29.6.17

No Freedom for Friedel 54

Out On the Street


Linienstr. 206
Linienstr. 206 in Mitte
First Grenfell Tower, now this.  Housing problems seem to be making headlines around Europe right now. Like Grenfell Tower, the treatment of Berlin's grassroots housing projects has exposed the void of sincerity that gapes behind the well-meaning rhetoric of our city's leaders.

My time in Berlin since 2010 has been spent traipsing around the central and eastern areas of the city, tracing pathways linked by vanishing landmarks. First LB54, then Tacheles and now, Friedelstr. 54. It seems like every year is ticked off on the calendar by the fading away of yet another peeling, patchwork facade, daubed with squatter slogans like, 'Wir Bleiben Alle' (we're all staying). That fresh immediacy of an abandoned city's life is gradually suffocated under layers of modern, controlled additions - neoclassical mouldings and fresh pastel paint. All wrapped in their samey-same, sterile white cladding, they await customization by some remote landlord's tastes.

"It mirrors the capitalist urban politics. Everything that does not bring maximum return gets displaced..." Friedel 54's website

The tenants from all of these grassroots venues (and homes) have been extracted using a combination of tactics, both underhanded and unexpected. Their opponents never seem to use the same strategy twice. There's never any pattern that anyone can learn from, adapt to, or develop a defence against: just a labyrinth of delays, deceptions, last-minute bids and bullying by MP's and police.

The senate's response, however, has been predictably the same in nearly every case:

"We feel for you, but our hands are tied..." 

At some point, though, the question has to be asked: if its "hands are tied" every time that anything that matters is happening to Berlin residents (changes to housing regulations, rental regulations, buyouts and takeovers of public land) then why does the Senate even exist? When does it stop being a mere placeholder of an authority and begin to steer real events in the city, if not when the people demand or need it?

The answer is, "Probably never".  These leaders are not really leaders after all. They're managers. They're administrators to a neo-liberal model of urban development, where private investors can remake any city in any way that they want (from anywhere, at anytime) just as long as they abide by the federal laws.  That leaves the residents all but expelled from every mechanism of practical change and development that affects them.  They're allowed to be the city and to live in it but, technically, they can't change anything but the inside of their flats.... flats like the ones that Friedel 54 expects will be evicted, eventually, to make way for a 'better' Berlin.

Even that space doesn't really belong to the people here, in the end. 


Behind Closed Doors

The  people behind the Friedel 54 bar, shop and community centre (which is being evicted today) have alleged that, "The politics and cops once again are not quite stupid enough to get their hands dirty with the issue. Rather, they have gathered their forces behind a Luxemburg based shell company, which knowingly bought in to this conflict. This was a conscious political decision!"

The name of that shell corporation is Pinehill but nobody knows who's behind it because, well, that's how shell corporations operate. They're anonymous, faceless, designed expressly for the purpose of allowing cowboys to buy stuff that they shouldn't be allowed to touch with a bargepole - like flats.  Until the anonymous consortium of investors behind Pinehill are revealed, Friedel 54's assumption that the senate may be playing an active part in this sale seems as safe as any other.

Starting a shell corporation is dead easy, according to Natasha of Fusion.com website, who was able to set up a shell corporation for her pet cat in "two minutes", without needing to give her name, let alone show any I.D. Well, who issues passports and drivers' licenses to cats, anyway?

According to the report, 'The friendly Delaware agents who helped Natasha set up her cat’s company, explained that clients love their state’s privacy laws. “Many times we don’t know who our clients are.  We know the LLC name or corporate name, but we don’t know what they’re doing or what kind of business they have.”

In New York and London, shell corporations have been buying up real estate to launder black market cash accumulated by gangsters, fraudsters and pretty much anyone else who's been banned from doing real business abroad.  The odds are high that Friedel 54, once in possession of such a corporation, will either never be developed, or it will be re-developed in a far less affordable way*.






A "Misuse of Existing Dwellings"


You'd think that Berlin would want to discourage these shell corporations from setting up here, wouldn't you?  This city's authorities always claim that they want us to have a stable, sustainable rental scene. On June 1, 2015 they introduced the Mietpreisbremse (or “rent price brake”) to stop landlords from using legal loopholes to raise the rents, here.  On the Berlin.de website there is a section entitled, "Preventing the loss of existing housing" where the city authorities claim that they're against "The misuse of existing dwellings." Yet at the same time, allowing shell companies to buy up affordable rental spaces like Friedel 54 so they can launder cash, avoid paying taxes or whatever, seems like the most glaring misuse of a property that there is.

Another city that has a legacy of handing over residential buildings to shell corporations is New York. "In New York City alone, officials are investigating over 120 cases of fraud using shell corporations, but lawyers estimate there are thousands of cases that haven't even been investigated. The layers of secrecy and the number of cases have overwhelmed the capacity of authorities to investigate the crimes. It's an epidemic." That seems to be a prophetic warning, coming from a community that is many years ahead of Berlin on the issue of affordable housing, and how best [not] to sustain it.

In the London borough of Kensington & Chelsea, near to where the Grenfell Tower blaze happened recently, "There are 1,399 vacant dwellings as of April 2017 - and the number hasn’t dropped below a thousand for over a decade" These, too, have been bought up by shell companies that use residential buildings as a place to stash their excess profit, to avoid paying taxes at home.

Surprisingly, England and Scotland already have a solution for tax-avoidance by shell corporations like these:

"In England, councils are allowed to charge up to 50% extra council tax on any home that’s been empty for more than 2 years. But in Scotland, the rules are tighter: local authorities are able to increase council tax by 100% on homes empty for 1 year or more." The problem there is simple lack of enforcement, but England's legal model could help to protect Berlin's residential rentals market from exploitation, as well. Then the senate's hands wouldn't be "tied" nearly so much of the time. It may be too late for Friedel 54 but the remaining left wing e.V.'s (collectives) in the city could still stand a chance.

It also seems a bit strange that almost all of the e.V.'s that have been targeted by real estate developers and the Berlin authorities have been left-wing e.V.'s. An e.V. is a special category of collective that is peculiar to Germany. Its purpose is to help bring people together and develop a sense of community, of culture. E.V's are not allowed to turn a profit and they're exempt from the usual business taxes. Nearly every underground & grassroots venue in Berlin is registered as an e.V.  But weirdly enough, only those that are associated with the activism (anarchism, pacifism, nuclear disarmament, feminism, animal rights, etc.) ever seem to be targeted by developers and the senate for extreme evictions like these.

It feels like Berlin's leaders have decided that the cultures represented by left wing e.V.'s is less desirable... less deserving of a space in this city, than any other kind. That it wants to sacrifice them all, even when it's clear that these spaces are pretty damn popular and attract a lot of support from the neighbours and passers-by. The senate seems like it's attempting to arbitrate the tastes of the people here, and their self-determined culture. Shouldn't it be up to Berliners to decide which e.V.'s they want to see here?

There's a creeping sense that some sort of ideological cleansing campaign is being perpetrated by the authorities in Berlin. Maybe the cries of "fascism" from the all those displaced squatters and activists isn't that radical, after all. And Berlin's authorities have done little to soothe their fears. Instead, it puts all its muscle and might into silencing them when they resist.

Where does that leave fresh, up-and-coming aspects of Berlin's culture - the most attractive parts, in the long run? - the answer to that question can be seen at Friedel 54 today, outside on the street. 

*In a piece on ZeroHedge.com investigating shell corporation-owned properties in Vancouver, Canada, this is how the real estate laundering scheme works:

    1.    Chinese investors smuggled out millions in embezzled cash, hot money or perfectly legal funds, bypassing the $50,000/year limit in legal capital outflows.
    2.    They make "all cash" purchases, usually sight unseen, using third parties intermediaries to preserve their anonymity, or directly in person, in cities like Vancouver, New York, London or San Francisco. (and now Berlin, too - ed.)
    3.    The house becomes a new "Swiss bank account", providing the promise of an anonymous store of value and retaining the cash equivalent value of the original capital outflow.
    4.    Then the owners disappear, never to be heard from or seen again.


2.6.17

Making Waves About the G20


Yesterday, the weather was sunny and mild with a light breeze: perfect conditions for making a few waves about the upcoming G20 events in Berlin and Hamburg.

The activist group Top Berlin organized a boat protest, "They Call It Partnership, We Call It Hell",  to help raise public awareness about the hypocrisy behind two major G20 events that are due to take place in Germany this summer: the African Partnership conference happening in Berlin on June 12-13th, and the G20 conference happening in Hamburg on July 7-8th.

Thankfully, cruising from Rummelsburger Bucht to Goerlitzer Park along the Spree's placid waters wasn't hellish at all. It was almost a trip to heaven, with smooth sailing almost all the way. Things got choppy at one point as a couple of police boats pulled up alongside us, but apparently they were just there to make we were safe and sound. I guess some pirates had been sighted in the area...?

Not all boat trips can happen under such favourable circumstances though, as the ever-rising death toll from the Mediterranean and Tripoli coasts reminds us. This year, a record number of refugees have already drowned whilst fleeing war-torn areas of the Middle East and impoverished parts of Africa, by boat. By the end of April, the Guardian reported that more than 1000 people had already lost their lives to those seas - a record number.

Fences for People - Freedom for Profits at SO36 on June 6th will dig deeper into the facts behind G20 rhetoric

As the organizers of the boat trip pointed out on their blog

"During the time of slavery, many people drowned in the sea because they were thrown overboard. Or because they jumped themselves to escape the hell of the slave ship and the plantation. Today they are drowning during the attempt to reach Europe in crowded boats... looking for a safe, better or simply different life."

International trade bodies like the G20 claim that they want to create a truly global economy, and the sorts of trade agreements that they favour do ensure that money and goods move from producers (e.g. the developing nations) to suppliers (e.g. developed nations) without too many regulatory or financial barriers getting in the way. On the other hand, though, many of the corporate interests that are represented by the G20 also make a killing (sometimes literally) by installing physical barriers to stop people moving from those same developing nations to the West.  Money can move freely, in other words, but people can't.  The freedom that the G20 talks about sounds great until you realize it's only freedom to create a modern kind of feudal system, where the workers are forced to stay in the fields and earn low wages, making cheap goods for their distant overlords. That system includes you and me whether we like it or not and, as the old adage says, 'If you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem.'





It's a subject that touches an especially raw nerve in Germany. The legal system here seems like it's still heavily biased toward protecting property, rather than people; for instance, it's illegal to touch someone else's garbage but, until last year, there was no law against sexually assaulting a woman on the street. How's that for a stark contrast?

And, at least two guys that I know here have been arrested for throwing a plastic drink bottle at a car after its driver attempted to run them over at a demo. So apparently, attacking a car riles up the authorities more than the idea of vehicular homicide does. Absurd situations like this are a constant bone of contention here in Germany, so it's understandable that the left wants to stop them being exported to the rest of the world, too.  And exporting them is, arguably, the G20's whole raison d'etre.

All this makes the G20s decision to hold two of its annual meet-ups in Germany even more intriguing. Is the organization waving a red rag at the bull of the European left... or is it waving a white flag at all the activists who have criticized it for being too inaccessible, in the past? The only way to find out is to get involved!

The next boat tour will be on June 10th at 11 a.m.  More info is available on this link

The German language call to action for all G20 event can be found here

English info about G20 activism worldwide can be found here


Making anti-capitalism cuddly again? The boat owners showed the softer side of the left scene via a teddy bear masthead.



30.5.17

Crying Terror In Error?





The other day, I came across a report that the FBI released in 2002. It described a wave of deadly and random public attacks by 'lone wolf' shooters that had spread across the U.S. during the 1990s. The report had found that all these attacks had had several features in common:

        They were rarely sudden, impulsive acts.

        Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.

        There was no accurate or useful profile of [people] who engaged in targeted violence.

        Most attackers engaged in some behaviour prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.

        Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.

        Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.

A person could be forgiven for thinking that this report was describing the recent spate of mass murders carried out by extremists across Europe and the UK. However, the report was actually referring to the perpetrators behind 37 high-school shootings that happened in affluent, American neighbourhoods.  As I recently found out, many more parallels can be found between the phenomenon of high school shootings in the U.S., and the wave of lone-wolf ‘terror’ attacks that is now creeping across Europe (and the U.S.).

The Columbine High School massacre was easily the worst of the high school shootings that were examined in the 2002 FBI report. In April 1999, two disaffected students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, went to the school fully armed with shotguns and semi automatic weapons and proceeded to murdered 12 students, injuring 21 more.
 

USA Today wrote that Columbine was, "a suicidal attack [that was] planned as a grand—if badly implemented—terrorist bombing.” 

The article goes on to list an entire arsenal of weapons that Harris and Klebold had prepared for the attack:  “In addition to the shootings, the complex and highly planned attack involved a fire bomb to divert fire-fighters, propane tanks converted to bombs, 99 explosive devices, and car bombs."

The way that the Columbine massacre was planned bears a striking similarity to the bombing attack carried out in Oklahoma City in 1995 by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two white nationalists. In 2011, far right nutter Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb in Oslo and then shot and killed more than sixty students at a liberal summer camp, in another similar attack. The similarities between all three incidents are not entirely a coincidence - both Breivik and the Columbine killers were inspired by the Oklahoma city attack. Though they hailed from radically different political backgrounds, ideology was no barrier to the love of violence that all these lone wolves shared.

The same could be said for the lone wolf terrorist attacks that are happening with increasing frequency across Europe today: whether they are carried out by right wing extremists, Islamic extremists or people claiming some other 'cause', they all share a kind of nihilistic disregard for all life. These new lone wolf attackers seem to be targeting society as a whole

Statistics that break down European terror attacks by political and religious affiliation are hard to come by but, according to the Anti-Defamation League's annual hate crime report for 2016:

Over the past 10 years (2007-2016), domestic extremists of all kinds have killed at least 372 people in the United States. Of those deaths, approximately 74% were at the hands of right-wing extremists, about 24% of the victims were killed by domestic Islamic extremists, and the remainder were killed by left-wing extremists.

Some would point out that Islamic attacks are disproportionately high for their population density (the Islamic faith represents just 0.9% of the American population, compared to a much higher number for white Christians). However, when looked at from a purely socio-economic angle, it’s clear that the Islamic population also bears a much heavier load of marginalization and stress, due to racial profiling, poverty, uncertain immigration status, cultural conflicts and so on, than the white Christian population of the U.S. does.

Then again, many of the people claiming to be Islamic extremists don’t even seem to know the fundamentals of their own religion, which is the least one would expect of them.  Lydia Wilson of the Nation writes,

Many assume that these fighters are motivated by a belief in the Islamic State, a caliphate ruled by a caliph; that fighters all over the world are flocking to the area for a chance to fight for this dream. But this just doesn’t hold for the [Islamic extremist] prisoners we are interviewing. They are woefully ignorant about Islam and have difficulty answering questions about Sharia law, militant jihad, and the caliphate.

So if not for religion or politics, what are these people fighting for? - or against?  In fact, most lone wolf ‘terror’ attacks in Europe resemble an extreme emotional / psychological meltdown, rather than any sort of political attack. Authorities are often left to deduce that there was a political motive for these attacks by looking at internet searches, reading materials, or a comment made to a friend because they rarely leave statements of intent behind.

The Breitscheidplatz attacker was a drug addict who’d been denied asylum. The shooter in the Zurich mosque attack was a jobless black man with an interest in the occult (that isn’t to blame the occult in any way, but rather to underline how far outside of the mainstream of Zurich culture he may have felt). Ibrahim El Bakraoui and his brother, two of the instigators of the Paris and Brussels attacks, were children of refugees who had previously carried out armed robberies. Say what you like about their choice of death, but these people were not getting by in life. That fact does not excuse their behaviour, of course, but it may help to explain it.

Perhaps we should be asking an altogether different question: if such politically-vague people are committing ‘terror’ attacks, are they even terrorists? If not then what are they?

School of Life

What most of these so-called 'terrorists' had in common was that they were all living on the extreme edges of society when they lost it. In fact, when we leave the word 'terror' out of the news reports altogether, what we are left with is a rising wave of random mass murders and murder-suicides by people on the fringe. The media focuses mainly on those with an Islamic link, these days, but an array of people have been committing similar crimes, with or without a link to the Islamic faith. If we assume these mass-murders are purely random, then it stands to reason that they may be on the rise because the sorts of conditions that make people into murderers (such as mental stress, poverty, bigotry and bullying) are on the rise. The economic austerity program in Europe is contributing far more clearly to the rise of such conditions than any other religion or ideology. 

As the welfare state is eroded by ‘austerity measures’ and other economic reforms, people at the edges of society are moving toward bleak ideologies that better describe their unsupported (and un-supportive) realities. Without that erosion, however, there would be no need for them to go to extremes.  Extremist ideologies all offer some form of instant release, no matter how self destructive; this must seem appealing compared to an endless grind of shutting up and putting up, with no end in sight. While extremist ideologies don't appeal to the majority of us, they must seem tempting to the unstable few who have been denied access to other last-resort options (food banks, welfare, mental health support, emergency housing, a job).

Interestingly enough, American high schools in the 1990s were an almost perfect microcosm of the social climate that Europe is entering, under the austerity program. Perhaps it's little wonder that extremists in both environments have been reacting in a similar way.

The stereotypical high school shooter is also similar to a lone wolf terrorist: a quiet, transient, outcast male. Someone who’s been rejected by classmates for failing to meet their high standards. He lacks family support and has been exposed to violence on a fairly regular basis, at home or school, or both. He has access to weapons.

When he self-destructs, it seems more like a strike against the system as a whole, than a demand to change anything specific. This is unlike true political terrorism which is usually motivated by a twisted kind of idealistic hope. 

The students who have snapped in America have all belonged to the statistically-extreme minority of kids that experienced all the drawbacks of being at school, but none of the benefits.The same could be said of lone wolf terrorists in European society. Oslo shooter Breivik's home life was characterized as being, "miserable from the start:" His depressive mother considered sending him to an orphanage, he tortured animals as a child and was laughed off by most of his peers as a "pathetic" poseur.  

His was a typical background for mass murderers, revealing a long history displacement and rejection which might have contributed to causing his final, lethal disconnect. There have also been a few lone-wolf style attacks carried out by asylum-seekers who were denied the right to stay after a long time spent in Europe’s hellish asylum system. These are the rarest sort of lone wolf 'terror' attacks, but they fit the pattern and highlight just how quickly man-made suffering can lead to mass murderer.

The above headline is from an Al Jazeera America report in 2014. There have been 150 high school shootings in the U.S. since 2013, or about one every week. Since 2000 there has also been a drastic reduction in funding for counselling services and the emphasis has been on installing screening and security devices instead. 
Since high school shootings have been happening for a long time in the U.S., they’ve been much more thoroughly researched by experts than the lone wolf terror attacks in Europe has been. Maybe, then, we can learn something about how to deal with lone wolf terrorism by looking at the way that high school shootings have been handled in the U.S. Professor Dewey Cornell, a forensic clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia. advises against profiling students as would-be shooters:

‘“We strongly discourage schools from taking a list of characteristics and saying, ‘Oh, a child who likes video games or dresses in black or does this or that is somehow dangerous. That’s absolutely what we want to avoid.”’

Yet both here in Europe and in the American high school system, profiling techniques and screenings are the only measures that are being used to prevent random mass-murders. Cornell goes on to add,

Preventing school violence depends on a team of school professionals, including counsellors and other mental health experts, who are trained to identify and support troubled students who may be on a path to violence." 

The advice of experts like him is being widely ignored, though, both in schools and in the adult society that school is designed to prepare kids for.


Economic Jihad

The implementation of austerity measures in Europe has risen more or less in tandem with lone wolf 'terror attacks'.  So it is potentially as much to blame for those attacks as ideological extremism is. Yet few leaders seem to be questioning the need for austerity, even as it has been criticized by virtually everyone with an interest in society and human rights. The London School of Economics decried austerity in a 2015 working paper entitled, “Of Austerity, Human Rights and International Institutions."  And in a 2016 report, the U.N. cited no less than 27 humanitarian concerns that it had regarding UK austerity measures, including:

* Discrimination in accessing health care services against refugees, asylum-seekers, refused asylum-seekers and Travellers. 
* The lack of adequate resources provided to mental health services. 

* Significant inequalities in educational attainment, especially for children belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities and children from low-income families which has the effect of limiting social mobility. 

* Increasing university fees, which affect the equal access to higher education 


Websites like Calum’s List record the names and deaths of people who have committed suicide after being denied benefits or sanctioned in the UK. This suggests that, for each madman who starts shooting into a crowd, there are thousands of quietly-decaying people who have been crushed in invisible ways by the austerity regime. 

Clearly there are further, collateral damages from austerity that can’t be as easily measured as a loss in earnings can.  When people are unable to feed and house themselves, they're less able to reach out and help their neighbours and friends. Under austerity people who are already on the brink get even less support than they ever did before. 

That’s not to say that all the people on the brink will snap - and it’s certainly not an attempt to excuse them when they do - but if the tendency to snap is there, then the widespread hardships that are caused by austerity do seem likely to bring it out.

Austerity’s brutality is all the more disturbing because it is wholly unnecessary. The UK’s Conservative party, which has some of the most hard-line austerity policies outside of Greece, often claims that it cannot afford to fully fund the welfare state. At the same time, it plans to spend 31 billion pounds on a new Trident missile system. So clearly, it has money to spend. 

But then, maybe economics aren’t the point of austerity at all: maybe suffering is. In an editorial from 2012, the Guardian reported back in 2010 that, "When Greece's then-premier, George Papandreou, begged for easier borrowing terms, he was told by Angela Merkel that the deal had to hurt."

For some leaders, austerity isn’t seen as an economic regime so much as an ideological one. These leaders seem to be forcing an antagonistic new paradigm on European culture as a way to ‘toughen it up'. In this respect, they are like crusaders on a quest, sacrificing human safety and lives to the unattainable deity of economic perfection. One might call them economic jihadists, in fact. 

For ordinary people watching them from ground level, such brutally austere fiscal measures might seem like a sign that violence is acceptable, now... not just a financial level but on an emotional, intellectual and physical one. as well.  Perhaps lone wolf terrorists merely paralleling the ‘dog-eat-dog’ paradigm that our leaders have helped to normalize in a more grassroots and immediate way.

What we’re seeing right now may the real, long-term cost of Austerity: rising bigotry, rising extremism, rising suicides and mass murder. These are the costs that the number-crunchers left out of their calculations when deciding on our current economic regime. Europeans may need to prepare for more of the same, as long as they are living under a regime that disregards & destroys the things that make life seem like it's worth living.

When a student makes a threat, it’s really a symptom of frustration, that the student has encountered some kind of conflict or problem that he or she can’t resolve. The threat assessment team is really there to help resolve the problem so that there’s really no need for the threat.” 

-The FBI’s Mary Ellen O’Toole in her 2000 report on school shootings

29.4.17

The Evolutionary First of May



I've worked in tourism for most of my time here, and I've found that most people under the age of 35 who come to Berlin are coming here for the underground culture or street culture.  For 363 days of the year, they really do struggle to find it, but on the last day of April and first day of May, the entire southeast side of the city magically sheds its pretentious, stylish veneer and the underground breaks through the surface.

You still have to know where to look for it and, in some areas, it tends to be diluted or even washed away altogether by the consumerist masses (for example, at the MyFest) but it can be found fairly easily and anyone just stumbling around town, assuming they stumble far enough. There's a lot of chaff mixed in with the wheat, so to speak, so be persistent until you find it what you're looking for!

May Day is a day when even the most hardened Berlin capitalists seem to feel the need to share and share alike, so that everyday people can celebrate Berlin in its most authentic party state: raw, unrefined, but always evolving... kind of like an unclaimed lot that hasn't yet been cleared to make way for the developers.

Here are some random examples of parties like that, that I picked up from my feeds. All the below parties parties are free but you'll pay with legwork and networking to find the best places, so wear comfortable shoes and keep your eyes, ears and mind open.
 
Freaky 23 kicks off MayDay weekend with Hekate and Spiral Tribe DJs playing at Rauchhaus  in Kreuzberg
Mongolifiere Libere Open Air party with an array of truly underground talent on May 1st

A banging Berlina fur Techno free party will be on at Burg Schnabel



✪ On Sunday, Void Club holds a free drum n' bass and techno party, offering a down-to-earth alternative for dancing into May

Hell, even Berghain's garden opening party is free on May Day, but be warned: the usual stress associated with getting in "May" apply.



28.4.17

May Day Is No Bull


We shouldn't be surprised that a celebration that can be linked with both Taurus and Mithras - two Anatolian deities - is a big deal in Berlin's favourite Turkish district. But few people seem to realize that there is any deeper connection between them. In this article, I explain how the seeds of the May Day rituals we know and love today were sown in ancient Turkey. 



When it comes to May Day in Berlin, the connections between the holiday and the city's Turkish population seem like they are mostly incidental. The aged, cynical patriarchs of the Turkish community seem reluctant to deal with the drunken tourist crowd, even as they desperately compete to entice it into their shops and restaurants to spend, spend, spend. But the Turkish community may well have more of a right than some Germans do to take an interest in May Day. after all, its connection to this spring holiday stretches back far beyond the Kreuzberg riots of the 1980's. In fact, it stretches back almost 12,000 years, to the dawn of civilization itself.

Anatolia: Sowing the Seeds of May


In Turkey, at the foot of the Taurus mountains in Anatolia, the ruins of the world's oldest civilization suggest that the fertility rites that would eventually turn into May Day began way back in Neolithic times. There wasn't much written language back then, but the realities of life as Neolithic Anatolians  knew it are described in carved images that are still strangely meaningful to us, today. Carvings of a bull - which is still the same symbol that we use for the month of May, today - are found all over such ancient sites. A sun is often depicted between the bull's horns; it's the same sun that that is traditionally celebrated across Europe on the eve of May each year, by burning bonfires and dancing all night long. 

"The question is why the bull, above all other animals, remained such a powerful symbol for over 15,000 years," writes one author about the bull carvings in Gobelki Tepe. His words echo the perplexity of countless archaeologists before him, as they tried to explain what those symbols might mean.

I don't think it's all that mysterious, actually. The bull is still a fairly potent symbol for people who happen to be born under the sign of Taurus and that's a purely abstract connection, based on the almost-invisible movements of stars that we can't even touch, taste or smell. For ancient Anatolians (and Egyptians... and Persians... and Sumerians... and Romans...) the bull and the sun had a much more tangible connection to their lives, and to the springtime, too.  May was when the growing season typically started and, as such, it was a time to harness one's bull to a plough and start putting down seeds that would sprout and grow under the summer sun.

So right from the dawn of settled human civilization, then,  the link between fertility, bulls, females, and the sun was pretty explicit. The same author writes that, "stone and clay female figurines, showing young woman; woman giving birth to child, ram, or bull" are found in Gobelki Tepe.  Clearly, women in ancient times were considered to be pretty instrumental in the whole animal-domestication process, somehow. Maybe they were the ones who delivered new bull calves into the world by hand - who knows?  At any rate, the people living near the Taurus mountains seem to have attributed the presence of their sacred bulls to women, or to female gods.

Even the name "Taurus mountains" seems like kind of a flashing neon sign, announcing to the world that the area has been known for bulls since time out of mind.  And it makes sense they would have been important species: they were probably the most powerful animals that had ever been domesticated by humans, up until that point. Cattle would have been instrumental in helping Neolithic humans plough the fields and plant grains on a mass scale... as they still are today, in some places. Rearing crops would have made those Neolithic peoples unimaginably rich compared to their hunter-gatherer peers. The bull and the sun were all the tools that a Neolithic clan needed to rear a few decent crops that they could live off of and prosper, all year round.

In that sense, having a bull in your village must have been the Neolitihic equivalent of owning a Porsche or a Mercedes...  and we all know how many modern humans deify those tools. Why wouldn't the same reverence apply to the original 'engine' of human development, the humble bull?

Then again, these animals probably could have easily turned on and killed their human 'owners' at any time. I reckon that would have made Neolithic peoples just a bit more eager to earn their livestock's cooperation, by paying homage to their gods.

The bull worship cult isn't exactly dead, yet. Some think that it may be the reason why cows are still considered sacred in India to this day.



Minos: Taking the Bull by the Horns


Anatolian peoples later helped to found the Minoan culture in Crete, which was a peaceful and apparently egalitarian culture that, weirdly enough, inspired the patriarchal Greek civilization that came right after it. Women seem to have been in charge of the spiritual life in Minoan society, though.  Minoans also loved the arts, and they fed everyone well and housed them, regardless of their status. They also worshipped bulls in a very hands-on way, like their ancient fore-mothers and fathers had. In Minoan artwork, young men and women are often shown grabbing actual bulls by their literal horns and flipping over them. Why, you ask? Probably because it was the most badass thing that a teenage Cretan could do in those days. 

The Minoans' creation myth also stated that Crete was founded when a Phoenician queen named Europa moved to the island by hitching a ride there on the back of a god who was disguised as (drum roll, please)... a bull.  She later married and had kids with the god, thus creating the Minoan race.

Rome: Earth Revolves Around the Son



Even the Jesus story in Christianity seems to have been shaped in such a way as to replace yet another, ancient bull & sun cult: namely, Mithraism.  Mithras was a 1st Century A.D. Roman deity who was connected with the sun, and who was traditionally shown wearing Anatolian clothing.... for reasons that will probably seem clear when one looks to Gobelki Tepe, the Taurus mountains, and the sun worship evident there. Like Jesus, Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25th (the date of the Roman solstice). What we know about his story tends towards the same general themes of salvation that are seen in Jesus' tales. But, unlike Jesus, Mithras was a pagan god and therefore, heretical. It may be the main reason why he didn't last that long.

Unfortunately for bulls everywhere, Mithras also had a bad habit of slaughtering the animal once a year. Yes, he may have been a pagan deity but, rather than working together with the "feminine" energies of the bull, he seemed more hellbent on sacrificing her for his own glory... which really says something about the the core values of the soldiers who worshipped Mithras IMHO.

Modern Christianity commemorates Jesus' rebirth (Easter) and Ascension on dates that are closely connected to the old pagan rites of Mithras and of spring... rites which are in turn connected to the mating of livestock and the return of the sun to its full productive strength. All such rituals that can be traced back to the birth of agrarian civilization that centred around bulls and sun worship, such as those unearthed at Gobelki Tepe and Catal Hyuk, also in Turkey. 


Beltane: The Bonfire of Vanities

Photo via the Festival Sherpa website
Every year in Germany on the 30th of April - a date also known as 'witches night' - bonfires are still lit (probably to symbolize the sun). Men and women traditionally dance this night away, probably so as to give them a great excuse to fall into bed with a hot stranger the next morning, and sow some (ahem) fields together. Jumping over bonfires is a May Day tradition that pagans and Wiccans have kept alive to this day; some say it's a great way of heating things up below the belt.  Cattle were also made to jump over burning embers in ancient times, presumably to ensure their fertility, as well as that of the humans among them. 

Today, many central European countries claim that their May Day traditions include bonfires because they symbolize the burning of women, like the Church used to do back in its witch-hunting days. This interpretation may reflect more recent historical events, but the older origins of those fires can be glimpsed in Scotland and Wales, where the bonfire celebrations that happen every May Eve and May Day are euphoric events that focus on enjoying life (and setting stuff on fire).  At Beltane, as the Celtic British holiday is called, bonfires, fireworks, poi and dancing are combined in a purely exhibitionist, hedonist way... and then there's the May Pole dance, which sees people dancing around a giant phallus.  Subtle it ain't, but the thousands of years of constant observance suggest that having a day like May Day each year is crucial to us humans.

These old rituals, which are pretty much unchanged since Celtic times, suggest that European May Day traditions have historically been more about bringing the sexes together to celebrate life - not about turning them against each other to cause death, as later 'traditions' have tried to insist.

Mayday: Butting Heads with Authority



The American left-wing scene unconsciously harnessed the thrusting creative energy of May the 1st when it decided to make the day an international, annual holiday to celebrate (and fight for) workers' rights. May Day commemorates a grim day back in the late 19th century, when several anarchists were executed in Chicago because they had committed the 'crime' of organizing a demo that had turned violent. Yet, as worthy as that cause may be, the real reason why May Day has become so insanely popular is probably because it is connected to those ancient yearnings to create life, rather than anything to do with death. Bringing everything back full circle, modern-day Turkey has also been the scene of some incredibly dramatic and tragic May Day events in recent memory: at the 1977 Taksim Square massacre, authorities killed dozens of protestors, for example.  

When you take all of the above histories into account, it seems almost inevitable that May Day - the day when the Bull constellation charges back into the skies, and the Anatolian sun god Mithras returns to his full strength - centres around Kreuzberg, which has got to be one of the best-known Turkish 'expat' neighbourhoods in Berlin. It seems strangely fitting that the most chaotic and radical May Day events tend to happen around there, too.The reckless bullish energy that May represents, heated up by the sun, pushes people to break out in ways that can be as destructive as they are euphoric... but that trend has lasted tens of thousands of years so far, and it ain't about to change.

May Day is also a time when most people in Berlin naturally feel a rush of reckless energy, pushing them to start whatever changes that they feel are necessary after a long winter, spent in reflection. Don't be afraid of playing your part in that, this year: just grab a bull by the horns and jump in.

6.3.17

Day Tripper: Best of Berlin's Afterhours Scene

It's March and I'm too tired to stay up all night, aren't you? That's what makes winter & spring such a great time to explore Berlin's afterhour scenes...


Same Bitches @ OHM


DJ Handmade plays regularly at Same Bitches @ OHM


Each time the door cracks open it admits some light, along with a few bodies from the huddle by the cash desk outside. Their shadows quickly dissolve into the dark sound chamber, wading into the music like ducks into water.

Tiled walls and low ceilings gleam with damp in the retired bathhouse, making each watery analogy I dream up seem even more appropriate: people don't come here just to listen to the music, they come here to swim in it.

The rhythm of the waves is being controlled by DJ Handmade who's playing sublime banging mix of techno, tribal house, hard house, acid techno, acid house... Far from sounding like a mishmash, though, these tunes are lined up with an intuition that makes them all seem part of a single genre, a pulse arising from the eternal & pressing need to dance. Here, we're never alone in that mission: the flickering of light in one person ignites something in the others and brings about a revival of the previous night's buzz. The DJ's upbeat, optimistic energy lifts our tired bodies like a pair of helping hands.

Same Bitches is one of a slew of occasional daytime after parties that is fast outstripping the weekly nighttime moves with its dynamic style and sound.  Siegesaeule Magazine has called it, "The sleazy and filthy unofficial Gegen after-hour." If that's true, then it must be true that enlightenment is easier to see in the dark, and purity in the muck; at Same Bitches, the sleaze and filth seamlessly translates into clear-headed euphoria. Sometimes, it's well worth getting a bit of muck on your boots, to grow some wings.

No date has been set for the next Same Bitches party yet, but with two months between each party, it should be around the first week of May.



2. Staub @ About Blank




Another energetic afterhour marathon is Staub, which runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month. Its music tends to be much harder than Same Bitches but the atmosphere is just as much unadulterated fun.

You go there to have an encounter with proper techno, rather than big DJ names because, at Staub, the lineups are never announced. The DJ's sound like they've been selected by someone who likes dancing with their eyes closed, too. Every time I'm there, I hear some new and amazing act that has been rescued from the anonymous DJ slushpile and elevated to new heights of passion, by a restless & adoring crowd.  For that reason, you can't expect to see the same acts twice and the acts that you do see? There's a good chance they'll never sound the same again. The anonymity of Staub works both ways, freeing everyone up whether they're on the dancefloor or behind the decks.

On the lobby dancefloor we saw Esther Dujin playing everything from early 1990s hard techno to more modern Tresor style sounds, with bits of gabber and trance thrown in. Guess she was feeling lucky to try and pull off a mix like that, but it really worked!  On the MDF dancefloor, the music by I/Y was more like hardtek, but still 'soft' enough for regular techno fans to immerse themselves in. Meanwhile, the garden floor was transformed into a beautiful chillout, with warm ambient grooves, plenty of seats, coloured lights, gleaming baubles and vines draped around the ceiling beams. 
In the interests of preserving that image-free vibe, Staub make no promises about its lineups, but the curious can find some sample tunes on their Soundcloud channel.


3. Something Slow @ Beate Uwe 



 


Next, moving even deeper into a retro 1990s chill-out vibe, we headed to this sumptuous Sunday afterhour. It started at around 4 p.m. and drew us with the promise of free brunch eats (they're really good, we tried 'em). The crew at Something Slow greeted everyone with a smile and encouraged us to take off our shoes & dance on the carpet like we would in our own living room (as people are wont to do when they're still rolling, as they roll through the door).

Something Slow was one of the friendliest after parties we've ever been to in Berlin. In all honesty, kindness is the one ingredient that anyone attempting a "retro" rave these days tends to neglect. The nineties were a heyday for chemical happiness, so arriving at any venue that's surrounded by tense bouncers, or full of punters sneering at each others' fashion faux pas, tends to make me feel as marooned in the narcissistic 'now' as watching a Trump speech on TV.  So, it's a huge relief to see that at least three great afterhours parties being run by people who put their full trust in the dancers, letting them go with their inner flow... wherever that may lead.

The next Something Slow is happening Sunday March 12th, from 4 p.m. till dawn.


All photo credits belong to their respective DJs and club promoters


*Please note that OHM is not actually a bath-house - it just closely resembles when it's so crowded that there's sweat literally dripping from the tiled walls!

9.2.17

Summer in Berlin is sur-really something!


Hard to remember that fact in February though, isn't it? Winter in Berlin means grey skies, grey streets and a grey-black mood. But at least we have our cameras and videos to remember the summer by, eh? 

Just imagine this: up until colour photography started being widely used, even the memories that people used to keep of this city on film were grey.  That meant they weren't even able to escape into a vision of the summer that had been (and hopefully would be again) like we can. So we should probably all take a second to be thankful for our smartphones, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube - and for Blogger of course!





Technology's transformed the camera since the black n' white days, and made it loads more accommodating to the mind reels of memories that all Berliners collect, to bursting point, each summer. There's never enough time to process all these memories at the time, so why not use the winter lull to try and catch up and make sense of it all? Or at least, to reaffirm how little sense any of it makes? 

As a mini-tribute to the little rectangular glowing screen in front of me that holds on to these memories, and doubles as my replacement sunlight over the winter months, I'm going to share a few of the sights I've stored on it from summer 2016.  Looking through these pictures today brought me a badly-needed hit of vicarious colour, heat and light to fill the end-of-winter void. Here's hoping it will do the same for you!


Streetart in sunny Strausberg, spotted on the way to a pristine lake


Stumbling into openair parties by accident, on the way home from work

Random unexplained statues on the Spree



Wreckage of old buildings being transformed into impromptu canvasses, outside of Berghain



Fete de la Musique @ Friedrichshain

...and protest parades under the sun


All-dayers at building sites full of sand the "beach"

Being able to walk anywhere, wearing anything, without getting cold...

...and keep walking...
...till you pass out in a flamingo boat!?
Ending the day with a sundowner on the Spree :-)

All writing & images © A. E. Elliott (unless otherwise specified)

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Berlin, Germany
...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, streetart, left-wing activism, social media trends and green issues. Other publications that I have written for include: Urban Challenger Blog, Siegesaeule, Shlur, Alternative Berlin, Sensanostra.