Berlin Community Event

May Day Protesters Vocal But Mostly Peaceful

May Day demonstrators marched through Berlin this past Sunday.

May Day demonstrators marched through Berlin this past Sunday. Julie Shipley hide caption

itoggle caption Julie Shipley

"No to racism, no to gentrification, no to increased rents! Berlin should not become the next Paris or London."

These were the shouts from the community representative from Neukölln's Schiller neighborhood to the crowd as they waited impatiently at Kottbusser bridge for the "Revolutionary May 1" demonstration to begin.

Speakers addressed the crowd in German, French, English and Turkish. They called for communities to band together in the fight to keep Berlin affordable and issued warnings to beware of the police.

"If you're arrested or you witness your friends being arrested call the "Ermittlungsausschuss" and give them your name and date of birth. Don't lose each other," the organizers told the 10,000-strong crowd before they finally began their procession through Kreuzberg and Neukölln to cries of "Yalla, Yalla." (Turkish for "Let's go!")

Gentrification and increasing rents have become a heavily debated topic in Berlin over the past few years. According to one black-clad demonstrator, who declined to be named, organizers chose to bring the demonstration through Kreuzberg and Neukölln, Berlin's latest "trendy neighborhoods," because of soaring prices in these districts.

Some anger has been directed at Berlin's newcomers and so-called "Kiez-Killers" (neighborhood killers); however, most of the discourse on May 1st steered clear of such scapegoating.

This year's demonstrations remained largely peaceful, in spite of fears of an escalation in left-wing violence following the forcible evictions of Friedrichshain's well-known Liebig14 house project in January. The evictions resulted in clashes with police and galvanized the left-wing scene in recent months.

As the May 1 protest drew to a close at Rathaus Neukölln, riot police funneled demonstrators towards Hermannplatz, where minor skirmishes broke out between the two groups. Some masked protesters threw stones and bottles at police, who retaliated with pepper spray and by charging at the crowd. The atmosphere remained tense, as protesters were then barricaded in for around an hour at the top of Hermannplatz before being allowed to disperse. The windows of the Volksbank on Karl Marx Straße were also smashed during the demonstration.

The sign reads, "Welcome to the police organized MyFest. 2011: Swig, Gorge, Push."

The sign reads, "Welcome to the police organized MyFest. 2011: Swig, Gorge, Push." Julie Shipley hide caption

itoggle caption Julie Shipley

Left-wing demo organizers complained that the city and police were usurping "Revolutionary May 1," which has traditionally been a day of international labor protests, with the MyFest celebrations.

Volker Ratzmann, head of the Green's parliamentary faction, told the Berliner Morgenpost that MyFest was founded to prevent riots in Kreuzberg, where Berlin's May Day activities traditionally take place.

A carnival atmosphere prevailed on the streets of Kreuzberg where beer-touting revelers listened to musical offerings in Görlitzer Park, Mariannenplatz and Oranienstrasse and complained about boarded up banks.

An unregistered demonstration was escorted through crowds of bemused picnickers at Mariannenplatz before quickly dispersing. Even amidst the anti-capitalist chants and broken glass at Hermannplatz, two photographers discreetly photographed some models for a Levi's photo shoot.

"I know we're doing the most capitalistic thing you could be doing today, but it's a good shoot. We were down at the MyFest in Görlitzer Park earlier too," said one of the paint-covered photographers.

Some of those at the MyFest were more politically engaged. Wilma Renfordt, a curator and dramaturge, experimented with a "citizen's initiative generator" along with members of the art and culture group "Theorie und Praxis Gemeimschaft: Dr Fahimi." People were invited to explain their political ideas, which were then transformed into a "functioning social movement over four stages within 30 minutes."

The group devised a program and slogans for demonstrators, providing them with demo material, such as placards and stickers. "We wanted to be a tool or a catalyst to show people how to put their political ideas out there and also to see how these processes work," Renfordt said.

The group generated 15 initiatives in just a few hours. "We had expected lots of fun ones, but most came to us with serious political ideas. The people were also quite diverse, including a cleaning lady, who wanted better working conditions and pay and two German soldiers who wanted a voice in social movements because they are not allowed to express their political opinions publicly - even out of uniform," Renfordt continued. The group plans to try the initiative again on a larger scale.

German media outlets reported that some 7,000 police officers were deployed on May Day. Police made a total of 161 arrests on May 1 and April 30, the latter of which is a traditional day of leftist riots in Berlin also known as "Walpurgis Night." Last year, 490 arrests were made. Die Tageszeitung also reported of some tense stand-offs between police and protesters and an excessive use of pepper spray by police.

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