Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Mayday, Mayday

In Musings on May 2, 2010 at 9:56 am

It’s May 2, 2010. The location: Kreuzberg, Berlin.

I arrived at Schonefeld 8 in the morning, May day. I had slept 2 hours the night before, but managed to indulge in my fair share of coffee and pork sandwiches to keep me going until I found the apartment I would be crashing in. I forgot my toothbrush back in London and I have been committed to finding one ever since I landed. After a quick meet and greet with relations, I spent the afternoon touring Kreuzberg and the surrounding area, sucking in the feel of this seemingly tranquil city. This is my first trip to Berlin and I was unsure what to expect. I heard loads of rumors and comments of how friendly the city and its inhabitants are, and I am positively surprised that the gossip turned out to be true.

May 1 is International worker’s day and a whole bunch of people had gathered around Kreuzberg’s oranienplatz to celebrate Communism, 
Marxism and Socialism, as well as to boldly condemn Nazism and Capitalism. The different speakers were particularly fervent in their damning of Nazism, something which, at times, seemed slightly forced. The Nazis themselves had organized a parade this day, and I can easily understand how the collective German volksgeist would rally and confront such an event head-on. They had decorated their respective stands in bright red socialist slogans “Capitalism is organized crime” read one, “Anti-Nazism, Anti-Capitalism” read another. The Dj’s spun some energizing tunes, and people were already banding together to forming cohesive troupes, as if preparing to fight the system with the power of interpretive dance.  The atmosphere was electric, but it reminded me more of a music festival than an ideological sponsored political rally. As one guy was shouting “Nazis are shit” through a massive speaker, most people were just standing still, leisurely nursing their beers while chatting amicably with one and other. I went for some early lunch, had a quick discussion about culture and then went back to the apartment for a few hours of well-deserved rest. The toothbrush remained unprocured.

Around six in the evening we went for dinner in Friedrichshain. I had some falafel. It was delicious. We then went for a walk back towards Kreuzberg to find a shop that sold toothbrushes (I really wanted to brush my teeth). As we were peacefully strolling down a cobblestone road, admiring the mild Berlin night, a massive crowd of chanting, dancing and marching people came boiling into the street. The atmosphere shifted immediately and we were caught up in a wave of passionate disorder. The whole ordeal was very exciting, people were yelling and chanting their socialist jingles, the street was quickly littered with broken bottles, plastic cups and splintered signs. A car’s window was smashed by brick, and the crowd gained momentum. We came to one of the streets leading down to orianenplatz, and I witnessed the dramatic process of a police van being bounced from side to side amidst a rabble of protesters. Again the atmosphere changed, this time violence was in the air. We could all hear yelling and whistling from around one of the corners and moved closer to see what was happening. Out of nowhere bottles streaked through the air and came crashing down ahead of me. The shatter of glass on pavement was followed by an eerie silence, which culminated into the thunderous stomping of a few dozen humans running for their sorry lives. The crowd ahead of me heaved, buckled and broke as panicky, pack mentality gripped me. I shot around and started sprinting as fast as I could the way I had come. The whole crowd dispersed as green, flack-armoured riot police descended on those stupid (or drunk) enough who decided to stand their ground. It was exhilarating, amazing and terrifying all at the same time. Interestingly, the only thing I could think as I ran was “fuck, now I’m never getting a toothbrush.”

We spent the rest of the night trawling the mean-streets of a raging Berlin, looking for a zahnbürste. A task that would ultimately prove impossible. The riot was clearly a halfhearted measure. Thousands of people stand aimlessly around Kreuzberg strasse gawping at the military efficiency of the police as they patrol and secure areas in proper regimental standard. It is truly striking how cooly efficient the police force handles the situation. Different divisions acting independently of one another, responding rapidly to any sign of violent disturbance amongst the populace. I was literally bugged by a journalist and prompted to go and talk to one of the armour clad police officers. I asked about the unit structure and how the peacekeeping force was organized during the riot, I also asked about the differing colours on the uniforms of the policemen (some wore green, some black, and some blue) He happily answered my questions. Explaining in broken English that during May day, Berlin calls in landespolizei from all the different German states. These are clad in green and dark-blue uniforms. Traditionally they only wore green uniforms, but since 2005 they have been changing the colour scheme. There were several large armoured vehicles and water cannons stationed around us, they all bore the mark “Bündespolizei.” When further prompted with my inquisitive nature on who they were, he smiled knowingly and told me that they were the Federal police force, (clad in black riot-gear) entitled with the task of protecting the borders, subways, federal buildings and providing internal security. In many ways they inherited the mantle of the Wehrmacht, and they had come to supplement the forces of the Landespolizei. We shared a cigarette and shook hands. My mission was complete. I returned to my grinning acquaintances, the hero of the hour. Many of the streets have been shut down, and the police were forming strategic checkpoints, forcing people to either persuade the stationed officers to let them pass by convincing them that they live in the isolated areas, or just by whining enough. The latter seemed to work for us.

I’m currently sitting in the kitchen of my sisters apartment listening to homemade bombs going off in the distance, raging crowds and the Bündespolizei cracking heads.

I ended up brushing my teeth with my finger.