i shot this picture yesterday during the peaceful and inspiring assamblea in front of the reichstag, which boasts in huge letters: “dem deutschen volke” (for the german people).
what started as a highly inspiring day, with 10,000 berliners joining the (rather quickly organized) demonstration in solidarity with people worldwide, quickly turned ugly in the evening when the police violently interrupted the peaceful assamblea pictured above.
the assamblea (using the human mic technique learned from the #occupywallstreet movement) identified two working groups to plan for shelter and food for the camp, which were given an hour to discuss and report back to everybody. meanwhile, two tents and a beach shelter were set up onsite in the fashion of the acampada movement, as the nightly temperatures in berlin make necessary. groups of 15-20 policemen then entered the sitting crowd and went after the tents and camping mats (another good video), destroying them in the process.
the police then retreated, and the assamblea continued to discuss how to deal with the situation. it was announced that the reason behind police operation was that our presence was tolerated, but the tents were not (thx for making it clear after using force!). two tents were set up again, and then it was announced that those would be tolerated for now. then the food arrived and was distributed, hope soared that this was the beginning of a meaningful movement – so much solidarity was in the air. unfortunately, the police then moved in and took away the food of the protesters, without explaining their reasons for doing so.
the next police attack started after it was dark– using flood lights to heighten the unreal atmosphere. multiple groups of 15-20 policemen (usually 2-3 operating at the same time) would forcefully push themselves into the group of sitting demonstrators, and pull out anything that would help keep them warm: sleeping bags, (rescue) blankets, even simply the cardboard on which they sat. that’s when i witnessed brutal police violence against peaceful citizens: one person being brutally punched in the face, and two rows in front of me people were being peppersprayed for no apparent reason. i didn’t witness it myself, but heard that even batons were used to clear the way.
the problem was, that it was not clear to anybody, what the mission of this offensive was, not even giving people the chance to comply and heightening the perceived level of aggression. the fact that multiple groups were operating at the same time made it hard for the photographers to document what was going on, and since i haven’t yet found a good picture showing anything (one from the use of pepperspray in the afternoon), the police tactic to avoid being pictured seems to have worked out. other reports even say that some journalists were not allowed on the premises.
in the end, the police cleared the area with force, again pretty (unneccesarily) rough, people being punched and kicked, cops kneeling on young women, and the released people being shoved to the ground again. videos here and here.
afterwards, people weren’t even allowed to stand where the police initially suggested it would be OK for them, but were threatened so they move to brandenburger tor. about 100 people arrived there, and were swiflty surrounded by police again, who started arresting people that did not leave those premises. this was the end of the day for me.
so much on what happened from my perspective, now some thoughts:
as in new york, it seems that the mainstream media is not giving this much coverage in the beginning. the intellectual capacity of the author of a report in the “former newsmagazine” was especially disappointing, and i’m not going to link there. most reports pigeonholed the demonstration as an anti-bank protest, which is not very accurate. jacob jung made a great post on why it was more than that. [EDIT: also great in german: jule’s video, and i think this guy’s fundamental critique of money creation is spot on] i think the lesson from the various demonstrations around the world this year is that the protest needs to be sustained. just one ‘day of action’ will not show the urgency of the issue, and not get the attention that is needed. so, if this is going to become a real movement, these kinds of demonstrations need to continue and the need to be productive.
i’m still split on the issue whether this has to be in front of the symbolic reichstag building to show the hypocrisy in our political system that will not let citizens assemble in front of the national legislative assembly; or whether this confrontation with the police takes too much time that could better be spent discussing the reasons for their engagement in the movement or finding a way out of the mess we have gotten ourselves into. i’m slightly leaning towards the latter though.
the most ironic fact of the day was that the police was behaving illegally themselves on two accounts: 1. they were not wearing ID badges as they are legally obliged to do now in berlin, 2. police are not allowed to film a demonstration without proper reason. these were the same people that (sometimes even literally) kicked peaceful demonstrators out of the square in front of a symbolic building whose lit up façade reads “dem deutschen volke”. after all, it’s a constitutional basic right to assemble freely and demonstrate, and a demonstration needs to be within sight/earshot of those that the message should reach. this “bannmeile”, which stems from a law from 1920, is absolutely ridiculous. happy to see that the pirate party is going to ask the right questions, although i doubt that much will come of it.
what a sad day for a democracy that once wrote ‘freedom of assembly’ into its constitution. chapeau to the demonstrators who kept it peaceful on their side till the end.
[EDIT: i want to make clear that most policemen did their jobs more or less without malice against their fellow citizens. i don’t want to give them all a bad reputation. it’s just sad that those offenders will probably not see any consequences!]
[UPDATE: on sunday, there were around 400 people on the lawn in front of the reichstag again, discussing in an assamblea. it was not a ‘versammlung’ however, since those must have a leader (‘versammlungsleiter’) and need to be registered. it seems like people will continue this throughout the week, at 3pm infos usually via alex11.org or facebook, livestream via castortv]
[UPDATE: two more great reports in english by victoria and flourlumps]