Oliver on a research trip in Morocco. All photos courtesy of Oliver.
The purchase of marijuana is generally prohibited in Germany, the exception being Berlin's Görlitzer Park, which has long been an oasis for weed consumers and served as a shining example of the capital’s rather lenient drug policy. Throughout the years, the residents of the traditionally left-wing Kreuzberg neighbourhood have co-existed in a kind of deceptive peace with the dealers and buyers frequenting the park, while the police—apart from the occasional raid—have mostly turned a blind eye.
However, the rising number of dealers—most of whom don’t have a residence permit and no other option to make a living than by selling drugs—has led to violence, harassment and increased media attention centred around the area. Last year, the mayor of Kreuzberg, Monika Hermann, proposed the opening of a legal coffee shop in order to get a grip on the situation. The senate rejected the idea, while the tension continues to build and police activity in the park swells.
The latest episode in this back-and-forth has been a YouTube video circulating on German social media for the past few days. The tape features a guy standing in front of a colorful bus, parked in the middle of the Sahara desert, announcing that on June 21, he is going to open a coffee shop in Görlitzer Park. He appears to have carefully considered his plan; he’s got a business registration with the "permit” to sell "Moroccan Hash” and a poster that shows the types of hash he plans to sell. “Come to Görlitzer Park!” he shouts into the camera. “I’ll have shitloads of hash on me!”
The guy’s name is Oliver Becker and he calls himself "an original hemp activist." During a phone call with the German Hemp Association, I was assured that Mr. Becker is serious about his vision. They passed me onto Oliver himself, who at the time was in Morocco, so he could explain his plans in his own words.
VICE: Hello Oliver, I just watched your video on Youtube. Are you serious?
Oliver Becker: Of course I am serious! This is not a joke, man. I’ve been part of the hemp movement for a long, long time now. For me the 21st of June is the right moment—that’s the day Germany will compete against Ghana [in the World Cup]—and the Görlitzer Park is the right place to start. The grand opening of a coffee shop is the right kind of signal and I am the right person for this. I really want to make big fuss about this: “Holywoodstock"—a holy Woodstock in Berlin.
What is your plan?
I am going to drive my mobile home onto the park's grounds and will put up a sign that says “Mobile Coffee Shop." I even have a sound system. I didn’t register it. I am just gonna go for it.
But, didn’t you also have a business registration?
Yes, indeed! I simply went to the commercial register. I knew that the guy in charge over there is a rather young chap, so I more or less threw him a curve. I could tell that he'd had a night out in the weekend so I said, "I’d like to start a business: import and sale of Moroccan Hash.” He said, "But that’s illegal!” I quickly replied, "Nah, it just requires permission.” And he issued the trade license.
Well, 45 minutes later, the guy rang me up and indicated that he had read up on it and asked me to, please, come back so he could revoke my application. And that's what I did.
You did it?
Yeah, I didn’t want to get the guy into trouble. The application cost me €45 [£36]. With a trade certificate like that, I've got good leeway with the authorities here in Morocco. I’ve got something I can produce to show that I occupy myself with the trade and import of Moroccan hash. Currently, I am also writing a letter to the king of Morocco asking to be received in audience.
Are you not afraid of the Moroccan authorities?
Not in the least. I am not in possession of a single gram. Sure, if I was driving a few kilos around, that would be illegal. But you won't find anything on me. I even stopped smoking it. They could even test my blood and not find anything.
But you said you wanted to import hash to Germany?
That’s my business plan, as specified on the trade certificate. But whether I am going to personally import the shit—that’s a completely different matter. I’ve been part of the hash movement for such a long time that I’ve now got a few contacts in Germany who “deal” with it in larger quantities.
So you are not going to sit on a plane with a few kilos of hash in your luggage?
Of course not. Even if I am driving onto the park grounds, that does not mean—by a long shot—that I am going to have anything on myself or onboard the bus. There could instead be someone in the crowd who would, for instance, hand me something. There are many other options here.
Oliver's bus in the Sahara
What if the police come and arrest you at the park? You've certainly made sure to publicize your plans.
Then I’m going to go on a hunger strike. I require that everything will unfold without violence, no radical lefties throwing stones. I would give in to my arrest. I hope that I will be able to mount enough support for myself to last me until the 50th day [of the hunger strike]—which would be the 9th of August, Berlin's Hemp Parade Day.
You want to go on hunger strike for 50 days?
Yes. I am going to go through with it, even being an insulin-dependent diabetic.
But we should hope that it won't come to this, right?
Sure! I don’t actually believe that it will come to this. I will inform the police about it. I wrote to the mayor of Kreuzberg, and Christian Ströbele, the member of Parliament for Kreuzberg, asking them to forward my contact to the Kreuzberg Chief Constable. I will resist and call upon the Constitution.
This is an act of resistance, then?
Absolutely. This is resistance in the terms of article 20, section 3 of the German Constitution: "Every German has the right to resistance where other means are out of reach." [Editor's note: It's actually section 4] He who is locked into a box for dealing hash is a political prisoner as far as I am concerned. Consider that our commissioner for drugs, Marlene Mörtele, advertises for alcohol. In my mind that’s unacceptable. I resist that.
When 120 legal experts get together to write a letter advocating the legalization of weed to Parliament and nothing, absolutely nothing comes of it, then a citizen must come forward and speak. And that’s what I am doing. I am a professional revolutionary—or evolutionary. I want things to change.
You also aim to make people aware of the publication of your book, right?
Yes, it's titled The Legaliser Autobiography. I have been part of the hemp movement since the early 1990s. In Germany, I was the first wholesale provider of hemp seeds. Unfortunately, I am also partly responsible for the recent rise in the market for artificial lighting—in my eyes that’s not a positive development. I’d like to promote a few ways to push this thing back a step towards nature.
What do you mean?
In order to produce THC under natural conditions, you need a hill. All hemp production areas on earth are in mountains; the Rif Mountains in Morocco, the Himalayas in Afghanistan or Nepal, the Blue Mountains in Jamaica and so forth. With artificial lighting you can simulate that. We’ve achieved THC levels that you will normally only find in mountains between three and four miles high. There, under normal conditions, you can no longer grow any other plants.
All seeds that are currently sold on the market are produced under artificial lighting. I don’t agree with that. I no longer smoke that at all, because it makes you much more lethargic. The main reason of course is to encourage the debate about drugs a bit.
Sounds like an exciting book.
I’ve got many stories to tell. I offer quite a few revelations that some people won't enjoy too much. But I stand with all of what is in there: I am not a criminal, even if I once brought some through the border or sold some here and there. I think a supermarket cashier selling a bottle of whiskey to an 18-year-old is as bad as any drug dealer.