11.9.14

Rooftop Protestors Say Police Withheld Food, Water

The nine men who were living on the roof of a Friedrichshain hostel to protest their sudden eviction from it by police two weeks ago, have finally come down for health reasons. Yesterday, they told a Taz reporter that the police withheld food that was brought up to them by well-wishers, and then ate it in front of their eyes. Police also denied water to a protestor who had tuberculosis, and a police doctor refused to examine the man close-up.  
This translated article from the Taz has more details...


BERLIN taz | The rooftop squatters at a refugee hostel in Friedrichshain Gürtelstraße have raised some serious allegations against the Berlin police and politicians. They say that an official statement that was made last Saturday, claiming that the protesters were regularly examined by a police doctor during their rooftoop occupation, is a lie.

"In 13 days a doctor came twice, but he remained ten feet away from us," said Mohamed Danko from Niger on Tuesday, at a press conference that was held in Oranienplatz by the rooftop squatters.

Since the end of the rooftop occupation, Danko has come to a bitter conclusion: "There are no human rights for refugees in Germany, there is no democracy and no freedom for blacks." On Sunday evening, the rooftop squatters ended their protest. On Tuesday, eight of them reported from Oranienplatz to say how they were treated during their 13-day blockade.

The police largely denied them water and food over the 13-day period, as well as access to lawyers or pastors - a fact which still leaves Danko and the other men stunned. "I'm amazed that the interior minister is now saying that our asylum agreement is invalid. And that a court allows the police to starve us," says Danko. Over three days, the men got half a liter of water a day for nine men, says Ibrahim Amadou. "There was a bit of bread for Mohamed because he is sick. But for the rest of us, there was nothing. "

Mohamed Danko, who is suffering from tuberculosis, was given his medicine by the police after two days, although they gave it to him without water initially. Eventually he was given some water, but no solid food, as his doctor said it necessary for him to have. "I asked the police: 'Is that how they do it with you, over here?'" says Danko. "And he said: 'Yes, it’s just the way it is here.'"

Danko, Amadou and a third man with the first name Saidu also report that police officers kept the food that was brought to them by residents and a pastor, and then ate it in front of their eyes.

"The police said to us: 'If you do not come down you will die. No one cares about you, you will be forgotten.’  That is why we are down - we did not want to die, "says Saidu.

Danko says: "In Africa we have experienced hunger and war, and we came here to survive, not to die." They are not criminals; they want to live in peace in Berlin, and study and work.

Saidu says the decisive factor for the end of their protest was that Danko had to give up the rooftop occupation for health reasons; he came down in the early hours of Sunday. In addition, the only non-policeman who was allowed to go to them, the pastor of Kreuzberg Holy Cross Church,  has offered to give the men a month in his community property.  They are now living there in offices without beds or a place to retreat. What's next after that? The men do not know.

Meanwhile, the rest of the 50 or so evictees from that hostel are still living rough.  You can show support for them by dropping by Guertelstrasse park camp (at the corner of Frankfurter Allee) or checking out the info stand in Oranienplatz.

9.9.14

Thank F*ck for FuPa!


 

Before heading out to F*ck Parade last Saturday, I saw a tweet that described the streetparty-demonstration as being 'anti-everything'.  I don't think that's necessarily true.  

It's true that FuPa (as it's also known) was founded in 1997 as an antidote to the Love Parade; as a way for Berlin's underground ravers to extend a middle finger at the hyper-commercial parade that had branded their city.  It's true that the Fuck Parade sometimes attracts a few macho types who think that it's an excuse to barge through dense crowds, instead of dancing.  And it's true that the parade's political message usually consists of a series of banners with words like 'Tourismuscheizze' and 'Gentrification' crossed out on them.  But I think that the Fuck Parade pulls loads of people to Berlin year after year because of what it stands for, not because of what it stands against.  

It stands for the no-frills unity that can only happen when you trawl a line of sound systems through a densely-populated area, pumping out repetitive techno beats that can be heard from miles away, through doors, windows, walls and cement.  

It stands for turning an entire city into a dancefloor.  Forget about queuing up or dressing up: if you can hear it, you can dance to it.  It doesn't get much more egalitarian than that.  

It stands for grabbing people - who are either off their heads and dancing, or scratching their heads and wondering what the hell just hit them - and pulling them into the public spotlight.  It is for encouraging them to do whatever they want under the cover of musical mayhem, without fear or ridicule.  

It is for shattering the silence of all the newly-finished luxury blocks that dot the city's streets, forbidding to the average Berliner despite being nearly empty.     

It stands for giving a venue to underground scenes that cannot afford to put on a flashy club night; that are too edgy to be sponsored by a big brand name.  And it's for doing that right in the middle of Berlin every single year.  Every year, more of the hardcore faithful from around Germany and Europe come here to take advantage of it.  

We ended the night dancing to bassy, bouncy techno pulsing out of a van backed up against a graffiti covered, abandoned train platform in one of those last surviving parts of old Berlin; a badland of eroded grass.  It was bordered by the chrysalis of an emerging, modernized Ostkreuz station on one side, and by blocks of million-Euro flats housed in renovated GDR blocks on the other... a nameless, faceless, in-between zone that exists just to be lived in and used, not branded and admired from a remote distance.  That's the Berlin of the F*ck Parade and all its followers.  And like that strip of badlands where the parade ended, that Berlin is being eroded away a bit at a time, year after year.  FuPa's annual occupation of those kinds of spaces keeps them open for the public.  Whether you like their music or not, it's hard not to agree with that spirit. 

But I loved the music, along with several thousand other people. 

As I was leaving the parade, I don't remember thinking, 'Thank god I didn't dress up / pay too much money / around stand on the sidelines'.  I only remember thinking about the people who I did laugh with... talk to... dance beside.  I thought about all the one-off scenarios that were born on the streets as the parade passed through them, that would be stillborn without free events like this one.  I thought about that guy moving an armchair down the street while a crowd of ravers surged fluidly around him... the white haired residents smiling at us from their balconies... the endless re-combinations of cheap booze, strange props, masks, hats, idealistic T-shirt slogans and extreme music, every which way I looked...

...and then I thought, 'Thank f*ck for the F*ck Parade!'  It might be anti-all the things that are making Berlin a more restrictive place but if you think about it, that only means that it's pro-freedom. 

A 2011 view of Kynaststrasse in Rummelsburg, where the parade ended.



6.9.14

Burned Out: Berlin's Refugee Crisis Continues


'Racism over all: open your eyes'.  Chalk graffiti on the sidewalk outside Guertelstrasse

Last weekend, I  found myself having to take a cab to Schoenfeld because the S-Bahn wasn’t running on that track, due to a burned-out cable.  According to Local.de, a group of activists claimed responsibility for this sabotage.  They claimed that they did it because they wanted draw attention to the unfair treatment of a group of refugees who are facing deportation from Berlin.

When I was in Guertelstrasse park last night, where those same refugees are currently living, an activist who I spoke to brushed off that suggestion.

“I had trouble to get to this park  to help the refugees because of this train problem,” says Anya, who is also a university student.  “Why would we sabotage the train when it makes us harder for us to help them?”

It does seem likely that this story of pro-refugees activist sabotaging train lines is just another escalation of the dirty war that’s being waged on people like Anya by the Berlin authorities.

So far, that dirty war has seen the Berlin Senate negotiating a deal with those same refugees, promising them a place to live, and then going back on the deal at the last minute.   

The refugee group, who collectively refer to themselves as Lampedusa, were divided over whether they should accept the deal that the Berlin Senate offered them, back in April. Some of them believed that they should stay at the derelict school that they had been living in up until that point, in Ohlauer Strasse, Kreuzberg.  The idea of having a place to finally call ‘home’ must have been compelling after months, or even years, of being moved around from country to country, holding cell to camp.

The other half of refugees in the school hoped that the authorities were finally on their side.  They went ahead and signed the deal offered to them by the Berlin Senate, which gave them a right to stay in a hostel, and a stipend of 300 Euros per month.

Unfortunately, the first group’s fears were proven right.  Twelve days ago the Berlin Senate suddenly went back on its deal with the refugees.  Police came to the two hostels where the refugees were living and told them to leave.  They came in large numbers, with riot vans, and blockaded the streets around the hostels.  Such shows of brute force  have become routine in every encounter between the Berlin authorities and the Lampedusa refugees.  The eviction was yet another in a long line of naked attempts by the authorities to intimidate the refugees into submission.  

The police had eviction orders and deportation orders in hand when they arrived at the hostels; they told the refugees that they had one day to move out and leave town.  “They told me, ‘just disappear, you are not wanted here,’” says one of the evictees. 

The reason for this sudden change of heart by the Berlin Senate?  Supposedly, the deal that the refugees had signed was witnessed by a member of staff who did not have the correct authorization.  The agreement was supposedly rendered null and void as a result of this, a clerical error. 

Not one person that I spoke to believes this is the real reason why the agreement was broken, though.  They feel it was planned from the start.  The refugees I spoke to feel that they were deliberately lured away from the school where they were receiving a lot of public support, and split up.  They see it as a cynical, divide-and-conquer strategy.

Yesterday Anya and a group of other activists went to the Ministry of the Interior and tried to speak to someone there about the situation at the hostel, which has deteriorated to the point of being a life-threatening crisis, no one would speak to them.  They were quickly removed from the premises by police - physically lifted off the ground and dropped on the kerb, like unwanted furniture.  

Frank Henkel [the Minister of the Interior] decides over the life of people there; I think he should be there and see the results, and see what he is doing here.  Instead, he stays inside his house, in his warm bed.”

The longer you stay at the Guertelstrasse camp, the more dirty tactics you witness in action.  Anya, who is studying to become a social worker (“I’d better check when my exams are so I don’t miss them,” she joked)  told me that the police had forbidden the refugees to eat hot food in the park.  The police also enforced an obscure regulation that forbade the use of mattresses in the park. Storing too much food there is also verboten.  Basically, any petty regulation that the police can come up with that might help to break the refugees’ spirit gets implemented in a hurry.   By contrast, if you walk through Tiergarten you can see semi-permanent camps set up by white homeless people which include stoves, mattresses, pillows, guitars, the lot.  This just adds to the stinging sense that these refugees have been singled out for extra-malicious treatment. 

“They look for things they can find to stress us,” says Anya.  “We can’t give out food here.  We always had people who cooked for us and brought food here in the evening for us and it was very nice for the mood if you can eat together.  Now, the police does not want us to eat this warm food together, and so we have to care that they don’t see us.  I don’t understand it.  They just try to split our groups and stress us out, so that we don’t have power to stay here.”

“They are trying to aushunger,” she adds, and explains that aushunger means 'to starve out'.  “They also use the tactic of psychological starvation.”  She indicates a police van stationed on the sidewalk next to the park, blocking the view of the hostel, where a number of refugees are sitting on the roof in an attempt to avoid eviction.  “We can’t see the people [on the roof] anymore.  We were always there,” she points to the sidewalk. “We had music, they were dancing on the roof and we were dancing over there.  We could give them a little bit of support and now we can’t see them. We can’t really support them.”    

With all the political maneuvering and press misrepresentation that’s going on with regards to the refugees and their activist supporter, it’s very easy to lose sight of the real issue: these people are seeking refuge from war, persecution, rape, and torture. 

"I was not planning to come here,” says another refugee that I speak to. He comes from Liberia.  “I didn’t say to myself, ‘Hey, I want to set myself up in Germany and get a good job and make lots of money, take away a job from a German guy.’  I came here because of a calamity.”

These are people on the run from conditions that make Berlin’s most petty bureaucratic cruelties seem like a walk in the park… or maybe it would be more accurate to say ‘a camp in the park’, given the circumstances.  All of the members of the Lampedusa group that I spoke to expressed a yearning to go home... but they can't.  That's kind of the whole point of asylum in the first place, a point which the entire Berlin government seems to have collectively forgotten.  And while asylum is meant to be a temporary solution, there is no reason why it has to feel as temporary as this.  The temporariness of Lampedusa’s situation seems like it's being wielded as a weapon by the German authorities, to inflict further damage on survivors of atrocities that they themselves could barely imagine.  

“I’m originally from Mali,” says one of the refugees, who chose to remain anonymous.  “In 2013 there was a conflict when Tuareg rebels tried to conquer the government, and separate the country into two nations.  And those people were trying to impose Sharia law, so it was very, very hard.  That area where I’m from were raids by Tuareg rebels and bombarded for 24 hours; no one can enter, no one can go out.  So after that bombardment some guys survived, including me.  I managed to leave the place and struggled harder and harder to go to Algeria… Morocco… and then I get the chance to get to Spain… and then Germany…”

There is a sense that these people are going around in ever-diminishing circles, shedding their freedom and their humanity with every loop they make, but getting nothing in return.  And they know it, too.  At one point yesterday, a slight man who was thrumming with wound-up energy walked around the camp ranting, “Go back to your beds!  Drink some beer and go to the club!  Laugh and have some fun!” His voice was strained with frustration, from the knowledge that however loud he shouts, the government simply doesn't want to hear.  And the public can't hear, due to the virtual media blackout that surrounds the refugees.  For the most part, the white supporters in the park listened and muttered agreement with the ranting man, some nodding.  They seemed to get his frustration.  That is the one small mercy at Guertelstrasse; the people who come by to spend time with the refugees actually get it.  Or at the very least, they’re trying to. 

Anya says, “It would be good to have some people here who can handle traumatized people, and some crisis intervention because we have a lot of traumatized people here and the situation is really critical.  The people are suffering a lot.  Also, the police terror affects them a lot, and the racist people around…"  She explains that they've been harassed by neo-Nazis on a few occasions, although they were always outnumbered by supporters.  

I ask her what else people can do to help: "Sleeping places are always needed," she says, "because we have a lot of people here now who don’t know how to sleep.  There are more people getting kicked out of their hostels from the government.  So it will be more people who don’t know how to sleep; who are illegalized, and don’t get any help from the government.  And the problem is that we have a lot of people here drinking a lot of alcohol [due to stress].”  The fact that eating is banned in the park but alcohol consumption is not, is as ridiculous as it is unsurprising.  Another weapon in the dirty war, only this time, it's a weapon that the refugees are wielding themselves.  

Later on in the night, the ranting man finally calms down.  A female activist puts her arms around him, talking him out of it.  The rest of the one or two hundred people there remain peaceful and good-natured throughout.  Despite the occasional emotionally-charged scene, there is a sense of invisible stability in the form of their persistent presence and support.  It almost transcends the solid, physical security of having a roof over one’s head.  Solidarity, in the form of spiritual support, is almost a tangible concept here; you can almost reach out and touch it.   Only the city officials are preventing it from becoming something more solid still. 
Capoeira dancers drop by Guertelstrasse camp to raise everybody's spirits

The people walking to and from a nearby shopping mall, reading the tiny, biased articles about this movement in the right wing press and then dismissing it without a kneejerk reaction; they are the ones that this movement has yet to reach.   

The Berlin police are, once again, proving instrumental in preventing this.  They've put up a physical cordon around the hostel that keeps everyone - even the press - out.  Ostensibly it's there to protect the public because the people who have been staging a sit-in on the hostel’s roof for the past 12 days have said that they will jump if the police try to take them down.  But no media, or medics, or lawyers are allowed through the cordon either.  The last time the rooftop protestors received any supplies, they got six liters of water and that was several days ago.    To the police, the health and safety of 'the people' is paramount... but tellingly, they don't include refugees - much less protesting ones - in that category. 

28.8.14

Swapping One War Zone for Another: the Refugee Situation in Oranienplatz


"Politicians do not just want to evict buildings like the school in Ohlauer Straße or the house we squatted. In our opinion they want to evict movements, they want to evict the possibility of free decision making and self-organization. They are sneaking out of their responsibility on the cost of marginalized people."

Squattinggroup Berlin, via Indymedia

August 27, 2014: Oranienplatz, Kreuzberg.

They all had different skin colours, and different accents.  But whether they were fat or thin, short or tall, young or old, they all shared a certain calm, resigned strength.  Their eyes, too, shared an intelligent gleam that had been dulled to a persistent, smouldering glow.   

A few words with any of them reassured me that these people - refugees, mostly male - had not come to Germany just for fun.  Their absolute certainty in their reasons for fleeing their homelands didn’t even need to be expressed in words; it just sort of emanated from every pore.  It was just a matter of fact.

I looked around Oranienplatz.  It was almost entirely encircled with police.  Close to a hundred officers of the law were circling, hovering at a safe distance, eyeing the mixed group of 30 or 40 activists and refugees who were clustered around a bowed-but-unbeaten info stand located near the center of the platz.  With tight jaws and grim faces, the police seemed to be on high alert: constantly, inconspicuously maneuvering themselves to cover every angle of Oranientplatz, like members of the SWAT team on field operations.  They were mostly male, too, but hulking and towering over the rest of us, padded in black, armoured uniforms.The kind of uniforms that they’d normally put on to face down stone-throwing rioters.   Many were staring at us with open expressions of contempt and disgust; some looked like they could barely stand the sight of us and yearned to erase us from view.

As I watched, a group of eight or nine police suddenly splintered off from their ranks and marched toward a group of black men sitting inconspicuously in the grass, off to one side of the square.  Six-foot tall officers surrounded a painfully-thin man with Somali features who was sitting on a low metal fence.  They waded through his friends and started hustling him to his feet with brute force.  The Somali man was almost a foot shorter than the officers and made no attempt to get away; he didn't even try to move.  His face crumpled with despair and physical pain, though, as one gorilla-like cop locked each of his arms in the crook of their elbows, with biceps tightly flexed. It looked like his arms might snap in half, they were so thin. He was frog-marched in this humiliating fashion toward the road that cuts through Oranienplatz.  On the other side of it sat a flotilla of parked riot vans.  The cops were moving so briskly that the refugee was lifted up off of his feet, clamped between these hardened, robotic beings that seemed like they were made of flexed brawn.   

He didn’t make a sound as he was dragged away and vanished into a van. 

“This is a police state," cried an older activist at them as they passed, looking visibly shaken.  A blonde-haired, muscle bound cop standing near the street laughed.

“Welcome to it!” he jeered.  

I ask one of the organizers of the Oranienplatz protest - a show of solidarity with 108 recently- rejected Berlin refugees - what was going on.  Had that Somali man just been arrested?  She was a nervy young woman with long dreads, her hair shaved at the sides.

 “They have a list of the people who are to be deported,” she said.   “They recognize them from and pull them out.  They have pictures beside the names.”

“What happens to them then?”

She shrugged.  “They take him in the van and tell him what will happen if he does not leave the country.”

Apparently, one of the refugees was held in a van, a kind of mobile intimidation chamber, for eight hours yesterday.   Presumably he was beig browbeaten the entire time by military-style police, threatening him to leave or else.  No one really knows, though.  Everything that happens to Berlin’s refugees happens in isolation, without witnesses or accountability, by design.   Is this Germany's idea of transparency?  If so, then it should consider painting the glass dome on the Bundestag black. 

August 26, 2014: Gurtelstrasse, Friedrichshain.

I spent the night outside of a hostel in Gurtelstrasse where 64 refugees were moved a couple of months ago, after being evicted from the abandoned school they'd occupied in Kreuzberg’s Ohlauer Strasse.  They'd squatted the abandoned school as part of an ongoing protest against the German refugee system.  Activists call this system the lager.  Lager is the German word for a basement or storage room.  It’s an apt term for the policy, which sees refugees confined to a single neighbourhood and residence, under close watch - not unlike inmates in a compound.  
While they’re waiting for their cases to be decided, refugees in the lager are subject to a curfew and must show their I.D. every time that they go in and out of their residence. Apparently, they're not even allowed to have guests visit them.  They have no right to work or move freely in the country and few chances to socialize.  Basically, they exist in a state of suspended animation for up to six months, where only the bare minimum of basic human needs stand a chance of being fulfilled.  The need to integrate and acclimatize, to learn the language, to socialize, to be productive?  They aren't included on the list.  

Out of sight is out of mind.

After they were evicted from the school, there was a brutal and un-photogenic standoff.  It made it into the mainstream media, despite an attempted blackout; police denied the press any access to the school and its occupants.  Despite the fact that nearly a thousand (that's right, a thousand) armoured police were present at the eviction of Ohlauer Strasse, they failed to evict the refugees, in large part due to public pressure to let them stay.  One hundred and eight of the refugees remained at the end of the standoff, and those were offered a settlement by the Berlin Senate: they got free accommodation in two hostels in Friedrichshain and Mariensfelde and an allowance of three hundred Euros per month to live on, while their asylum cases were being evaluated.   

It seemed like baby steps were being made towards meeting the refugee's demands, and they were finally being treated like human beings.  

Then, on Monday, the agreement was suddenly and inexplicably broken.  Scores of armoured police turned up in force at the hostels where the refugees now live, and they were told that their applications had been rejected en masse.  They were to be evicted on Tuesday, the following day.  According to one activist who I spoke to in Gurtelstrasse, the police were carrying deportation orders for some of the refugees when they arrived.   

The  eviction of Gurtelstrasse and the Mariensfelde hostel appear to violate the Ministry of the Interior's own guidelines for handling deportations.   The Bundesministerium’s website states: 'Asylum seekers are notified of the decision in writing and given information on legal remedy.'  There’s no mention of same-day evictions being executed by armoured police carrying deportation orders.   It seemed like this was a stealth attack, calculated to get the refugees as far away from the public consciousness as possible, as quickly as possible, without any opportunity for the decision to be appealed or the tactics questioned.  

The activists that I spoke to were understandably suspicious.  One of them told me  that asylum cases are never assessed that quickly, so something must have been done wrong.   There have been other unethical moves by the Ministry of the Interior, too: a number of refugees have been threatened with deportation before the minimum six-month period of temporary asylum has passed. According to the site Contra Info, quite a few applications have also been rejected without even being assessed.  Trust in the system’s fairness is at an all-time low.  Both the activists and the refugees that I spoke to seem to feel that these applications were turned down, not because they didn't meet the necessary criteria, but because the refugees have put city officials on the spot and embarrassed them with their protest movement.  They see the evictions as an act of revenge... and the behavior of the police at Oranienplatz did suggest a sense of resentment and hostility toward the refugees.  

Photographer catches snaps of would-be deportees, to be passed on to the police
The people I've spoken to in the last couple of days have all been unanimous in their belief that the refugees’ mistreatment by German authorities all boils down to one thing: the colour of their skin.  They may have a point.  During my years in Berlin, I've seen the police handling all kinds of difficult situations: hustling an aggressive, mentally ill homeless person  off of  a train; containing unruly groups of city drunks; clearing Skalitzer Strasse after an outbreak of violence on Mayday.   In all those situations, they seemed to follow a standard protocol: they approached the (white) offender from a cautious distance and informed him what he was doing wrong or what  they were going to do if he did not stop.   After repeated warnings, they escorted the offender away with minimal physical contact and force.  But when it comes to the refugees of Oranienplatz, those boundaries don't even seem to exist.   They are denied formalities; denied personal boundaries, and their emotional and mental boundaries are treated like they don't even exist.

One of the refugees who I spoke to at Oplatz (I’ll call him 'Thomas' to protect his identity) told me that he came to Germany to escape from a vendetta campaign against his family, back in his homeland.  The country that he came from was not technically at war, but it has been recognized as being impoverished, underdeveloped and politically unstable.  Blood feuds can carry on there, generation after generation, with impunity.  After seeing his father and a friend murdered in the same night by a rival family, Thomas fled.  He eventually ended up in Germany. 

Blood feuds are much more common in destabilized nations.  So is the murder of young boys who come from the ‘wrong’ faction.  

“They take the baby boys by the feet and swing their heads against a tree to smash it,” he said, graphically.   When I asked him how many babies he'd seen killed this way, he shook his head mournfully and said, "Too many."

I suppose that goes a long way towards explaining the disproportionately high number of men on the run from homelands that are going through any kind of civil strife.   Thomas explained that in his village, women usually stayed behind because they were not targeted for revenge killings in blood feuds.  That's not to say that the women have an easier life -  they just aren't in such immediate danger of being killed.

Stories like this explain why the refugees I met at Gurtelstrasse and Oranienplatz all share a kind of dogged pacifism.  As Thomas said, “I didn't come here to make trouble [...] but I don’t want to go back and be caught up in a fight.  Then I might get caught up in a fight and kill someone and then, their family will kill me too. I just want to live.”  But instead of helping people like Thomas escape the bullies a Germany has taken to bullying them in its own turn.   

One does get a sense that what's happening here is not the routine assessment and administration of refugees, or an orderly dispersal of people who’ve been deemed ‘safe’ to return  to their homelands.  One gets the sense that a campaign of terror and intimidation is  being allowed to go continue just because it can.  Refugees in Berlin are treated like their being here is due to some sort of failing on their part.  To me, and any other compassionate person who drops into Oraneinplatz today, it’s obvious that the only failure is on the part of the German administration for treating them that way.   

I asked one activist what the average Berliner could do to help these refugees.  His humble reply: "Just come here and witness, have a look at what is going on."  It seemed like a humble request at the time, but now I understand why.  The German activists involved in this movement are being run ragged as they try to just be there for these refugees as they are isolated and picked off and moved around, shifted like so many props on a stage, under the direction of the German government.  By just simply being there, these activists are able to prevent the worst abuses happening because it turns the spotlight on the short cuts being taken by the authorities, instead of letting them go on behind the scenes.  

On Wednesday afternoon, there were only enough 'witnesses' like me there to catch the overflow of helplessness from the refugees and suffer alongside them; it will take hundreds more of us to actually repel it. So I'd urge any one reading this to go down to Oranienplatz and, if nothing else, make a visual statement of support that drowns out the officials’ condemnation and contempt.  It seems like the only way that this situation is going to change.   



24.8.14

Preview: Sunday Stumble

Whether you've just stumbled out of bed, a club, a bar or a plane, you are probably looking for something to do this sunny Sunday afternoon in Berlin.  Well, you've come to the right place! Here are three tips from Unscene:


If your morning coffee is looking a bit like the flyer above, then I suggest you get down to R19 (Revaler Strasse 19, near Ostkreuz) right off the bat, and check out their progressive, psychedelic trance party.  Entrance is by donation and smiles are free!  This slightly-off-the-beaten-track venue is very laid back and friendly and it has a small garden, plus some very nice visuals. It's an ideal place to let your mind float after a hard night of clubbing. 

The '10' Exhibition at Berghain Halle.  You'll have to go there to see those photos close up!

If you get turned away from Berghain today and still feel like giving them some money afterwards, then be sure to check out the exhibition "10" at the Berghain Halle, next door.  Halle is not a part of the main club, but it does look like a squatty mirror-image of it.  I think they should turn this hall into a second club, with no door policy and half-priced entrance, so that all the people who got turned away from Berghain have a place to go.  They could even call it 'Barghain' (that's 'bargain' and 'Berghain' put together, geddit).

Back to the exhibit: the installations are few, select and they are tend towards queer, Laboratory club themes. Picture abstract images of dicks, staged shots of cross dressers and bondage-gear wallpaper.  and you've got it.  So that's half of the exhibition; the other half is made up of whimsical decorative pieces that play with lights and reflections.  They look like they could be club decor in and of themselves.  The empty spaces around each installation make pretty decent spots to linger and rabbit away at someone in relative peace and quiet, against a gritty backdrop of unobtrusive, stylish art. 

Mauer Park
As I was reminded recently by a friend, Mauer Park's flea market has made the list of endangered 'alt Berlin' sites.  That, along with the fact that this is one of the last Sundays in August, makes for an excellent reasons to go down to Bernauer Strasse (the nearest U-Bahn station to the park) and have a look around.

Mauer Park is a stretch of the former Death Strip that was turned into a park because nobody wanted to live there right after the Wall came down.  Can't imagine why not.  Part of this strip was turned into a flea market 25 years ago, and the rest was turned into a green space for free use.  Since then, both the park and the flea market have organically grown to become highlights of the area.  Corporate investors have now started circling like feudal barons, though; slavering at the thought of installing some castellated mall on top of this cultural site, no doubt, where they can make the peasants pay a tax to enter and do their shopping in a faceless, airless, regulated surroundings.  Who needs culture when you can just shop until yet another sweat-shop factory drops?  Well I do!  Hopefully, most of this blog's readers tend to agree.

Now is a great time to go and show some support for the flea market.  And since it's a Sunday, you can also check out the infamous Bearpit Karaoke session after or before hitting the stalls.

Have a great weekend!


20.8.14

A very merry un(scene) birthday to you...

August 20th: always a laugh-riot for Unscene Berlin.
What's the most exciting moment that you've ever had on your birthday?  Unscene Berlin's birthday has been marked by some truly exciting moments, good and bad.  Every year at this time, I read about some unexpected, dramatic upheaval happening somewhere in the world - usually my own.  My favourite anniversary experience to date was about a decade ago and involved a squatted Dalston primary school, riot police, edible fungus, a gun, and lots of crayon drawings. The friends I was with made it all seem kind of fun, though.  Isn't that just what friends are for?

Glancing at Wikipedia's entry for this date I am wearily unsurprised to see that it has always been a time for random acts of aggression, both good and bad.  Revolutions, riots, coups, assassinations, you name it.   The war of Spanish succession started on this day... Trotsky was murdered on this day... even when people are just talking, it seems to have some warlike connotation on this day.  One of Churchill's famous WWII speeches was also made on this day, for instance.  I just hope that all that doesn't reflect too badly this blogger!

But yeah; aside from a minor Ebola outbreak in Pankow, it looks like nothing too terrible is going to happen on my birthday (although it's not over, so may be too early to tell).  There are, however, still some cool things to do while the skies are falling and wars rage all around us.

Like... the Atonal Festival!  That starts today.  Atonal is Dmitri Hegeman's (of Tresor) experimental noise baby, and its cries throb and grate in strangely appealing, rhythmic dissonances.  I have never ever been to Atonal festival before, but apparently Einsturzende Neubaten was one of its early acts, back in the eighties, when it was still being held at SO36 in Kreuzberg.  The other day I was listening to a tune by Einsturzende Neubaten on the way to work. It was called 12 Staedte.  While I was listening to it, I saw a wine gummy laying on the floor.  Somehow, the wine gummy seemed like a bad sign.  Then I looked up at a nearby television and saw a clownfish on the screen.  That seemed like a bad sign, too.  This should tell you everything you need to know about Einsturzende Neubaten's style of music - and about the Atonal festival, by extension - because, not even wine gummies and clownfish are immune to the serious musical vibes generated by this event's artists!

At risk of sounding like a free ad for Atonal, just check out the photos and lineup of the festival site yourselves:

Whoa.


Heathers is much funnier, to be honest...
So, what else is happening today?  Er, not much.  A few openairs that cost a lot of money.  More suited to a late summer evening is the showing of My Own Private Idaho, a sinister and disturbing cult classic, at Mindpirates tonight.  See River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as you have probably never seen them before (unless you can recall the nineties as well as some of us can).  It's right up there with Heathers in terms of its dark, teenaged Hollywood subversion... and quite a bit of perversion too, if I recall correctly. 


So enjoy the end of the world Unscene Berlin's birthday, and in the meantime, do let me know if you have any extreme birthday stories of your own to share!

Breaking down the wall in the mind

Unscene Berlin is going through yet another shift in perspective, it seems.  Or maybe it would be more fair to say that the city of Berlin is going through a shift in perspective, and Unscene Berlin is just sort of tagging along for the ride.  When I started writing this blog in 2011, Berlin was a city that was very much all about itself - about 'being Berlin'.  Every event seemed to be claiming that it was in some way the product of 'the real Berlin'.  Droves of people were coming here to find that 'real' Berlin.  Every weekend I'd see them clawing oversized 1980s jackets off the rails of Humana and scurrying furtively through the streets schlepping musty chunks of GDR furniture like mice coveting the final crumbs of a rare vintage Gruyere.  At that time, the rush to define Berlin seemed to be driven by a packrat-like instinct, a belief that somehow, these props from the vanishing, post-reunification liberality that Berlin used to embody would increase in net worth overtime, like Gruyere cheese.  That net worth was measured in coolness, however, not in cash.

"See?" I could just hear these droves of new Berliners declaring in the future, when they were mired in their desperate middle ages, to a house full of bored guests: "I used to be an individual!  I looked like no one else!  I sat on a chair, hand-tooled out of old bed posts by an impoverished citizen of East Germany!  No one else has that chair, I promise!"  That chair, or musty second hand outfit seemed like a stand-in for who they thought they were.  Proof that they themselves were one-of-a-kind.  But who needs props to be an individual, really?  You either are one, and you're taking all of the endless, tiny daily risks that being true to yourself entails, or else you're just stuck in a kind of chrysalis, waiting for the strength to become what you are.  Buying stuff is a rather half-assed, incomplete solution to one's identity crisis... as Unscene Berlin knows from personal experience.

That was a thought that was constantly running through my mind when I first started writing this blog. 

As this shopping spree on the Spree was going on, people who were actually living the difference that made them individuals were fighting tooth and nail to hang onto their place in the city... places like Tacheles and a dozen or so similar collectives that were still around at that time.  I wanted this blog to put the focus on them, since their struggle seemed to be about fighting for the right to be what you are.  People who are willing to settle for paying for who they are don't need any spotlight. They can afford to buy one if that's what they want.     

Now, that self reflective (some would say 'narcissistic') phase of Berlin's 'development' seems to have passed, thankfully.  Berlin's never-ending image debate has finally been been dwarfed by a series of events greater than itself, that have put the capital city's position on the world stage into a larger, and less flattering perspective.  Two specific events spring immediately to mind: 1) the NSA spying revelations and 2) the attempted suppression of the refugee protest in Kreuzberg.

In the wake of the NSA revelations, Angela Merkel has been making a lot of outraged noises about Americans spying in Germany.  You would almost believe that she didn't realize the NSA's European headquarters were located right here, in Germany.  But she does, of course.  Even the fluffiest non-cynic would start to suspect the woman of using diversionary tactics, once they realized that.

The vicious crackdown that was made on a group of beleaguered refugees squatting in an abandoned school earlier this year went well beyond diversionary tactics, though.  It veered into the realm of  1968-style suppression. About two hundred refugees had moved into the school at Ohlauer Strasse in Kreuzberg in a last-ditch attempt to have their complaints about the German refugee system heard.  It's difficult for refugees to say anything in Germany, firstly because Germany has a tendency to send every refugee who makes it this far back to the southern European country they first arrived in  instead of letting them stay.  These guys were hardly an armed and dangerous threat to the public order, having spent the last three years on the road, camping by Brandenburger Tor and going on hunger strike to draw attention to their virtual imprisonment by the German state.  Even when refugees are allowed to stay here, it seems that they are forbidden to leave their registered neighbourhood or to work.   You'd almost thing that it was their fault that their country was decimated by, er, Western weapons.

A few German MPs agree that the refugee system needs revision but rather than debate the subject however, the government resorted to tactics that the Stasi would have been proud of to try and make the refugees simply 'disappear'.  About 900 police arrived at the Ohlauer squat in early July to evict 200 unarmed squatters.  The cops formed a cordon which media was forbidden to move through, snatching freedom of the press away just like that.  Fights and protests ensued and the commotion caused by it all helped turn the situation around, in the end.  A number of refugees were able to stay in the school, although no actual reform seems to be on the horizon yet.


I do suspect quite a few of Kreuzberg's trendy hipsters must have been shocked to see what the friendly, hands-off German government is capable of doing when it thinks the world isn't looking (the same sh*t as any government, really).

One Italian friend of mine described Berliners as "living inside a bubble".  Her words reminded me of the German expression about 'the Wall inside the mind'.  That's a reference to fact that some people continued to live their lives in a restricted way even the Berlin Wall had come down. It's intriguing, and worrying, to think that this tendency to cut ones own possibilities short might be the thing that unites the new Berliners with the old. 

When I arrived here, that bubble was a blind conviction, reinforced by dazzling praise that scores of other, misty-eyed visitors showered on the city - the conviction that Berlin was some sort of mythic nirvana where any idealistic dream could flourish uninhibited.  Sure.  In Berlin, idealistic dreams can always flourish unnoticed but being able to do something unnoticed is not the same thing as being able to do it uninhibited.  Sadly, the demise of Berlin's openair scene is a case-in-point example of what I am talking about.  (ed: For those of you who haven't been in Berlin very long, openair parties are literally parties with a sound system in a field or park.  They tend to be morre like psychedelic picnics, than actual raves).  Over the years, I've been at openairs when they were 'noticed' by the police.   I've watched with a sinking heart as party after party in remote, uninhabited locations was closed because some wannabe-informant stumbled upon it and phoned in an outraged, vindictive complaint about people 'having a good time'.  The sound systems involved almost always just shrugged their shoulders and packed up their gear as soon as the police arrived, leaving without a peep of protest.

Despite the popularity of these events, it's surprising that no attempt has been made to defend their existence in legal terms - to justify them to the authorities.  Maybe the law would actually change if people did this.  Instead, they just move into the cheap, but still commercial venues and make people cough up cash to get in.  What I don't understand is this: if it's okay to break the law because you need a place to live, or because you're defending your right to privacy, then how is it not okay to break the law to deliver a social service - a party - for free?

I wonder if this isn't somehow connected to the first point about people being willing to pay for their  individuality.  If individuality is something that you can buy, then perhaps denying clubs the 'right' to make a profit seems like some sort of crime against their fundamental, human right to self-realization.  Perhaps it almost seems like an immoral thing to do, if you've never stepped outside of that profit bubble, before.  But it's not.  It's just a sign that the profit-making imperative has embedded itself that deeply within one's unconscious, that one cannot distinguish between it and one's own morals.

This example illustrates why doing something unnoticed and getting away with it, does not make you truly uninhibited.  It doesn't change anything.  It doesn't change the person who is doing it, or the people who oppose it, so the inhibition is still there - it's just a little farther away than it was before, that's all.  In an oppressive world like this one, inhibitions really need to be brought out into the open where they can be confronted and dismantled, taking the 'wall in the mind' down with the pickaxe of real freedom.