It’s pretty weird to read the entitlement with which some online detectives will use a couple of sources (YouTube videos or in best case observations of witnesses in this year’s Schanze demonstrations) to proof that the aggression we saw in what turned into the riots a few days ago in my neighborhood were started by the police. I think the situation is far more complex than what they try to show, and I don’t want to proof the opposite, following Twitter feeds during the whole Saturday and reading more objective reports, I can only wonder if the police chose the best strategy for this occasion, which for the stories I hear from long time residents in this area, the better question is if a good strategy has ever been chosen to deal with the yearly situation of the Schanze.
What I worry about, is that those directly blaming the police for the outcome, really believe that if the police had taken no action and allowed the riots to run a more “natural”course, there would have been none of the damage and violence we witnessed.
What I can say as a resident of the area, and someone that lived at least the last two protests (had to cross them after practicing some Ruby with a friend in a bar, had a few dinners that turned noisy and even a bit worrisome or going home after work getting out of the subway or simply heard them or saw them from a window), is that a not always inconsiderable part of the protesters consider the demonstrations an “event” to attend and don’t know the topics that the protests intend to address, many have very limited or no information on the reasons for which they are standing up.
A friend of mine, a very long term resident of the city talks of “riot tourists” which is a strong statement on its own. I believe it is not a very far fetched thesis to assume that the very heated up (to which I could believe recent policy has definitely contributed) atmosphere of last weekend’s demonstrations was built up by many people that the protests attracted from other parts in Germany and even abroad.
The police strategy actually doesn’t matter all that much
I heard that in the last years the police has come up with very different approaches to deal with the unpredictable Schanze protests. Yes, there were concepts in which the police tried to stay out of it as much as possible and the situation ended up in violence and vandalism anyway. An example is what happened in the 2009 attack of the police station a couple of blocks away from my apartment in what vandals called a very “boring Schanzenfest”, as they missed the contact with the police and went therefore looking for them.
What I do find daring is to blame the police for the situation that turned the protest into a riot when protesters showed up armed with fireworks and other objects. That situation alone should be able to show anyone with common sense that those individuals did not have the intention to demonstrate peacefully for the preservation of the Rote Flora, the Esso Houses or the right to stay of refugees. It is actually sad that the topic the demonstrations meant to address felt out of the center of attention and that vandals acted as if taking justice in their own hands instead of bringing back up to sight the political themes and views that seem to be often forgotten.
It s an absolute shame that we get trapped in the stereotype of friend or enemy of the demonstrations rather than becoming conscious or active for the content goals of the demonstrations to become a center point of the local political agenda.
At some point this Saturday seemed to be an event for anyone that wanted to complaint but anything or nothing at all or maybe a zeitgeist of all the protests and topics that were discussed in 2013
The Quarter that shares the demonstrations political view is the one damaged the most.
Broken windows, broken signs, burned cars, and bicycles. Empty businesses on the day its usually most alive, Saturday.
Leaving on the side that the quarter in which I live was again vandalized, and it is the quarter in which most sympathetic citizens and supporters of the demonstrations and its ideas live still (fairly so, the topics the demonstrations attempted to address are important ones) I have heard a couple of things that on the risk of sounding extremely German and petty, have become a concern for me: The route the protests followed is not the same route the city authorized for security reasons. It may seem like a small thing, but it speaks loudly of the behavior exhibited by the small groups that were unable to see the difference.
What is the consequence of this? Walking (a bit scared) towards a gathering I organized with a group of friends I found 20 – 30 policemen in each corner I crossed. Living close to the venue where we met I came across 60 -90 policemen. My friends also encountered a large amount of policemen as they came from different directions. To make our streets safe that night, the Hamburg police requested the support from policemen al over Germany… Bayern, Cologne, etc. Take a few minutes… how many policemen were on duty in that night? What are the extra costs that need to be incurred? Policemen do not receive flamboyant salaries by any mean, but this very expensive night was paid by my taxes and those of others that would maybe consider their money could be put to better use than the control of violence and vandalism in a city in a night. You know, things like hospitals, schools, infrastructure, pensions, etc.
A funny fact in all this is that in the district of Altona, where most affected residents live, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) is supporting the preservation of the Rote Flora and the tolerance of the Lampedusa refuges. But based on what you see, I bet that only 10% of those throwing stones and bottles know this at all, if they are interested in knowing this at all.
What do I hope for the future?
I live in Altona-Schanze-St. Pauli because it is the symbol of diversity and tolerance in the city of Hamburg, where there are cultural, economic, politic differences that make it lively and a pleasure to live in. Yet, last Saturday:
1. I didn’t visit my local supermarket.
2. I didn’t go to the drugstore.
3. I didn’t visit the vegetable shop that sells organic local produce.
4. I didn’t visit the atelier of a local designer or cut my hair in the usual one man shop.
5. My friends and I didn’t go for dinner at the local pizzeria.
6. I chose a place to meet my friends for a special occasion considering the chances of trouble. My friends were nervous to come see me for one of the last time, some almost didn’t show, or didn’t show at all.
7. Everyone got warned not to wear black.
8. The iconic punk bar I chose is usually full but this time, we were the only ones there. And we were worried about the windows where we could see four police vans protected the ATMS of the state owned bank.
9. Our conversations inevitably were focused on fear. A group that usually doesn’t care about political opinions to base friendship was often polarized. Talked about broken or stolen property, insulting graffiti at the door, etc.
10. When considering going to a next venue, most declined the idea and preferred to stay inside or go home. Best case, wait longer.
We woke up the next day, hoping this was only a one day thing, not like the last time.
I support freedom of speech and the freedom to gather that any of us in this country have. My hope is that the organizers of demonstrations will disinvite individuals that only have intentions of violence and vandalism if there is a way to identify them in advance. Do this openly and publicly. It is the only way in which one will be able to take tolerance as the starting point of demonstrations and protests in Schanze.
For residents of the area safety is becoming a more important issue, and violence and vandalization should no longer be tolerated. The damage incurred (NOT ONLY during protests) puts the livelihood of many at risk. The doors and windows that get broken or spray painted without distinction don’t always belong to the large corporations that they are meant to go against. Usually it is the small business owners that make this area the quarter we so much love and give us a diverse scene and range of products and services, those who are not able to find a policy that will cover them for their damages anymore and that will often times have to pay from their own pocket for replacements, repainting, etc.
And for us, residents, who love street art in the area, we are sick of waking up to our doors or windows scratched, with cheap spray painted phrases such as “Yuppies get out of here!”… That is not graffiti. It happens often to my own building; Little do they know that most residents of the house live here longer before Schanze was trendy, a majority are born here, longer before rents became ridiculously high… A single mother with three kids, an artist, a sailor, an immigrant and a blue collar worker. We hardly qualify as yuppies but those who do it wouldn’t care to ask, would they?