Going Underground

Karl-Marx-Straße U-Bahn station. Berlin, December 2015.

For radicals, it can be exciting. Graffiti denouncing god scrawled on churches. Manifestos posted to to nearly every utility box. Streets and squares named after left-wing icons, like Karl Marx, and Walter Benjamin, in nearly every district, in the western half of the city, as well as the the predictable east.

Indeed, Berlin’s oppositional rep is not without merit. But, like all ‘alternative’ cities, it’s important to recognize what it really says about the city. Not that it’s just a utopia for free thinkers, but also a site of intense conflict. Perhaps more than other places, but not all that unusual for a capital city of a major world power.

The difference is that it’s Germany. Underneath all the affluence and industrial success stories, like its auto industry, lies a country locked in intense conflict with itself. Want to know where modern genocide came from? It didn’t just originate in a desire to scapegoat Hitler’s enemies, or get revenge for the humiliations of Versailles.

It also stemmed from a fundamental violence embedded in German culture, one which makes sense given the shrillness of its class politics, and the country’s fundamental intolerance of upheaval – the same sort that finds easy expression, today, in right-wing extremism, and hatred of Arab immigrants.

That’s why so much of what we define as the left, ideologically and intellectually, has its roots in 19th and 20th century Germany, and not, for example, in Japan. That German politics would have a sense of universalism to it, removed from its original context, says a lot about what Germans have in common with the outside world.

This is the appeal of Berlin, and why it continues to be a magnet for the left, long after the events associated with its revolutionary allure. Like all such places, however, the city’s function, as a fetish object, is not without its problems. The following flyers and translations do the talking.

Neukölln, February 2016.
Radical flyers. Berlin, February 2016.

Our passion for freedom….

Since the autumn of last year, the neighbourhood around Rigaer Straße has become a danger zone. It is one of a dozen areas in the city where the cops enjoy special powers. There’s overt surveillance, they walk about in plain clothes and have a constant presence, seeking to clean up the block of people they think are undesirable.

The Friedrichshain neighbourhood has now been “normalised” and the counter-culture occupation for which it has been well-known for the last 26 years is gone. A neighbourhood that has been a thorn in the side of numerous politicians, and bitten the hand of many homeowners and speculators. For years, the city centre has been plagued by appreciating prices and displacement. Rent-hikes, contract terminations and evictions are the sad reality of a city that is full. But there is resistance, by self-organised neighbourhood initiatives and occupation attempts that launch direct attacks on symbols of gentrification.

The authorities respond to these measures by declaring a quasi-state of emergency, increasing checks and police violence. Interior Senator Hinkel thinks it is time for his law-and-order fantasy to become reality and to let his guard dogs off the leash. An entire part of the city is being terrorised by the armed wing of democracy. Let us not be intimidated, let us use the situation to expose the lie that has been sold about the social peace. Solidarity with the victims of the state’s arbitrariness and repression.

…is stronger than any authority!

Against a world of borders and controls…

On 23 and 24 February, the Berlin Congress Centre will play host to the European Police Congress. Representatives of the armaments and surveillance industries will all mingle with international politicians, the security services and the military, coming up with strategies to counter the situation we find ourselves in. A situation that sees our world in the midst of disintegration.

The insatiable struggle for raw materials has led to wars, poverty and ecological disasters in many parts of the world. This has resulted in millions of people being displaced. On Europe’s external borders, death is a daily consequence of this state of play. Borders are being fortified, fences thrown up and the police and military called in to keep out the “undesirables”.

This is all a result of the ignorance of Western society. The crisis is a result of the inherent nature of the system and the conflict will come to a head. Social controls and a state of emergency in the name of democracy are no longer threats from a far-off future. They have become the norm.

We do not want to resign ourselves to these norms. Let us fight for a life of solidarity and freedom, and be on the side of people who want to roam in search of a better life and who have decided to join the revolution and shake the branches of the system. Against the state, against its defenders and against all authority!

…in the name of freedom!

Translated from the German by Samuel Morgan. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.