Berlin tradition. It gives us a chance to think about long-dead revolutionaries at a time when the struggle for a world free from oppression seems even further away than in 1918. Nonetheless, in the midst of this capitalist metropolis, their words can seem eerily modern. As the revolution was beaten down by reactionary troops, the rulers were enthralled about “re-established order”. Luxemburg, in her last written words, countered:

“‘Order prevails in Berlin!‘ You foolish lackeys! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will rise up again, clashing its weapons, and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!”

I hope she was right! See you on Sunday!

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/blogs/the-blog/the-earliest-coldest-demonstration-of-the-year/

Foto: Photo by Die Linke (Flickr CC)

Hamburg on the Barricades

26 Dec

11481549103_fab0fb62d2_b

As an Xmas treat, John Riceburg is taking the Berlin Blog on an Ausflug to Hamburg. What transpired there could have happened just as easily in Berlin.

Last Saturday, December 21 – one weekend before the holidays – Hamburg saw one of the biggest riots in recent years. The tabloid press has been repeating claims by the police that the disturbances were the work of a few thousand traveling hooligans (Reisechaoten) who enjoy violence for violence’s sake. Actual reporters, in contrast, using video material from the scene, have shown that it was the hooligans in white helmets who attacked a peaceful demonstration.

But let’s start at the beginning. The old Flora Theater in Hamburg’s Schanzenviertel was occupied in November of 1989 and turned into Die Rote Flora, a centre for non-commercial culture and left-wing politics in the harbour city. The property was sold to the realty speculator Klausmartin Kretschmer in 2001 – with a contract acknowledging the building was being used by squatters. In 2013, Kretschmer announced that he wants to evict the users and build a six-story concert hall. He set a deadline for December 20.

I’ve already shown what happens to former squats after evictions. Nothing better should be expected on the Elbe. “The city belongs to everyone!” was the motto for more than 7000 people demonstrating for the Rote Flora and the Lampedusa refugees on December 21. The police mobilized several thousand officers and declared the entire city centre to a “danger zone” where they could stop, search and expel anyone without reason.

The demonstration started at 3:10pm, along a route that had been approved by the city. After just a few meters it was stopped. Soon the police were attacking the front rows with fists, batons, pepper spray and giant water cannons. “Stones had been thrown at police from a bridge,” a police spokesperson explained to the media why a legal demonstration had been dissolved.

But video evidence shows no rocks in the air until after the demonstration had been violently blocked. So then the police claimed the demonstration had started off “too early” – even though it had been registered for 3pm and started late. Then they said it started moving “suddenly and without consultation with the police” – as if that would nullify the right to free assembly. After that, chaos broke out: the police sealed off entire neighbourhoods and so ensued cat-and-mouse street fighting well into the night.

The police later claimed that 120 officers were injured. I’ve argued before that one shouldn’t trust official numbers before seeing people in green uniforms and body casts. The numbers from the medics accompanying the demonstration – over 500 demonstrators injured, 20 of them seriously, mostly from pepper spray and cannons shooting water mixed with poisonous chemicals – appear far more compatible with the evidence and eyewitness reports.

But the real injury is to the right to demonstrate. While the city of Hamburg pulled out all the stops to guarantee Nazi groups their right to demonstrate in 2008 and 2012, there was clearly a political decision to block a left-wing demonstration without any legal justification. The 7000 demonstrators included a train full of Berliners – not because they like violence, but because they want to protect an emblematic cultural centre from gentrification. Instead of demonstrating as planned, they spent hours dashing through back alleys to escape marauding police.

The same thing could happen in Berlin. The Berlin senator for the interior Frank Henkel has set a new ultimatum for the eviction of the refugee camp at Oranienplatz for January 18 – even though any such attempt will undoubtedly lead to massive protests. And there are plenty of community centres in Berlin – both squatted and rented – in the cross-hairs of realty speculators. You can use your constitutional right to demonstrate against these evictions. But what if the police can criminalize any demonstration after just a few minutes? And what if the big media go along with this?

Guido Westerwelle, the former Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic, was in Kiev supporting demonstrators against the president Viktor Yanukovych. German politicians are happy to denounce police violence – as long as it’s directed against pro-Western demonstrators. But a protest in the Schanzelviertel or in Kreuzberg gets pretty much the same treatment as in Kiev. So could we get the Foreign Minister of the Ukraine to come to Hamburg and Berlin to support our right to demonstrate?

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/blogs/the-blog/hamburg-on-the-barricades/

Picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/woerpel/11481549103/

Best commie hideout: Rotes Antiquariat

2 Dec

IMG_0382

From Exberliners “Holidy indie bookshop guide”:

Looking for a first edition of Karl Marx’ Das Kapital from 1867? It will set you back €9000, but Rotes Antiquariat is the place to find it. The store belongs to a very different era than the luxury apartments under construction next door. Its 27,000-plus books, stacked to the ceiling, focus on the workers’ movement before 1933 – including expensive rarities as well as bargain reprints from the 1970s.

You can get copies of newspapers from the General Commission of the Trade Unions from the early 20th century or from the Communist League of West Germany from the 1970s. If you know older Berliners who left behind radical pasts, wouldn’t they be thrilled to get an agitational poster from a defunct Maoist sect for Christmas? A shelf in the back carries English editions of Lenin and Bakunin.

Around since 2003, the store is “a normal capitalist company” with an owner (the rarely seen Christian Bartsch), but at least all the workers earn the same wage regardless of qualifications. And it wouldn’t be a bonafide left-wing location if it didn’t occasionally get into trouble: in 2007, police raided the shop because one of the employees was accused of belonging to an underground left-wing group. JR

Rungestr. 20, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Jannowitzbrücke, Mon-Fri 12-18, Sat 11-15

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/features/best-niche-bookshops/

Picture: Charlotte Eberwein

Leftists behind bars

13 Aug

anarchist bars

They might seem intimidating at first, but these Berlin hangouts keep the city’s rebellious spirit alive. The cheap drinks don’t hurt, either.

BAIZ: No Becks, no latte, no bullshit… But for how long?

It all started 10 years ago. Matthias, a big guy with a blonde ponytail and a leather vest who wouldn’t look out of place in a motorcycle gang, had been living in an occupied house in Prenzlauer Berg since 1990. He did regular shifts at the bar there, but “at some point I noticed I was 10 years older than all the people on the other side of the counter,” the old-school East Berliner recalls. He wanted to create something more professional, a space that was open every day with multiple events a week. so in 2003, BAIZ was born right on the border between Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg.

“Baiz” is actually a Swiss German word for a local tavern, but the bar with the black-red flag is a true Berliner Eckkneipe: smoke-filled, noisy and initially aggressive. A sign advertises “No Becks, no latte, no bullshit.” Instead, there is Berliner Pilsner for €1.90, Zapatista coffee from Chiapas and, if you’re in the market for luxury, a shot of Cuban rum for just over €2. They used to serve €1 shots until they noticed tourists from nearby hostels would come by to drink themselves warm on the cheap.

Regulars include neighbours, political activists and a crazy person or two, ranging in age from students to 90-year-old grandmothers. The black-clad staff try to live by their left-wing principles: “On paper, I’m the boss,” explains Matthias, “but in practice all the people who work here make the decisions together.”

At the end of last year, they discovered an advertisement on the internet: apartments in their building would be available for sale by the summer, and the BAIZ space could be rented out as an office soon after. Their contract was set to expire in October and the building owners planned to renovate the entire building and sell it as luxury condominiums. The contract has since been extended to February, but BAIZ’ future is still very much in jeopardy. As soon as word got out, 120 regulars – scared of losing a hang-out and a source of cheap beer – crammed into the back room to form a “BAIZ bleibt!” initiative. they’re going to try the legal route first, but “people might do things we don’t know anything about,” says Matthias. “A Barman Can Bear No Responsibility For What His Customers Do.”

For now, the little bar is full. The back room features regular screenings of films from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, even silent Eisenstein films with live musical accompaniment. If you’re lucky, you might hear a talk by former terrorist Knofo Kröcher about kidnapping a conservative politician in the 1970s. Maybe the 14-member East Berlin band “Bolschewistische Kurkapelle Schwarz-Rot” will hold a cramped concert in the back. And of course, there are continuous political meetings: as soon as the Marxist-leaning school newspaper Red Brain packs up, the “anarcho-syndicalist youth” sit down. With all this support, these indomitable anarchists might yet hold out for a while.

BAIZ, Christinenstr. 1, Mitte, U-Bhf Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz

ABSTAND: Punks’ paradise

In an increasingly tamed Friedrichshain, Rigaer Straße is a defiant bastion of punkhood. Among the squatted houses, the façade of a soon-to-be-completed luxury apartment building is stained black from a trash can blaze set by persons unknown. And at the corner of Silvio-Meier-Straße, a street recently renamed after a young antifascist murdered by neo-Nazis in 1992, sits the Abstand. On a summer night, you will meet dozens of leather-clad punks sitting on the sidewalk, accompanied by at least as many dogs. Both species occasionally get into shouting matches and can be scary at first. But Lena, a young woman with blue hair and more piercings than we could count, was happy to tell us about the location.

Open since 2009, the bar is technically a “private club”, where a €1 ‘donation’ buys you a bottle of a Sternburg. Its building on Rigaer Straße has been occupied for 23 years – longer than many of its residents have been alive. Now the residents have a 99-year lease, and they are planning to buy the building outright.

As legal residents, they are not often harassed by the police. “If there is stress, it’s usually from familiar faces,” Lena explains. They ask people to go outside if they insist on fighting. Dogs are also okay, “as long as they don’t bark constantly or pee everywhere.” One punk at the bar remembers a drinking game: “We would take a shot every time one of the dogs pissed in the corner.” But even the Abstand is experiencing gentrification, in its own small way: the bathrooms, once legendarily rancid, were remodeled a few months ago.

“We’re apolitical,” Lena says. “At least, we’re not politically correct.” Of course the bar is against Nazis and sexism – a big poster on the wall exclaims “no means no!” and shows a woman with a pair of bolt cutters – but Abstand serves meat in their Volxküche, alongside vegan hamburgers. And what do they think about tourists walking down from antje Øklesund down the street? “Tourists tend to be uncertain. They walk by, look in the window, and usually move on.”

Abstand, Rigaer Str. 78, Friedrichshain, U-Bhf Samariterstr.

DIE TAGUNG: Eastern wonderland

“Restricted area!” “State border!” “Mines!” the signs at the door don’t exactly make you feel welcome – more like you are approaching the Berlin Wall and are about to be shot. But inside, Die Tagung, a remnant from an earlier time in the trendiest part of Friedrichshain, looks a lot more upbeat. The walls are decked with diverse memorabilia from the german Democratic Republic, from the blue flags of the Free German Youth (FDJ) and busts of Marx and Lenin to cigarette ads and price lists from a bakery – as long as it’s Eastern, you can see it here.

The bar has been around since 1992. “All this stuff was just lying around on the street, and the founder thought it was a shame that it was being thrown away,” remembers Dodo, the owner. The East Berliner has been working here since 1998 – back when the bar included an illegal basement club – and took it over seven years ago.

She doesn’t think of East Germany as a paradise: as a child, she and her parents weren’t allowed to visit her grandparents on the border with Bavaria, due to the danger that they might flee. “If I had come of age there, I would have been the first to apply for an exit visa.” But now she’s running a bar stocked with Red October beer, Pfeffi schnapps, Wurzener crisps and Caro cigarettes.

Google the bar and you’ll find a review: “they hate tourists!” But not without reason: “I just don’t understand how people can take things off the wall to take pictures.” On the other hand, sometimes guests will bring their older parents from the East and “they’re just happy as biscuits to see all the stuff here. Sometimes they’ll even offer things to add to the collection.”

Afraid smaller items might end up stolen, Dodo keeps them at home, leaving things like a gigantic black bust of Julian Marchlewski, a Polish Communist who was a founder of the KPD. They got the statue years ago from the island of Usedom. Now a biography of Marchlewski taken from a GDR reference book is printed right in the menu – saves the trouble of telling his story every time.

Die Tagung, Wühlischstr. 29, Friedrichshain, U-Bhf Warschauer Str.

Originally published in Issue #118, July/August 2013.

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/features/lifestyle/leftists-behind-bars/

Photo: Rasa Urnieziute

Do cool kids wear a Palituch?

11 Aug

keffiyeh featureby John Riceburg

The Berlin club ://about blank refuses entry to visitors wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional checkered Arab headscarf. Now a group of anonymous Berliners from the Middle East calling themselves “Einige Berliner Aktivist_innen aus dem Nahen Osten” have called this policy racist in an open letter.

Last October, hip hop artists Sookee and Badkat threw a benefit concert to help refugees enter “protective marriages”. Left-wing party stronghold ://about blank, the run-down East German building behind Ostkreuz, played host to the event. But some refugees were denied entrance: they were wearing keffiyehs, and the club has a strict no-keffiyeh policy. Only after a long discussion were the refugees allowed to enter – as an exception.

This isn’t an isolated incident for ://about blank. A Spanish woman reports she was searched by a bouncer and forced to leave her keffiyeh in a plastic bag at the door. A young man from Syria was turned away after refusing to take off his scarf. Just last weekend an Israeli man was blocked from entering because of the dress code. Does a simple piece of cloth deserve so much attention?

The people behind ://about blank say that the keffiyeh falls under a general prohibition of national symbols in their establishment. “Our motive is to avoid the promotion of racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and (German) nationalist content in our venue”, they explain in a leaflet available at the door in English and German, while they also recognize a “huge grey area”.

It doesn’t take an eagle eye to notice that while black-red-golden German flags are in fact prohibited, one can find plenty of Union Jacks, Stars and Stripes and even Israeli army logos on t-shirts worn in the club. Some national symbols might be part of brands, others might be worn in a tongue-in-cheek way. So why should the keffiyeh be treated differently?

That’s what a group of Berlin activists from the Middle East – including Israelis and Palestinians – are asking. They called bullshit on the no-keffiyeh policy in an open letter to the club, explaining that the piece of clothing “connotes many different meanings in Arab and Kurdish societies”. It can be a protest symbol of secular nationalists in Palestine, but also of peasants in Kurdistan. And more often than not, it can be an unpolitical accessory. “Calling this a symbol of one nationality is like calling expensive hipster outfits a symbol of white German identity”, they write.

The keffiyeh became popular in West Germany in the 1980s as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. Ten years ago, a flyer made its way through Germany’s left-wing scene arguing that “cool kids don’t wear a ‘Palituch'” because it supposedly represents anti-Semitism: “Are you cold or do you just hate Jews?”, another flyer asks rhetorically.

These flyers claim that the mufti of Jerusalem, an ally of the Nazis, forced all Palestinians to wear the scarf in the late 1930s. But, critics point out, the mufti himself always chose a fez as headwear, and Jewish soldiers wore keffiyehs during the war of 1948. So it can’t simply be a symbol of anti-Semitism: some Nazis might have worn the scarf, but that doesn’t mean anyone who does is a Nazi.

In the last decade, the Palituch became mainstream fashion the world over; it’s been available at H&M for quite a while. But its prohibition remains in some niches where the radical left and the club scene intersect, niches like ://about blank. Most German leftists, even those who reject claims of a keffiyeh being anti-Semitic, have given up this particular accessory out of a desire to avoid the endless discussions.

But problems arise when non-German activists want to access these spaces: even if the so-called antideutsche consider it a responsibility of Germans to not criticize Israel and avoid clothing that might be seen as anti-Semitic, can one really expect the resulting dress codes to be followed by Spaniards, Israelis, Syrians and others?

The flyer from ://about blank refers to a “controversial and conflict-ridden accessory” which is “perceived to be an anti-Israel expression” and is used by Nazis “to express an extremely aggressive anti-Semitic attitude”. Their conclusion is that the “highly problematic connotations cannot be ignored”, even if it’s only fashion.

The authors of the open letter argue that this practice is racist because it excludes people from the Middle East. They are demanding an apology from ://about blank, in all likelihood in futility, and, more rationally, a lifting of the ban. ://about blank themselves have chosen not to respond to the letter, they told Exberliner, instead referring us to the flyer they have at the door as their reasoning. It remains to be seen if the call to boycott this left-wing party spot will have any resonance.

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/blogs/the-blog/do-cool-kids-wear-a-palituch/

Foto: alibaba.com

FUSION Festival: Holiday communism

23 Jun

FUSION-festival-@-Libertinus-flickr

Communism is dead! Long live communism! Beginning this Wednesday, June 26, upwards of 70,000 people will gather at a former Soviet military base two hours north of Berlin.

The Soviet Air Force disappeared 20 years ago, but their site has been taken over by a new kind of communism: there are still red flags and Cyrillic letters, but also art projects, left-wing politics and round-the-clock dancing. “Holiday communism” (Ferienkommunismus) means that people can experience a parallel society based on self-organization and freedom from discrimination for at least a few days a year. Welcome to the FUSION festival!

Rather than focussing on a few headliners (the festival programme isn’t even published beforehand), more than 20 stages and hangars showcase hundreds of musical acts from all over the world – including plenty of electro but also anything else you can imagine. There are also circus shows, theater, dance, cinema and, well, whatever the visitors organize themselves. What started as a gathering of a few hundred lefties in the mid-1990s has grown exponentially into a mid-size city. But the organizers, lovingly referred to as the “Central Committee”, have stuck to their principles: the whole event is non-profit, with proceeds going to improving the festival grounds and supporting left-wing youth culture.

Virtually all of the jobs are done by volunteers: the bars are run by a broad spectrum of left-wing groups, while visitors can work for six hours washing dishes or directing traffic in exchange for half of their ticket price. And instead of uniformed security guards, there are Antifa activists just waiting for a chance to stop racist or sexist behavior.

Tickets are only available by participating in an online raffle back in December of last year. More than twice as many people applied to get one of the 70,000 tickets, even though FUSION has never done any kind of advertising. What if you weren’t among the lucky? Then wait until next year! Until last year it was possible to get in for free in exchange for working 12 hours, but that program has been cancelled because the whole site is bursting at the seams.

The FUSION crew reminds us that many people suffered serious hand injuries last year trying to climb over the fence, which was certainly no fun for them. But there is a ray of hope! You can still get in on the last day, when the festival is clearing out: just show up at the “Embassy” (i.e. the entrance) on Sunday after 6am and for €20 you can stay until Monday. Communism is alive and kicking in Mecklenburg, and you can get a 24-hour-taste of it during your holiday.

FUSION festival, Thur Jun 27-Sun Jun 30 | Kulturkosmos Müritz e.V, 17248 Lärz. http://www.fusion-festival.de/

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/culture/music–nightlife/fusion-festival-holiday-communism/

Foto: Libertinus

Yok: Erlebnisse eines Kutschers

6 May

Yok_c_nics

Früher lief er am 1. Mai mit einer schwarzen Maske durch Kreuzberg, als Quetschenpaua sang er seine Kampfeslieder. Jetzt fährt Yok seit 15 Jahren Taxi. Die Erlebnisse des “links­radikalen Kutschers” gibt es nun auch als Buch

“Schön, einen deutschen Taxifahrer zu haben!” Ein Berliner Kutscher, der nicht auf den ersten Blick wie ein Migrant aussieht, bekommt solche Bemerkungen öfter zu hören. Diesmal ist es dafür aber das völlig falsche Taxi. “Wieso?”, fragt nämlich dieser Fahrer, “ich bin doch Schwarz­afrikaner.” Dann ist der Fahrgast meist erst mal stumm. Denn der Herr mit den fröhlichen Augen und kurzen grauen Haaren, der am Steuer sitzt, war früher mal Hausbesetzer und links­autonomer Aktivist. Ein West-Berliner “Chaot”, wie das gemeinhin genannt wird. Aber neben schwarzen Klamotten trug er auch ein Akkordeon und eine Ukulele. Als “Quetschenpaua” hatte er Anfang der 90er-Jahre sogar einen Szenehit, in dem er vom Traum erzählte, den ganzen Kurfürstendamm abzufackeln. “Q-damm’s börnin’” wird bis heute auf Partys der Antifa lautstark mitgesungen.

Doch seit 15 Jahren arbeitet Yok, wie er sich nennt, nun als Taxifahrer: “Ich wollte nicht mehr davon abhängig sein, kreativ sein zu müssen.” Das erzählt er während der Fahrt. Zu Quetschenpauas beiden Abschiedskonzerten kamen 1994 fast 1 500 Leute. Musik macht er trotzdem weiterhin. Immer mal wieder. Als Taxifahrer kann er sein Geld mit einem relativ lockeren Stundenplan verdienen – und so sich leisten, sein neues Album kostenlos in den Berliner Anarchokneipen BAIZ und Syndikat vorzustellen. Bei Flüchtlingsprotesten am Brandenburger Tor oder in der besetzten Schule in der Ohlauer Straße tritt er sowieso zur Unterstützung auf. Nun hat er auch noch ein Buch geschrieben. In “Punkrocktarif” erzählt Yok 50 Geschichten aus dem Leben eines “linksradikalen Kutschers”. Mit vielen Leuten hat er so diskutiert, mit denen ein autonomer Hausbesetzer sonst eher selten ins Gespräch kommt.

So bringt er einmal eine Tasche zurück zum Flughafen, die ein gut gekleideter ausländischer Mann dort im Taxi vergessen hatte. Yok will 50 D-Mark für die Fahrt verlangen (die Geschichte ist etwas älter). Aber bevor er mit der Verhandlung beginnen kann, legt der ältere Herr kurzerhand 1 000 US-Dollar auf den Sitz. Auch gut. Viele Jahre später, im Buch, fragt sich Yok, mit dem er es damals zu tun hatte: “Mafia? Diplomaten? Investmentterroristen? Politiker? Auftragskiller? Oder nur ganz normale kriminelle Immobilienmakler?” Bei einer Lesung vor einigen Wochen im Wedding ist jeder Platz belegt und junge Leute mit Zigaretten und Dreadlocks stehen auch noch vor dem Eingang, wo sie zumindest jedes zweite Wort mitbekommen. In seinen Geschichten geht es um den Einsatz gegen Nazis und Rassisten – aber Yok predigt nicht nur militanten Widerstand, sondern auch einen lustigen Umgang mit der Ungerechtigkeit.

Bei ihm gibt es einen schnellen Tritt auf die Bremse und einen Rauswurf, wenn Leute im Taxi über “Kanaken” schimpfen. Fragen, die er für dumm hält, erfordern eine noch dümmere Antwort. Beispielsweise: Ob er in Neukölln Angst habe. “Nein, ich bin schwer bewaffnet – und sonst gibt es noch den Schleudersitz.” Und wenn ein Fahrgast sich eben darauf freut, endlich einen deutsch aussehenden Fahrer zu haben, bekommt er eine politische Diskussion zurück: Warum sollten Deutsche besser Taxi fahren? Dann schwindet erfahrungsgemäß die Debattierlust schnell. Und Yok sagt: “Na, siehste, du hast mich als Deutschen extra ausgesucht und nun hast du schlechte Laune!” Nach zwei Stunden Lesung im Wedding sagt er “Tschüss!”, steigt ins Taxi und fährt wieder eine Schicht – neue Geschichten sammeln.

So locker war Yok nicht immer. “Früher fand ich bestimmt 95 Prozent der Leute scheiße”, erinnert er sich an die Zeiten, in denen er mit einer schwarzen Maske am 1. Mai in Kreuzberg unterwegs war. “Wenn wir auf einer Demo waren, da sah ich ganz normale Leute in einer Kneipe mit ihrem Bier, und die fand ich auch scheiße, weil sie nicht mitdemonstriert haben.” Anfang der 90er-Jahre war er ununterbrochen in Berlin und Umgebung im “Kampf gegen Nazis” unterwegs. Wirklich entspannter wurde er dadurch natürlich auch nicht. “Wenn du dich zum Beispiel für Flüchtlinge einsetzt, bekommst du Schicksale mit, die dich hart machen. Und du merkst, wie du ständig gegen politische Mauern rennst.” Irgendwann sagte ein Kumpel zu ihm: “Du hast deinen Humor verloren.”

Jetzt, kurz nach seinem 50. Geburtstag im Dezember des vergangenen Jahres, lacht er viel mehr. Er distanziert sich gar nicht von seinen früheren Texten, “aber ich will nicht so tun, als ob ich so brennen würde wie damals”. Er freut sich, wenn stattdessen jüngere Bands seine Lieder covern. Seine heutigen Texte sind nicht weniger links, aber etwas weniger konfrontativ als früher. So ist Yok Gegner der Gentrifizierung in Berlin. Mit alten Freunden war er dabei, als im Februar eine Familie in der Lausitzer Straße zwangsgeräumt wurde – er ist selbst schon vor zehn Jahren wegen steigender Mieten von Kreuzberg nach Neukölln gezogen. Aber statt einer Kampfparole wie “Yuppies raus” singt er in einem neuen Lied namens “Gentrifa”: “Auch Leute, die ich kenne, haben Eigentum erworben, sind deshalb nicht total scheiße oder völlig blöd geworden.” Wenn es um Gentrifizierung geht, kriegt man von Yok weniger Schlachtrufe als Selbstzweifel. Woran erkennt man überhaupt einen Yuppie? Und was kann man dagegen tun? “Mollys?”, fragt er, “oder vielleicht nur Flugblätter?” – “Boah, ey, kompliziert”, heißt es dann in seinem Refrain.

Sein Buch “Punkrocktarif” beschreibt auch große, kleine Momente menschlicher Wärme in Berlin. Wie Yok zum Beispiel eine sturzbetrunkene Seniorin, die kaum reden kann, von ihrer Eckkneipe zu ihrem Garten bringt. Oder wie er sich freut, wenn ältere Mitbürger aus Spandau ihm erzählen, dass man nur ungültig wählen sollte, um zu zeigen, dass man die “Klotzköpfe” der Politik ablehnt. So will Yok eine “Schnittstelle” sein – zwischen den jungen Leuten, die bei einer Zwangsräumung am liebsten irgendwas abfackeln, und den grauhaarigen Nachbarn, die mit friedlichen Mitteln protestieren. Verstehen kann er beide. Denn er ist selbst, wie er in einem etwas traurig klingenden Lied singt, “old but punk”.

Text: John Riceburg

Foto: Nics

Yok: “Punkrocktarif. Mit dem Taxi durch die Extreme Mitte” Verlag Gegen_Kultur, 10 €, pocketpunk.so36.net

Quelle: http://www.tip-berlin.de/kultur-und-freizeit-lesungen-und-buecher/yok-erlebnisse-eines-kutschers

The best tour that might get you arrested

29 Apr

by John Riceburg

A regular touristy walking tour through Berlin will take you to the Brandenburg Gate. An ‘alternative’ tour will include some former squats and street art. But what about the violence?

That’s where RevolutionaryBerlin, founded by a young American calling himself Bill, comes in. The group’s three-hour walking tours centre on the riots that broke out in Kreuzberg on May 1, 1987, when a supermarket near Görlitzer Park was burned to the ground. Ever since then, street battles between demonstrators and police have erupted every May Day.

While a visitor might recognize only senseless, nihilistic destruction, a walking tour can provide context and insight into the city’s complicated anarchist/left-wing activist scene. The guides (one German, one American, both serious lefties) tend to be a bit one-sided – “demonstrators good, police bad” is the tenor – but their mischievous fascination can be contagious. The stories are padded out with plenty of entertaining anecdotes about the 1968 student movement, the Berlin Wall and even the occasionally violent clashes between different left-wing groups.

For good measure, they provide tips for would-be demonstrators eager to participate in this ‘extreme sport’. They also offer tours on the November Revolution of 1918-19 and Berlin’s little-known past as a colonial power. This is a much-needed alternative to the bigger companies trying to make a buck off Berlin’s seedy image, and it’s run by people who know their way around the city’s myriad revolutionary groups.

RevolutionaryBerlin, May 4 and various other dates, email revolutionaryberlin@ gmail.com for reservations and more info. Or go directly to the website at revolutionaryberlin.wordpress.com

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/articles/best-tour-that-might-get-you-arrested/