Impressions from the Anti-Capitalist demonstration in Mannheim Sep 2009

One of my latest attempts to figure out the Anarchist circles in my current place of residence, as an expat without a good grasp of the language, was to visit the anti-capitalist demonstration that happened yesterday noon in Mannheim. This was the first time I’ve seen such a demonstration in Germany so I wasn’t exactly certain what to expect, as my experience with it is mostly from Greece. A contact informed me to “expect repression and german demo laws” so the start was a bit ominous.

Unfortunately on the way there, we were a bit lost in finding our way around Mannheim so we ended up coming a bit late to the fun (about 20 mins) but hopefully the shouts and slogans of the demonstrators led us to the place everything was happening.

By far, the very first thing one notices is the very strong police presence. There were about 150-200 Anarchists in the middle, surrounded with banners and all around them where at least 50-100 policemen. The way the police had formed a wall around them was making it painfully obvious that this was a group of people “normal citizens” shouldn’t be interacting with. The feeling of domination by the police was painfully obvious as they were trying to contain the protesters.

It’s difficult to explain how much implied threat such a police presence registered. For all non-Anarchist onlookers, the police block gave all the “right signals” the state wanted to pass, that the people contained therein where dangerous elements you must be protected from. Furthermore, the heavy use of cameras all around the protestors and also towards onlookers made it even more obvious that your presence there was being noted, even if you were simply curious as to what the whole thing was all about. “Nothing to see here, move along. If you don’t then perhaps you need to be watched” was the feeling I was receiving.

Proof of such sentiments was further provided by Liriel, as an outsider looking in and with experience in previous German protests, she informed me that she’s never felt so threated before in her life for simply being in a public location, watching the proceedings. The police’s implied “You shouldn’t be here” attitude was very hard to ignore to such an extend that you’ll probably be reading soon another post in the Division by Zer0 written by Liriel about the whole thing.

If that wasn’t enough, the police made it painfully clear who is supposed to be watching whom here. As soon as I tried to take some pictures of the police presence, an officer walked over to me and in no uncertain terms made it clear to me that if I was to take one more picture of the police, he was going to take my camera and smash it. His hostility was unmistakable and during the protest, I saw him do the same thing to other onlookers 2-3 more times.  Needless to say that didn’t stop us from taking pictures but only made us do it less obviously.

Soon more Anarchists gathered and we ended up with a large-ish group of people chanting and clapping on the outside of the enclosed group (including me). Needless to say, this didn’t make the police very happy as people could talk to onlookers now and spread leaflets freely. More than once the police tried to enclose the outside groups as well, especially if they became too loud but always people would disperse and reconverge a bit later to chant from the outside once more.

Once the demonstration started moving, the same situation kept occurring again and again, many people would follow the march from outside the police enclosure and chant along with the protesters. As the outsiders became more and more loud, the police would attempt to enclose them as well, on occasion running  in front of us in order to block our way and redirect us within  the main procession. People would then run backwards or split in side streets and meet up the process 100 meters later. No less than three times did I see the police taking to chase protestors who were trying to avoid being kennelled in like some danger to society.

By far the most humorous part of the demonstration was when the protest was passing in front of a bank. The police had already made a human wall in front of the bank, one assumes to prevent any random people rioting in that general direction. As we were passing it, I made a comment like “Now we can plainly see what the police are here for” which made a few people around me laugh out loud. But this is in fact the truth. Even though during the process the police never felt the need to protect anything else, as soon as the banks were involved, they sprang to preventative measures, showing their true duty as the gendarme of the plutocracy.

The rest of the march was uneventful, if humorous at times as one looked at the police’s desperate attempts to control the Anarchists. Eventually we reached the main train station where the whole thing halted and soon after the Anarchists within dispersed just as quickly as they had gathered. In fact it was quite strange the way it happened. I half expected it to be a break among Anarchists and Police so that each side could go grab some drinks and food before continuing. We milled around for a bit until we were certain nothing more was going to happen and then left.

In the end, I believe there must have been around 300 anarchists present and about 100 police, which is quite a big presence if one thinks about it. Unfortunately the whole demonstration was still quite small which further reinforces my belief that Germany (as well as most of the first world) has not yet felt the real effects of the looming crisis. I think that once the shit hits the fan, there will be far a bigger civilian presence and police repression. Future will tell.

Of course, just because in Germany things are not bad enough to make for big protests, doesn’t mean that the same applies everywhere…

PS: Comic event of the day: As we were walking past a small market area parallel to the bigger march, we were shouting various anti-capitalist slogans. People weren’t really afraid of us and many were joking around. One stall-keeper asked us what this was about and when we explained she exclaimed: “Pirate Party Woooo!”, which was amusing to say the least. Not just because she confused our politics, but also because it showed how popular the Pirate Party in Germany has already become.

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