While in Berlin in February I’d heard a lot of talk about May 1st. It’s a Labour Day-style fete with a long tradition. Recently it’s been hijacked by black-clad “anarchists,” socialists, anti-fascists or whatever as their chance to tangle with the police. It was also my chance to get out of the house and finally see something in Berlin that lived up to the hype.
When I left my house early that morning I had a feeling I wouldn’t see too much in the way of craziness. What I didn’t know was that I would find myself standing right where the fuse meets the dynamite in the worst riots this city has seen for years. I was hit with glass, shoved by an armored cop, and teargassed. Strangely though, it was my feelings that were hurt the most.
The first leg of my ‘Berlin tour of dissidence’ was a 12pm stop at Kopernik Banhof in East Berlin. Germany still has skinheads and I was told this would be the place to find them. After a 20 minute train ride I was deposited in a lovely but traumatized neighbourhood. I’d missed most of the action. I guess the skinheads were there earlier but had run into an army of police and “anarchists.”
By “anarchist” I mean the psudeo-ninjas in the picture above. I’ve never really been able to understand what they’re after. I know they want to smash capitalism, they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to Free some guy named Mumia, and if they ever got their precious anarchy they’d be killed and raped by the roving bands of gas-pirates patrolling the shattered remains of our civilization hunting for canned food and sex-slaves.
Anyway. I only saw three interesting things in the aftermath of the Kopernik riots.
- I saw someone slip on an actual banana peel. I didn’t think that was even possible! When the guy got up I laughed and pointed, hoping he would get the cartoonish hilarity of it all. He did not get the joke.
- A dissipating anti-fascist rally led by a 40-something man. I’m pretty sure he was going on about the nasty neo-Nazis. But to my English-only ears, he was just a man with a megaphone, pounding his fists and shouting slogans in hopes of inciting a large cheering crowd of Germans to action. He was passionate and he used the word Nazi a lot. I’ll let you guess what that reminded me of.
- A MacDonalds packed with protesters grabbing a cool Smarties McFlurry after an exhausting morning of raging against the machine. Man, it was so busy in there, it was like total anarchy man!
When I got back to Kreuzberg, my ‘hood, things were a lot different. More police, more people, more kebap stands. I regrouped at home put on my breeziest summer garb — a powder-blue dress shirt, white cotton shorts and sunglasses, and hit the family friendly street festival just north of my place.
The festival reminded me of Gay Pride on Toronto. Happy people, good food and bad bands. The only difference was the public consumption of beer…in 0.5l bottles. Beyond that, not a hint of violence in the air.
I’d hooked up with my friends Verena and Steve and as the sun set, it got cooler and our beer buzz was wearing off he decided to call it a night. Walking through the crowds of happy people we came to a large stage with a punk band. The music was lame, and we tried to push our way through to get to the other side.
As we pushed, suddenly the crowd pushed back. Hard. There was a loud bang and stampede of people surging away from the stage (the band kept playing btw). The violence that had been brewing all day as the anarchists taunted and hurled stones at the police had exploded right in our faces.
The air filled with flying 0.5l beer bottles and teargas. Much to my chagrin, my lack of sense of smell didn’t render me a teargas immune super-human able to navigate the hazy battlezone with impunity. The teargas just stung.
Here is a video…
Verena and I were pretty much the only two people caught between the protesters and police. With bottles smashing around me I thought maybe I could slip behind the police. I made my break. After all, with my white shorts and powder-blue dress shirt I looked like a CFO on his way to the annual investors meeting at the Sheraton in Barbados. Surely the police wouldn’t hit someone with his hands up in surrender and a ‘hooray establishment!’ wardrobe.
They did hit me, and sent me flying back into the barking mass of protestors. They also hit Verena in the face! Bravely she at least hit back before joining me, Steve and the rest of the protesters.
I’ll admit. My feelings were hurt more than any part of my lungs or body. The way the “anarchists” marched through the family festival like storm troopers, scaring children and waiving the hammer and sickle really pissed me off. I mean the hammer and sickle! You’d think in a country where symbols and mass murder have a relationship, they’d show a little more sense. I didn’t want to be lumped in with them. I really just wanted to get behind the police, and walk the 200 meters home.