Burning Berlin: part 1
English people may have forgotten that they were once anarchic enough to chop a king's head off and have turned protesting into a fete for the mentally ill, but in Germany May Day is still a hugely violent festival of fear.
The 1st of May is the working man’s holiday in Germany, and while most people spend it eating sausages, getting pissed, and chirpily adhering to all known German stereotypes, there’s a whole lot of pissed-off kids in black hoods who see it as a time to fight the fuck out of the police under the supposed banner of anti-capitalism.
On April 30th, ANTIFA, the anti-fascist league, hold a sort of riot rehearsal, gathering in the bohemian district of Friedrichshain to listen to rubbish Oi!-ska and shout things about capitalism being a complete ball-sack of an idea. We were in Berlin so decided to check out ANTIFA's party.
It all started off pretty boring, the music was rubbish and punks and cops were walking past each other without spitting. About the most exciting thing that happened was when one of the punks nicked a girl's camera. There were a lot of crusty punks skanking to a band called Knattertones. They looked like a bunch of cool music teachers who've managed to convince some well-mannered unpopular students that upsetting fascists with a trombone is funner than behaving like a teenager.
The biggest moment of their set was when they played a cover of Katrina and the Waves' infamous protest hymn "Walking on Sunshine". Behind the 19-piece brass section, you could just about hear the sound of capitalism hiding its diamond cufflinks under the bed.
Friedrichshain used to be in East Germany, and it's traditionally an artistic and independent part of the city, a place where the punks have lived for years. Recently though a bunch of yuppies have moved in and driven the prices up. Though everyone seems to get along, I was told that if you park your BMW round here, it's quite likely it'll get blown up. I hope this financial adviser and his pretty girlfriend left their 6 Series at the office.
Because there are a lot of assaults on posh cars around here, people weren't keen on having their photo taken unless they were disguised. Even though the police in Berlin don't have to wear identity tags, anyone else can get arrested for hiding their face.
To be honest, it was more like a festival than a protest. Imagine brown grass instead of this pavement and it could be V and that guy could be showing his girlfriend a photo he got with the singer from Maximo Park.
This father and son fascism-wrecking crew kind of made the whole revolution thing seem like a fantastic idea.
Yeah you're right, Knattertones stink.
After about three dull hours, something started to stir. This guy knew it was happening because he started disguising himself.
Why you'd want to hide that smile is a mystery to me though.
From the small area where the gigs had been happening a small group of academic-looking revolutionaries started marching down the street and chanting. Everyone was drunk now and got really excited that someone was taking charge, so we all followed the banner.
After we'd marched for about five minutes, people started throwing rocks and everyone broke into a sprint, charging towards the commercial district.
At this point the police arrived. Some were dressed in black, and they were quite nimble.
Others though, the bottom feeders, were armoured in green and wearing platformed shoes, which made it hard for them to chase people. This guy fell over and everyone cheered like they were watching Wall Street burn.
The chase ended up on a main road where police tried to divide the crowds and corner them. Although ANTIFA had said this was a protest against neo-Nazis, most people were there to fight the cops. They started throwing bottles, which is actually quite pointless when your enemy is wearing 15 inches of stab-proof padding and a helmet the size of the sun.
Once the bottles started flying the police started attacking the crowd. Secretly this is what everyone had been waiting for. It gave the police the chance to be pricks and guys like this the chance to play Guevara.
Couldn't this whole thing just be sorted out with a massive water fight?
Say what you will about capitalists killing babies with powdered milk and mobile phone death-rays, but it takes some balls to drive your limousine through a riot.
This guy charged a gang of about eight cops right in front of us; they didn't think it was all that funny and started smashing his face on the pavement.
When the police subdue protesters, they have this habit of digging their fingers into people's eyes and dragging them by their face into the back of a van, where they probably then rape them with a statue of Mammon.
All this girl was doing was shouting and she got nailed by policemen three times her size. The kids may have been throwing bottles and chanting, but I never saw a group of three of them beating up a girl. Which means they win the moral victory, I guess.
She was fine though. I guess it's weird to fancy a girl who you've just seen being manhandled by officers of the law, so I'll just say that I admire her spirit.
Eventually the rioters were split and half of them ran away. A group of about 50 stayed to chant and have fun for a few hours. The next day everyone was claiming there had been 200 arrests, but there can't have been more than 200 people there at all. In the end this was just a rehearsal, it allowed the police to get their eye in for the big ruck the next day.