Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mayday

I went to possibly the most interesting party last night that I have ever experienced. Myfest is a music festival in here in Berlin which involves stages strewn across Kreuzberg and over 160 bands. No matter where you go all day and night there is music of some sort playing. What makes it so different? It takes place on Mayday and is a gathering spot for leftist and anti-capitalism activist to protest. Naturally this gets violent and in an effort to keep it under control, Berlin deployed 5000 Police officers in full riot gear. So you can probably imagine where this led.

Tension rose as the police flexed their muscles, demonstrating their presence by marching about the area on foot in patrol groups of about 50 or so. Their presence was definitely noticed. There were three types of uniforms that the police wore and I'm not exactly clear on the differences that they may have indicated. There were officers in all drab olive green, in all black, and then green with white helmets. There were also fire fighters and medics throughout the area. Right before dusk, a massive crowd marched to the Kotbusser Tor bahn station. Riots broke out as people began attacking the police with bricks, bottles, fireworks, and other projectiles. It was a back and forth scenario of people charging the police and the police charging the people. At one moment as I was running from the charging riot officers a punked-out girl gave me a stick. I quickly got rid of it because I did not exactly want to have a weapon in the event that I was confronted by a unit of officers in full riot gear. It was not my goal to get doused with pepper spray or beaten with clubs. From this initial outbreak, the feeling of us vs. them sank into the crowds mindset and the riots continued this way until around three in the morning.

Despite the riots, the music never stopped. You could be in a street that was converted into an outdoor dance party all dancing, and then a riot squad would come through and either disperse the crowd, or find the crowd was not dispersable and retreat. You either stayed put or went on to the next point. People were digging up the cobblestones and hurling them at officers. Fires were breaking out everywhere. It was so bizarre to have, say, riot police running around in the midst of a crowd listening to a ska-punk band. Such an extreme juxtaposition of authoritarianism and fuck-the-police attitude. All the while despite the violence, people were having fun, kids were dancing, food and drinks were being enjoyed, and everyone seemed mostly unafraid. As long as you payed attention and did not get yourself into a situation where you were trapped, then everything was fine.

At one point a very large fire broke out in an intersection and a very large number of police forced their way in and barricaded the intersection. I stood on a window ledge for a better view until the line of police began pushing into the crowd. I could see a large trash bin that had been set ablaze. The police were organizing into lines to hold back the crowds at the mouth of each street going into the intersection, and then a large group of officers came in and filled the entire intersection moving into the area with the fire. Bottles and rocks were sailing from everywhere into the authority filled intersection. Smoke was rising up between the buildings over the streets and all the lights cut through adding to the chaotic look of the area.

Before Mayday, comes Walpurgis Nacht. On April 30th, there is celebration which involves having bonfires in order to ward off any evil spirits, and to celebrate the coming of May and Spring. I spent most of the evening with friends at a cocktail party. After many stark mojitos, a few of us set our for Mauer Park to catch some of the closing parties. There were signs of chaos: broken glass, melted piles of portable toilets that had been set ablaze, and random debris everywhere. We gathered around one of the last bonfires and listened to the people playing guitars and singing.

In Köpenick, neo-nazi demonstrations organized by the NPD took place. Needless to say I stayed away from Köpenick and stuck to Kreuzberg. Apparently there was lots of violence there as well. The police ended up shutting down the Köpenick bahn station sometime around midday.

Mayday is of course a national holiday here in Germany, as well as various other countries. Everyone has the day off from school and work to celebrate. Three-day weekend! When I go back to school, I will be starting a higher level of language courses. I'm a bit nervous, but I think with some extra practice, and If I can ever get myself to memorize a few certain things, it will be fine.

Check out some of the following links for some exciting photos videos and articles detailing some of events over the past two days. Enjoy!

Articles:
Arrest and parties mark start of May 1
Police battle Mayday protesters
Walpurgis Nacht on Wikipedia

Pictures:
Excellent Pics from Kreuzberg
Pics from the Kreuzberg riots
More Berlin riot pics

Video:
Action shots before and after dark, 3 short interviews
More scrambling groups of people

Update: I was on the train this evening and saw on the little bahn info screens that there were 289 arrests and 273 injured politzei yesterday.

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