Last Exit Hamburg

All eyes on us - burgomaster Olaf Scholz definitely achieved his goal: The world is looking at Hamburg. Maybe a tad bit differently than he initially had in mind.

View at the 'Landungsbrücken' along the harbor and the new opera house 'Elbphilharmonie' where the world leaders had a pleasant evening - undisturbed by violent excesses.
©Christian Spahrbier

The 'Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg' located in the very North of Germany is not only a city, but also a Federal Country; just like Bremen and Berlin.

Since Hamburg has an international harbor - after Rotterdam it's Europe's second largest -  it was the gateway to the 'New World' in the 19th century. Generations of immigrants from the Eastern European countries passed through here to the United States of America.

In the 1960s Hamburg was host to a fabulous boy group - the fab four, aka the Beatles who had their first public gigs at the 'Star Club' in Hamburg's notorious red light district.

Beginning of this millennium, Hamburg - or rather it's most Southern suburb Harburg - became shortly famous for a handful of exchange students from Egypt and the Middle East who eventually flew planes into the Twin Towers in Manhattan and changed the world's fate in a not so good direction.

And this weekend Hamburg is on the news again because it had to welcome twenty world leaders and their modest entourage of about 600 lackeys.

Hamburg has a burgomaster, and this burgomaster's name is Olaf Scholz. Many wisecrackers call Mr. Scholz the 'Scholzomat' due to his extremely restrained facial expressions. He either looks serious when he talks about serious matters, or he shows a very diffident smile like he took a fist full of barbiturates when circumstances require a little less seriousness.

Olaf Scholz
Burgomaster Olaf Scholz
© Dominik Butzmann

On July 7, I saw for the first time a genuine mien on the Scholzomat's face. It was dismay. Dismay, because he stood brutally corrected: Before he welcomed a couple of not so very popular chiefs of states, he had compared this not so very popular mega event with our annual Harbor Anniversary - which is a row of stalls selling beer and fast food along the harbor line while ships and boats are floating up and down the river Elbe., Hamburg's population did not conceive his vanity project this way. For weeks everybody was getting ready for these two days in July: one third of the Hamburgers left town, protesters prepared themselves, the police mobilized units from other federal countries to protect the guests of states against the guests of the activists.

The river Elbe during the annual Harbor Anniversary. There is much more water and much less fire than this weekend at the Sternschanze .
©Michael Zumpe

Irony has it that the first group of slobs that had to be sent back home were police units from Berlin who misbehaved, got wasted, had public sex in the yard of their sleeping quarter, danced on a table only dressed in a bath robe and waving a service weapon and peeing in line against a fence. Plus they picked a brawl with a unit from another federal country.

In the run-up to the summit, an alternative, the so called "Global Solidarity Summit" took place on July 5 and 6, organized by 120 NGOs. The key speaker was nobody less than Vandana Shiva, laureate of the Right Livelihood Award 1993 (also known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize). This was supposed to be only one of many peaceful protests.

Of course demonstrations and marches were planned. And Hamburg is known for a quite determined autonomous community, hence resolute and probably violent protests had to be expected. Mainly from the group called the 'Schwarzer Block', the black block, an extremist block that deploys all dressed in black and hooded and mummed which is illegal according to German right of assembly. So I guess nobody was taken by surprise.
Least of all the police, mind you they put Hartmut Dudde in charge, an ill-famed hardliner who tends to bend the law in the protesters' disfavor. Both sides knew what they had to expect.

The police presented in a press conference a special jail they'd constructed in a remote part in the South of Hamburg. The protesters announced their demonstration titled "Welcome to Hell". De-escalation was off the table.

The weekend before the summit, first protesters came from out of town, there were some quarrels about legal or illegal camps and camping. The police didn't look too good in this scenario.

Since last Wednesday I felt the change: The subway I have to squeeze myself in every morning was almost empty. All the companies around the harbor closed down on Friday. My employer doesn't endow the day off, so finally I've donated indirectly about 200 Euro; you're welcome, Scholzomat.
Already the night before, helicopters had started circling over Hamburg - a city where it is illegal for the commercial aviation to land after 10 p.m. Well, special situations require...I know, I know.
Listening to the helicopters, I'm like Pavlov's dog - immediately humming Oasis' 'Do you know what I mean' (if you're not familiar with the song: the intro is some disturbing helicopter noise).

Anyway, we had helicopters, we had red zones and fiery red zones, and we didn't have to go to work and parents were allowed to keep their kids at home from school and the subway was like swept clear. Germans tend to get thoroughly prepared for extreme situations: In France, a strike is a strike - nothing is shaking, no trains, no planes, nothing. In Germany, before the locomotive engineers' strike in autumn 2014, they gave out special time tables, everybody organized for themselves alternative means of transportation, so when I got to the station in Berlin to take the specially scheduled train, there was almost nobody else. I've never been on such a comfortable train ride between these cities: no passengers and perfectly on time. That's a strike in Germany since Germans tend to get thoroughly prepared for extreme situations.

But this time we weren't. We were not prepared for what happened after the police behaved quite aggressively and very violent from the beginning of the above mentioned march with the poetic title "Welcome to Hell". As always, it's difficult to judge who's right and who's wrong. There were ugly pictures how cops treated protesters - like e. g. left wing politician Norbert Hackbusch. The cops claim that people threw bottles and rocks. Fact is, this was expected, this is what's happening every single year on the 1st of May at the neighborhood Sternschanze; every single year.

On an  ordinary day at the Sternschanze. The only scary thing is the rapid gentrification that makes housing for the long-time residents unaffordable.
©Sven Schwarze

At night from Friday to Saturday I woke up from an unbearable stench of burning rubber. It's summer, I had my windows wide open, but still it was strange to smell it so strongly.
The next morning I've heard that about 70 cars and trash containers had been set on fire in a neighborhood about 2.5 miles from my house. The story and pictures and videos got viral on the Social Media. The phenomenon was not new, the magnitude was. And as we know now, this was just the beginning.

In the evening every German TV channel showed first disturbing, eventually frightening pictures from the Sternschanze with huge fires, loosened pavement-blocks, some people getting completely berserk, others taking pictures and even selfies in front of this horrific scenario. On a roof was about a dozen of hooligans. The police did not intervene of fear the mob might go on into the neighborhood's small alleys. Let's face it - they didn't have the situation under any control whatsoever. They justified their indecision by fear the hooligans on the roof would throw flagstones and molotov cocktails at them.
Meanwhile the mob began looting the stores nearby - it was pure anarchy.

At this time, Ms. Merkel and her guests from out of town enjoyed a Beethoven concert at the new opera house Elbphilharmonie - ode to joy and eventually a lovely supper, this is how the other half lives.
Only the Scholzomat had to leave the pleasant reunion for a short statement - and it was then that there was no neutrality in his expression. I don't think that he felt like humming along to the ode to joy.

And now? It's a big, big mess. And I'm not talking about the innocent people who are filling out the forms for their insurance companies after sweeping what's left of their car into the trash bin. I'm not talking about the supermarket and the drugstore that got plundered.
I'm thinking about the many, many people who say that right wing violence and left wing violence are the same. These people that think in black and white, that do not distinguish, that will now use this undisturbed for promoting their inhumane ideas.

Of course - and yes, even after these pictures - this violence which was exclusively against objects (listen good, I will not repeat it after every sentence: I disapprove it!) cannot be weight agains fascists setting asylums on fire where people are sleeping just because they dislike their nationality and color of skin. But yesterday's hooligans do not even stand for the protesters. Not for the peaceful protesters and even not for the average 'black block'. These people have nothing to do with the - however extreme - left wing movement. But for Joe and Jane Lunchbucket, the protesters are now 'terrorists' who should be put in labour camps or simply shot. No, I'm not making this up, I read loads of comments like this under a youtube video about the incendiaries. That scares me even more than yesterday's scenes. And I'm so mad and sad because these idiots took the edge off our arguments against the G20 summit.

It's completely absurd: Nobody - even not the news - is talking about the summit. Nobody is mentioning the brutality and perversion of justice committed by the police at the beginning of the protests. Nobody cares about the righteous protests. Everytime the topic will come up in future, from the conservative middle class to the far right, everybody of them will throw the pictures of Sternschanze 2017 in our face.

The Scholzomat is granting us as compensation for our inconvenience free entrance to a couple of museums tomorrow. Nope, this will by far not compensate all the present and future inconveniences.

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