Gosh… our neighborhood made the national and even the international news. It seems last saturday we had the worst riot of the past five years, or started the Revolution-with-capital-R, depending on which media you’re reading. Woho. I witnessed the onset of world wide revolution?
Bad news though, for those cheering the revolution on, we’re still more busy doing our dishes. I hate to disappoint people, but, I actually didn’t see much of this riot, or this revolution (again, depending on your point of view). And I joined the demo from almost the beginning, till it officially ended.
But well, I’m used to New Year’s Eve in Rotterdam, so maybe I’m just biased. A bit of fireworks, a fence of a building site brought down, and a huge police force of 1,800 cops including heavy material such as a water-cannon, a bulldozer and an armored vehicle, don’t constitute a riot in my humble opinion.
At the end, drunken party-goers mixed with the demo, and yes, bottles were flying. That’s when I left, the demo was over anyway. But a few flying bottles or stones don’t make a riot. Again, I’m used to New Year’s Eve in Rotterdam, where you bike back home avoiding the shattered glass of every bus stop in the neighborhood, holes of molten asphalt because of spontaneous self-combusting piles of garbage, a true layer of broken glass bottles, and yep, usually at least one burned out or turned-over police car. This mostly even doesn’t make the local paper…
But maybe I just missed out on the riot by leaving when the demo ended, or, if I read the police reports, in the “wrong” part of the demo… Bad timing again?
(short note to the vid on the right: they first show the “riots” – which mostly seem to consist of pushing & pulling, people getting arrested and other people wondering why and protesting this, then the actual demo before all this. Leave it to ruptly to edit creatively)
But djeez, we made the international press? Sunday afternoon I was sitting with a few people in front of one of the house projects, when someone from one of the balconies shouted down: wow, we made the NATIONAL news. We were quite surprised.
Because. To be honest. We don’t really get it. What revolution? Well, actually.. what riot?
A bit of history & background
Of course, riots & angry crowds don’t just fall out of the sky.
There’s usually something which leads up to them.
For more than one year, we’re up over our heads in the so-called “Danger zone” (officially installed in september 2015, but, see some of my other posts of july 2015, it actually was in effect beforehand) by the Berlin Senat for Inner Affairs. The danger zone means, basically, your civil rights are suspended, and you can be searched, or held without a reason, or premises can be raided, again, without a real suspicion of “criminal activity”. For people living in that area it feels like being in a state of siege with permanent controls, getting banned from the premises and even house and home searches. There is a huge police force constantly present in front of certain house projects, especially the so-called “Dorfplatz” (Village Square).
For more background and a bit of history: check this post of a local blogger from last february.
The weird thing about this danger zone phenomena is, is that it is supposed to make a neighborhood more safe. You know, service to the people and all that. Weirdly enough, the average inhabitant of the area doesn’t feel more safe by all those lovely uniforms. As some put it, they never were bothered by the squatters, heck, the house projects are a good defense against gentrification and rent raises. But they are thoroughly bothered by not just the fear of being selected for a search (which even happens to 9-year old kids), but the constant noise and search lights of the “occupying force”. Which is how many people now see those “protectors of the people”.
Though the actual zone is a few blocks away, the “overflow” is very notable in our part of the neighborhood. Mechanical mosquitoes (i.e. police helicopters) fly low and slow over our streets till deep in the night, causing even usually pretty relaxed people like me making bazooka noises. Friends visiting from other neighborhoods are astonished about the huge police presence everywhere. But. The human mind is capable of getting used to almost everything. Even vans full of riot cops driving around all the time, or the constant circling of surveillance helicopters. You shrug. You sigh. You just try to live your life. And again Pigface’s song “You get used to living in the warzone” plays on the jukebox in your head…
What it practically means… check out this vid, where even the mayor of this borough and other politicians tell us the Danger Zone and the suspension of civil rights, and of the rights of renters, is a frikking bad idea.
So yes, a lot of people are pretty pissed off by the whole situation. They want their streets, their “kiez” back.
But enough to start a revolution and declare the independence of the neighborhood? Or at least do that rioting thing? If so, it failed. Again, I didn’t see a riot…
The efficient use of force and the “State Mandate on Violence”
What I saw was a police force 1,800 strong, who seemed to have no clue what they were doing. The bulky stuff such as water-cannon, bulldozer, armored vehicles and the whole arsenal of heavy equipment was parked somewhere on one of the bigger streets, & never left that parking spot. Most of those 1,800 cops were just outside the so-called riot-zone, sitting in their vans typing away on their smart phones.
I guess they missed out on the riot too…
The cops near the demo seemed utterly confused, or maybe got contradictory orders. Every now and then it seemed like they were trying to close off the demo on both sides, but then obviously got another order, and in single file flocked away trying to look semi-useful somewhere else. Or they went into the demo in turtle formation, only to come to the conclusion this meant they were surrounded quickly by people who just ignored & walked around them. Confusion a plenty, still no criminal caught hot-handed and another order followed. Maybe look for potential rioteers somewhere else? There was some use of pepperspray, and some uncoordinated charging maneuvers. Leading to a bit of panic in the small streets.
We were never really closed in. It was almost as if on purpose room was created to bring that one part of a fence of a building site down..
I was quite surprised we were allowed to walk through the danger zone.
So I do wonder. If even innocent demonstrations such as the Night-Dance-Demo are completely surrounded by cops. If a peaceful anti-nazi protest is met by the deployment of huge amounts of pepperspray and quite some hectic charging and arresting of people. If a sitting blockade protesting a prestige building project ends with one guy losing his eyesight because of the immense power blast released by a water-canon. How come 1,800 cops having some truly heavy equipment at their disposal couldn’t prevent a full-fledged riot washing over the neighborhood?
Maybe there was not much of a riot (or a revolution, yes, yes, I get it now)?
The only other options are that either the cops are completely incompetent, or (warning: conspiracy theory ahead) they wanted to have a riot, to next enforce more police surveillance in our “kiez”.
But.. they keep talking about riots all the time??
Yes, and I still wonder how I managed to miss seeing them. Or those 100s of cops getting seriously hurt.
What I DID see, were thousands of people filling one of the broadest avenues in Berlin over its full width, for miles. And yes, the demo sparkled in the orange street lights because of all those police helmets mixed in.
What I did see, were the neighbors along the route, who rolled banners down their balconies, put their speakers outside so we had some music, or (this has become tradition in the danger zone itself, everyday from 21.00 to 21:30, it is LOUD in the Rigaer str. ) hammered away on pots & pans.
What I saw was the older guy in an electric wheelchair, who (on the crosswalk!) blocked a police van.
What I saw were the owners of the evening shops and the small restaurants putting their thumbs up to us. (Utterly by the way, these shop-owners in the danger zone refuse to sell food to the ca. 300 cops constantly present in front of the most threatened house project, and even deny them access to their bathrooms).
Extreme-left activists? Sure. Especially the girl in a hippy skirt walking bare-footed. Or the people with their kids in a buggy. Or the 60+ couple in dungarees (yes.. dungarees).
Nothing of this in the press of course.
But the press was definitively right about the atmosphere. It was NOT pleasant. At all. It was very grim. People were scared. And they were angry. We’ve HAD it.
That whole danger zone thing
We’ve had it. Really. That whole danger zone thing really, really gets on your nerves.
After months of seeing cops in full riot gear on every street corner.
Of knowing you can be searched and your personal data taken without being a “suspect” when you go shopping or bring your pet to the vet.
When you want to distribute food, but realize you forgot your ID, so you decide to bike a big detour around the danger zone (at least I still have a choice, since I don’t live smackdown in the middle of that zone).
When sitting with a couple of friends in an empty parking spot results in a “warning” since you haven’t paid for that parking spot, you are not a car with license plate anyway, and this “warning” is being emphasized by a few vans of riot cops driving by and a helicopter starting to circle above your head. Yes, I get slightly pissed (though I just sigh, and go from the parking spot to the edge of the side-walk).
When you have to be afraid the pub you go to with your friends for a drink can be raided any minute, for no reason.
If when I collect more food, and realize I have to bike through at least three police lines with an utterly full backpack, I might be searched for “dangerous goods” (where I do have to admit, vegan porridge could be considered an explosive).
It influences the daily lives of every one in this neighborhood. And there’s the bigger picture. The things that do not have an impact on my own life, but which create a atmosphere of fear and anger. And very, very, unpleasant surprise.
When a part of the Rigaer house project is evicted, supposedly to make room for refugees (but of course, with a “legal” renting contract, as if a random refugee could afford the “new” rents in this neighborhood), and these premises are secured by dozens of cops, who, because of the danger zone, are allowed to search anyone, including the people who legally live there, or can refuse visitors for the inhabitants after 9pm, since “it’s too late in the evening”.
When the personal data collected during the several thousands identity checks & searches since the installment of the danger zone. straight from the police files, ends up on a right-wing website (see also here).
When the Senator, responsible for Order and Regulations, is about to burst into joy, since finally they caught one of the arsonists red-handed, but it turns out to be a police-informer, and not an extreme “leftie” but an active member of the Pegida (the xenophobic right-wing movement in Germany). And the testimony of this arsonists a few years ago is one of the reasons the danger zone was installed.
When the day of the demonstration, on each and every corner at least 25 cops are standing, who keep a more than watchful eye on you, when you wait outside a bakery with a couple of other food-savers.
When our beloved senator in a press-release says, he won’t use a de-escalation-strategy, but it will be eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth, and just not starts exclaiming “this is war, baby”. And people decide not to go the demonstration, because they’re too scared.
You start to become grim.
Grim doesn’t mean violent
Let’s make clear: I hate arson. I don’t like burned-out cars. I don’t see how damaging one person’s private goods could benefit a political goal. I don’t get why you should get “personal” with a person you don’t even know. And though I don’t own a car, I’d be frikkin devastated if someone burned down my bike, on which I depend. I don’t understand how you can take the risk of collateral damage and accidentally burn something else down.
I don’t like hard words, or threats. I don’t identify with “hard-liners” (yes, I’m a bloody hippy after all). I cannot, in anyway, condone beating up a traffic cop, and next taking refuge in a house project. It not only goes against my principles to just bloody beat someone up, but running into a house project afterwards is just plain cowardly, and STUPID (again, just as most of the riot and/or violence stuff, I got this from the press or hear-say, so I might be biased and wrong about what actually happened or the background). But the subsequent invading of the house & confiscating dangerous goods such as fire-extinguishers or heating coal was completely out of proportion. And it wasn’t the first, nor the last time.
Maybe I’m just not pushed that far. And others are. It somehow reminded me of that old dutch poster “stones are no arguments” which includes a poem, ending with “but maybe stones are our first uncertain words in the only language they seem to understand”. The language of violence.
A very sad conclusion indeed.
I hate violence. Or situations, where a crowd in small streets starts panicking. And yes, I was about to shit my pants in three colors too. Not so much for being arrested or beaten up (though I really rather not, thank you, especially since I usually AM that stupid innocent bystander), but for being trampled by a crowd panicking.
How can this end….
Somewhere I still hope, the Senator responsible for the whole situation will fall flat on his face. Even from official sides, it has been made clear, the whole Danger-Zone thing is a part of his personal campaign to get elected in the “Abgeordnetenhaus” (Parliament). (Edit 13.07.2016: he actually did fall on his face.. see my next post: turns out the partial eviction of the Rigaer was illegal, this should be bad for a politician who keeps shouting about how the “legal state” should be respected.)
But I suspect somehow, the whole uproar about those dozens of wounded officers, and the whole “riot, riot, riot” screaming by the press service of the police (nicely taken over by the press, they can’t afford to pay real journalists anymore) are needed to justify bringing 1,800 cops into the neighborhood. And the heavy equipment, which was uselessly stashed away in their parking spots (but how beautifully it shined in the street lights…).
And what I’m mostly afraid of, is it will get only worse. The call of reason “maybe we should, you know, try TALKING with each other” of the people in the neighborhood and even the local parliament (of which most parties are against the whole danger zone thing) won’t be heard anymore after one pic of another of a burned-down car, or that one orange-flaring piece of pyrotechnics on the streets (I just stepped over it…) every paper published. (Edit from 13.07.2016: by now, even the german Chancellor has something to say about it: TALK. Thereby “backstabbing” her fellow party member, the Berlin Senator, who refuses to talk…)
And in the mean time, I have the feeling I’d better shut up about having taken part in the demo. Since I’m now considered to be rioteer. Someone who throws bottles and stones, or burns cars down. And where the reason *I* went to the demo (yes, scared shitless, but I won’t let myself be intimidated…), namely, to protest against this absurd danger zone where all your civil rights are suspended, and against the whole gentrification thing, is completely overshadowed by the picture of one bright orange rocket..