Hamburg: Police Attack Rote Flora demo – #HH2112

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hamburg21d_3On December 21, German police forces attacked a demonstration for the occupied social center “Rote Flora,” the “Esso houses,” and a solidarity demo for the “Lampedusa in Hamburg” refugees. But this time people defended themselves, and police forces lost control in parts of the city for hours. A subjective eyewitness account is included below.

In Hamburg, activists have been protesting for the “Lampdedusa in Hamburg” refugees right to stay for months now in a series of actions and demonstrations. The largest demonstration in solidarity with refugees took place on November 2, when twenty five thousand people marched peacefully in the city center of Hamburg. Authorities responded with initial deportation orders for some of the refugees of the “Lampedusa in Hamburg” group, and further repression of ongoing demonstrations in solidarity with refugees. On December 14, police brutally attacked a refugees solidarity demonstration.

Video – Hamburg on December 14: Police attack a demo in solidarity with refugees with dogs and pepper spray.

In the midst of the ongoing struggle for the rights of refugees, the owner of the occupied social center Rote Flora, Klaus Martin Kretschmer and his investor Gert Baer, announced that they want to evict the building. Kretschmer and Baer want to demolish the building, which was occupied in 1989 and turned into a concert hall. Their plans are part of the ongoing gentrification of the Schanze neighbourhood in Hamburg. From the beginning, Kretschmer and Baer have been escalating the situation by referring to the autonomous groups and other workers in the Rote Flora as terrorists. As people started to mobilise for the demonstration on Saturday December 21, Kretschmer and Baer sent an eviction notice to the Rote Flora for December 20, one day before the demonstration. They both knew that the building couldn’t be evicted that easily, as Kretschmer bought the building when it had already been occupied for years. Also, it will take a long battle in court to get an eviction order.
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At the same time, there is an ongoing battle for the Esso houses. The owner of the houses, Bayrische Hausbau, wants to demolish the buildings to build new structures which will be the next step in the gentrification of the St. Pauli neighbourhood. The tenants of the Esso houses refused to leave, but were evicted only days before the demo on December 21 because the buildings were threatening to collapse (as the owner has done nothing to maintain the buildings for years). Surely this was because they planned to demolish them anyway, in order to generate more profits for their gentrification project.
Despite this already hostile climate, Hamburg’s local authorities decided to go for full on confrontation. They banned the route of the demonstrations in the weeks before the 21st of December, because they did not want shoppers in the city center to be offended by the refugees message. In the days before the Rote Flora demo, authorities created a hysterical and inaccurate story in the media about thousands of violent protesters coming to destroy the city, and finally Hamburg’s police force installed a “danger zone” in large parts of the Hamburg city center. The “danger zone” area allows police to detain people for any reason they choose (its enough if police think someone might commit a crime).
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A subjective eyewitness account
When we decided to go to the demonstration in Hamburg, the group of activists I went with discussed what we should expect. We were pretty sure that in this climate, things could get rough. Some of us experienced the brutal police attack on the peaceful Blockupy demo to the ECB in Frankfurt, and knew that german police forces could attack the demo any time with or without reason. Others have experience with police brutality from various demos. We decided to stay together as a group, with people we know and trust, in order to make it impossible for the police to infiltrate.
We arrived a couple of days before the demo in Hamburg. On Friday, we checked the route and noticed that the Esso houses were secured by an easy to remove construction fence, and that other construction sites on the route where not secured at all. Stones were lying around that could be used as munition if people desired. Our group discussed that while we were walking around, and most of us were pretty sure the demo would never even reach the Esso houses.
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We arrived fairly early at the Rote Flora on Saturday December 21. The first thing I noticed was that about 50 meters behind the starting point of the demo, a water canon was standing on the demo route facing the direction of the starting point. We discussed this with our group, and our expectation was that the police would either move the water canon, or that they would attack the demo immediately after it started. More and more people were showing up, and at 15:00 we were ready to go with thousands of people (according to the police there were 7,300 protesters, according to the organisers more than 10,000).
Immediately after the demo started, cops attacked the demo with batons and pepper spray for no clear reason. In an initial statement, a police spokesman said they had to stop the demo because it started too early. This was not a well thought out excuse, considering the demo was scheduled to start at 15:00 and people started to march at 15:09. Videos show the first line of cops putting their helmets on as they marched to towards the demo to block it, and shows that protesters were not throwing anything at the police before the demo started.
Shortly after that, the police began to push the demo back with brutal force. Our group was split in to two groups. One was for offensive tactics, and at the front to defend the demo against attacks by cops, while one was more defensive and closer to the middle of the demo. At the front, people resisted the attacks by riot cops. The police tried to kettle the whole demo, but they could only kettle certain parts. Hundreds managed to leave the demo before the cops could kettle them, and many started to build barricades at several side streets while the cops began to lose control. In the following hours, many groups were building barricades in the Schanze and St. Pauli neighbourhood, and later in the Altona neighbourhood. Several corporations were attacked, and the cops were not able to control those groups who were mostly moving fast and doing their thing. The “Right to the City” group managed to have a spontaneous march to the Esso houses, and even a gathering in front of the houses.
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In the evening hours our group was completely re united (the “front” and “middle” group). One had broken teeth from the fist of a policeman, and had been heavily peppersprayed. One woman from the group had slight problems with her foot as she was kicked, and also was the victim of excessive pepper spraying. Later on, when we were in St. Pauli, a group of activists who were playing drums were kettled at Seiler street. Other activists decided to turn the tables and kettle the police line. After about 15 minutes, police gave up and released the activists they kettled. It was one of many moments that the cops lost control that night.
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A friend from another city had lost his group so we waited for him. He joined our group, and had an injured foot after cops kicked him several times. We were able to walk for hours without problems, but the man hunt orchestrated by police became more intense. They hunted for anyone who was walking on the streets, but many locals helped activists by letting them in and out of their homes through front and back doors. Bar owners helped people by hiding them in bathrooms and basements, a great sign of solidarity. At St. Pauli, a convoy of police vans stopped and cops came running out to chase us. We managed to escape, but lost a few of our group. One was saved by a bar owner, while another one was in the middle of an ID check as the cops had to leave to chase another group. After that we went back to our base, as the injuries from some were getting worse and we wanted to make sure that we got them out of the danger zone safely.
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In the coming weeks and months, there will be many discussions on what December 21 in Hamburg means for the movement. The cops highly escalated a situation that they lost control of. Also, it seems that the right to demonstrate in Germany is not worth the paper it’s written on. Especially regarding demos of people who are not appealing to politicians, but who make clear they will fight for their rights. Demos like Blockupy in Frankfurt, where 20,000 activists made it clear they will fight against EU austerity and the Troika, and like the 10,000 activists in Hamburg who made it clear they will defend the Rote Flora, fight for the Esso houses, and for the rights of refugees. This story is far from over. Saturdays demo, and everything that happened after the cops attacked the demonstration, were the start of a long struggle.
To be continued!
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Jennifer Baker is the founder and editor of Revolution News - Contact us with inquiries, tips, corrections at - revnewsmedia@gmail.com