Antifa vs AfD: resisting the rise of Germany’s far-right

Today, a far-right, xenophobic party became Germany’s third largest political force.

Pundits will point to the refugee crisis, the concurrent surge in right-wing populist sentiment elsewhere in the world, and the significant minority of Germans suffering from Merkel fatigue.

But these factors go only so far to explain how a party whose campaign featured slogans like “Burkas? We prefer bikinis” and “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves” could succeed in a country that, ostensibly at least, remains traumatised by the atrocities committed in its Nazi past.

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One of many openly racist AfD campaign posters

One truth likely to be overlooked is that  while the outrage may have been large, the resistance was not.

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Protest setting off from Savignyplatz

This isn’t to say that there was no resistance; it just wasn’t as sizeable as you might expect.

On Saturday afternoon, on the eve of this potentially momentous event in German post-war history, a group of a few hundred people in Berlin did resist.

Draped in rainbow flags and carrying banners that read “Stop the AfD,” they gathered by a patch of green at Savignyplatz in the leafy, well-to-do district of Charlottenburg in the west of the city.

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Antifa protester on skates

It was a carefully chosen location. Antifa, the self-described “radical left” organisers of the protest, have identified Charlottenburg as a hot-bed of the far-right. Their specific aim is to erode the institutions that facilitate its activities.

This was clearly reflected in the route chosen for the march.

Their first stop was Schlüterstrasse 32, where Carsten Schrank, a lawyer known for defending members of the neo-Nazi NPD group, has his office.

Then it was on to the Bibliothek des Konservatismus (Library of Conservatism) on Fasanenstrasse, an institution established in 2012 to house a collection of right-wing literature and serve as a meeting point for far-right sympathisers.

Another significant stop: Hardenbergstrasse  12, home to the offices of the Berliner Medien Vertrieb (Berlin Media Distribution) which manages the publication of the far-right weekly newspaper Junge Freiheit.  If  you are looking for an insight into their editorial stance, a current poll is titled “Sex attacks: Is Germany a safe country for women?”

As the protesters stood outside these places, they chanted slogans like: “AfD Rassistenpack!Wir haben euch zum Kotzen satt.” (AfD: racist crew. We’re sick to death of  you!) and “Say it loud, say it clear: Refugees are welcome here!”

The first half of the march passed without incident. The mood was largely one of joyful defiance, with police and protesters respecting each other’s boundaries.

This changed when the group got to Ernst-Reuter-Platz. The traffic junction, near Berlin’s Technical University, features a large patch of grass which all the political parties have used to accommodate their largest campaign billboards.

Some of these, including one featuring Merkel’s Social Democratic challenger Martin Schulz, had been defaced, with the word “NEGER” (nigger) strewn across it in large black letters.

When the protesters saw this, a handful of them reacted impulsively and slapped their Antifa stickers and posters over the offensive word.

In response, the police detained two of those responsible, accusing them of Sachschaden, or property damage.

Unsurprisingly, this elicited a furious response from the crowd. The protest ground to a standstill as angry demonstrators yelled at the police to let their friends go.

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The word ‘Neger’ written across Martin Schulz’s forehead and face obscured by Antifa stickers and posters

A heated exchange took place between an old woman and a young policeman near the scene of the action:

“So you’d rather the word ‘Nigger’ stayed on the placard?” she asked.

“That isn’t the point,” he said.

“So how come the people covering up the racial slur get in trouble but those who put it there in the first place don’t?”

“They’re two separate incidents,” he said. “Both amount to property damage. Both will be investigated. Our job is to uphold the rule of law. That’s what we’re doing here.”

“Just following orders,” another protester interjected derisively, a thinly veiled reference to the defence used by those who co-operated with the Nazi regime.

The two men were eventually let go on the proviso that a report into the alleged property damage would be compiled.

The march eventually moved on towards its final destination on Otto-Suhr-Allee, a long, impressive boulevard that bears the scars of its bombardment during the war.

Ugly blocks of flats co-exist with beautifully preserved exemplars of nineteenth century Altbau architecture.

As the demonstrators made their way down the street, they encountered their first hecklers.

You had to look upwards to see them.

On a balcony on the second floor of a drab apartment block, two men and a woman were chanting “AfD, AfD!”

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Locals chant “AfD, AfD” as protest passes them by

This unleashed a furious response. Protesters gave them the finger. And the trio responded in kind, clenching their fists and gesturing to the crowd as if to ask: “you want to come up here for a fight?”

The moment passed. But it was a strange and unnerving one.

This incident happened only a short walk away from the march’s final destination: 102 Otto-Suhr-Allee.

It’s the address of the Ratskeller restaurant. Attached to the imposing historical town hall building, it has become a regular haunt for members of the AfD.

A row of police officers guarded the restaurant’s entrance as a member of the West Berlin branch of Antifa chronicled the Ratskeller’s history of hosting far-right groups.

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Police officers guard the Ratskeller restaurant

In the 1990s, it allegedly welcomed members of Die Republikaner, a largely unsuccessful party that positions itself firmly to the right of the Conservative CDU and runs on an anti-immigration platform.

In the following years, it also supposedly hosted the so-called Tuesday Conversations (‘Dienstagsgespräche’), a closed event where members of the far-right exchange ideas.

And in 2016, it was here the AfD celebrated its entry into Berlin’s Senate.

The plan had in fact been for the AfD  to hold its election party here on Sunday night. But, prompted – one can strongly suspect – by lobbying from Antifa, the event was called off on short notice. 

When this news was delivered via mega speaker, a cheer erupted from the crowd.

But there was resignation too. The party would take place elsewhere and the Ratskeller was likely to continue to host the AfD’s regular meet-ups.

The protest ended with an announcement that Solitrinken, or “drinks of solidarity” would be taking place that evening to raise money for a Ghanaian asylum-seeker awaiting deportation.

By the time he leaves the country, the AfD will have entered parliament on an election program that identifies “a relationship between crime and foreigners” and describes an increase in the number of Muslims as  a “threat to peace.”

 

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Baking cookies with refugees

This is a follow-up to an earlier post about refugees in Germany

It was an afternoon full of surprises. For one, the Syrian teenagers loved baking Christmas biscuits. One of the boys carved the name ‘DIANA’ into his piece of dough and nodded shyly when I asked if it was the name of his girlfriend.

I met a Serbian man and his two young daughters, who looked angelic in matching owl hats. They’ve been here for six months and already the little girls speak perfect German.

When they arrived, they were entitled to free lessons. That policy has since changed to reflect the government’s intention to fast-track the applications of people with little hope of being granted asylum. Anyone from the Balkans is no longer considered worth the investment.

The father, ambitious, highly educated and fluent in English, fitted the description of ‘economic migrant.’ In Serbia, he worked as a salesman, overseeing two shopping centers. One of his ventures was into Lebanese honey, which he assured me, was the best in the world. “Even better than Manuka,” he said. He told me that no matter how hard he worked in Serbia, it remained a struggle to make ends meet. “It was different in the former Yugoslavia,” he said. “We had prosperity then. Now we can’t afford anything. And our passport is useless.”

As a fellow economic migrant, it made me sad to reflect that the accident of my birthplace entitled me, but not him, to seek a better future here.

But pragmatism, I think has to win out. There are 800 asylum-seekers arriving in Berlin every day. School gym halls are now being used to accommodate them. On the radio yesterday a mother described her son’s disappointment at finding out that his football training had been cancelled because the sports hall was now home to Syrian refugees.

The war in Syria has so dominated the conversation about refugees that it’s easy to forget the people coming from everywhere else.

As I was making to leave with another female volunteer, two young men motioned over to us. They gave off a macho, yet needy vibe, asking in a conspiratorial tone whether we used ‘Whatsapp.’ I was evasive in my answer but relented and gave them my number when they asked for it directly.

The men come from Gambia. One of them has been sending me unsolicited messages. He has been transparent, and – frankly – inappropriate in his pursuit of contact, refusing to accept that I have no romantic interest in him.

But I don’t regret giving him my number. His messages have been enlightening. It is depressing how desperate he is to attach himself to a woman from the EU. His messages are manipulative – describing his sadness at not hearing from me, demanding again and again to ‘meet me at the TV turm’ despite my clear assertion that this is not on the cards.

Sometimes the language of his messages changes, with sentences apparently copy and pasted from lyrics or inspirational quotes.

I don’t particularly pity him, as I was annoyed that his badgering continued after I asked him to stop.

But I do wonder what he left behind in Gambia and whether being married to an EU citizen really would be the utopia he imagines.

When Dublin Meets Berlin

There was a delay on one of the underground lines in Berlin a few weeks ago because a homeless man had fallen asleep on the tracks. Security personnel rushed to the scene and the man was woken up. Bewildered, he growled at the passengers staring at him. He was escorted off the platform but it all took time. There was a short delay before service resumed.

Meanwhile, a public announcement had urged passengers to take alternative routes. I got on another train which would take me close to where I needed to go. Sitting opposite me were two little girls, aged about nine and eleven, who had also been waiting for the first train. We’d barely been on the second for five minutes when it was announced that “Service has now resumed on the U8.”

The smaller of the girls pursed her lips and shook her head, disgusted. “What an absolute joke,” she said. “Why didn’t they announce that it would only take five minutes to clear the line?” The other rolled her eyes and sighed. “This kind of thing is always occurring. It’s a farce.”

My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. First of all, the transport system in Berlin is the single best I have ever encountered. And second, here were two tiny German girls complaining about bad service in language so adult and earnest that it was comical.

This, I thought is the difference between the Germans and the Irish.

I imagined a similar situation in Ireland, where a conversation might have gone like this: “Jaysus, the poor fella. Did you get a look at him? Lucky somebody saw him and he wasn’t driven over … Jaysus! Sure we’ll be fashionably late. It’ll be grand sure. We’ve a story to tell.”

As our economy wilts and theirs prospers, it’s worth examining what makes the Germans German and the Irish Irish. I’m in a rather convenient position to do so, being half of each.

People here tell me that when I begin to complain habitually about everything, I can be called a “Berliner.”

Complaining in Germany, as in Ireland is a national hobby. The difference here is that complaints are taken seriously.

The reason that complaints are taken seriously is that responsibility is too. When you go to a ticket vendor or to buy a hot dog, you’re served with the same level of attention as you are in a bank or a lawyer’s office.

Some time ago, I was working on a story about low wage workers and got talking to a middle-aged woman selling hot dogs on the street. “I take my job seriously,” she told me, after she spoke perfect English while serving some American tourists. “I want people to enjoy their food.” She was earning about six euro an hour and was finding it hard to make ends meet.

Sincerity too is an integral part of the German mindset. If you say “We must meet up for a coffee. I’ll give you a call in the next couple of days,” it means that you will certainly arrange a date within three working days.

Shortly after I moved into my apartment, I made my flatmate dinner. It was vegetarian Shephard’s Pie and I was worried that it hadn’t turned out well. As we sat down to eat it, he took a few mouthfuls and said nothing. I was nervous. Perhaps it wasn’t to his taste. I waited for a while and then tentatively asked whether the food was alright.

“It’s delicious,” he said.
“Then why didn’t you say anything?” I cried.
“Well I had to wait to taste it properly,” he said. “It would have been insincere to say it was nice straightaway.”

I thought about that for a long time.

While the Germans are responsible, reliable and sincere, the Irish are compassionate, humorous and wily.

When my parents visited me recently, they were a little slow in buying their train ticket at the machine. A woman in her twenties standing behind cursed at them and shoved them out of the way. I would like to think that in Ireland, she would have given them a hand. For all its Celtic Tiger madness, Ireland has remained a place, where, as my mother so nicely puts it, “eejits and eccentrics are well tolerated.”

Before I moved to Berlin, my boyfriend made me a mix tape which included two anthems to remind me of home. One of them is the speech Enda Kenny made to welcome Barack Obama to the country and the other is the lament, with mandolin accompaniment, performed by Joe Duffy following Thiery Henri’s handball in 2009, which crushed Ireland’s dream of qualifying for the World Cup.

The latter is ridiculous and hilarious and features lines such as “Will You be Out of Favour To Sell Gillette Razors?” and “It’s a pity for the South African nation without us at their world celebration.” Enda’s speech on the other hand, is so full of passion and pride that it’s hard not to feel a pang of affection for the little nation, which despite falling to pieces, has still managed to maintain a healthy dose of national pride.

While the Irish might champion mediocrity, they do it with charm. Ireland is like the child in the psychological experiment that gobbled up the single marshmallow, despite knowing that if it had waited, it would have received two. Germany is the child that waits for the second marshmallow but wonders whether, by the same principle, it would make more sense to continue to wait rather than to enjoy the two already gained.

The Irish are wily and endearingly naive. We wouldn’t quite call ourselves dishonest but we’d settle on being creative with the truth: the stuff of brown envelopes, dodgy property deals, shifty politicians and the Catholic Church. On the other hand, it’s also the kind of opportunistic cleverness that bagged Enda a meeting with the Chinese Vice President last February, made Jedward into national icons and allows some to hold fast to the belief that we really, really, really can win the Euros.

If we could learn accountability and responsibility from the Germans and teach them to kick back and remember that everything – probably will be grand in the end – we’d both be better off. Instead, they’ll be bailing us out for decades and we’ll be telling jokes to numb the pain.

The Euro Crisis: A Family Drama

Cast of Characters

The Proud Parents: Germany and France
The Eldest child: The United Kingdom
The Wild Child: Greece
The newly adopted: Croatia
The Redeemable Rogue: Ireland
The neglected middle child: Spain

Synopsis

 G and F didn’t like each other. Then tragedy brought them together.

They cast their differences aside and became inseparable. They decided to build a family.

They vowed to be the best parents in the world. They were young and believed their family would be the happiest in history.

They were wise too. They welcomed their young with open arms and closed fists full of caveats.

(If their own bitter experience had taught them anything, it was that successful family life meant balancing freedom and constraint.)

Each year a new member was born. G and F wanted a big, happy family and they weren’t finished yet.

Their eldest, UK was a strapping lad. At first he imbibed his parents’ values. As the family grew, he began to feel stifled. He wanted more independence.

During a romantic weekend away in Maastricht, G and F conceived a fresh plan to unite them all.

It was the last straw for UK. He decided he wanted out.

When the kids hit their teens, G and F noticed that a crisis in family values was looming across the waters. They blamed fast food and the American consumer culture.

Within a few months, things got worse. Ir, who had fought through a shaky start in life to become everyone’s favourite teenage success story, turned out to be living precariously close to financial ruin. G and F were disappointed and wondered if they were too lax in tolerating her constant partying.

Then S and P went off the rails too. G and F wondered if they’d spoilt the children.

But the family pulled together and bailed the kiddies out.

The mess wasn’t over yet.  Now Gr, the fiery middle child was in trouble. Financial ruin kind of trouble. Gr had been lying to his parents for years.

That was the last straw for G and F, who began to impose discipline.

On top of it all, they agreed to adopt another child.

Cro, a youngster with a troubled past had wanted to be part of the perfect family for years.

When the time finally came though, Cro realised that things weren’t so perfect after all.

Can they all pull together and become a model family once again? A vacation in Davos seems to be their only hope..

What the critics say:

This tension-filled family drama is sure to be a bloc-buster

                               More drama than your average Greek tragedy!

image source: http://www.salon.com