The Night at the Schanzenviertel (without images)

By Kaspar Surber, Hamburg

“Press?” asks the police woman. “Press without a camera?” She looks puzzled at her colleagues. “Yes, I’m a writer”. The two of them beckon me from behind their human chain. For a moment, I feel I look like a journalist from the 20th Century. But maybe this is also a chance to just describe what’s happening this evening in the Schanzenviertel. In any case, in the pictures of the violence scenes that are taking place here, everybody is invisible. Not only does the police wear their Robocop uniforms, not only do the rioters cover their faces with a hood, also the photographers and camerapeople run around with a helmet. What seems small and local when being here becomes a riot that moves the world in the real-time news in the news portals. “In the Schanzenviertel there are whole street blocks burning”, I read on my mobile. “It’s like a war”, writes Spiegel Online.

Close up

The Schanzenviertel is burning, but not as a whole. What’s burning here is isolated barricades. They were built at hundred meters distance from each other in the main street, which is called Schulterblatt and crosses the whole neighbourhood. Seen from close up, they look like big bonfires, some are only embers, other have tall flames. People with their faces covered throw on them whatever they can find around there: cardboard boxes, branches, bikes. Every time a fire cracker explodes in the fire, some of the people cheer. There a lot of time to stoke the fire. The police, who’s used their water cannons virtually in every occasion in the last few days, is in position closeby. But they won’t use them long. It seems like they would also have an interest in leaving it burn for a while.
When the police eventually advances on the other side of the main street, people with their faces covered drag parasols from the pubs. Under the S-Bahn bridge, someone advances slowly towards the water cannon. It’s an absurd show – the white umbrella hit by the hardness of the water flow. But the parasol resists the pressure of the water, and from behind it, stones and bottles come flying towards the police. The show lasts for some minutes, the public applauds the umbrella. Then the police deploys their tear gas and everybody flees to the secondary streets.

“That’s the banking house!”

What happens here in the Schanzenviertel is no democracy, it even wasn’t announced as such. More likely it’s an assemblage: Many onlookers are here, the residents are standing in front of their houses. Time and again a Velomobile [bicycle with the possibility to transport people] is cruising the streets. In the sky, helicopters are rattling, brighting up the streets by their searchlights. Speaking choirs shouting political issues, but whom wears the hoodie – autonomous or young adults or both, is not recognizeable: What connects both, is the anger – and the desire for a kick.
Conversation of young residents in a side-entrance: “I paid for the Elbphilharmonie [an enourmous opera house in the city] with my taxes. They are listening to Mozart and we got this.” She: “Beethoven, not Mozart.” He: “Anyway, we got the damn Cops.” She: “Don’t say ‘damn Cops’.” He: “I’m not against the police. But what should this being-peaceful be? You don’t change anything by that.”
In the meantime shops get attacked and looted, mainly of big concerns like the mobilephone-shop of O2. On the other side of the street the advertisement of the Hamburger Volksbank [a banking house] is shining. Both doors are locked up with a metal shutter, the middle part is made of glass. A hooded man is throwing stones into the window. A resident is hurring towards him and points to the metal shutter: “That’s the banking house!” The stones get thrown anyway. “That’s the banking house!” The hodded man looks up surprised. The doors with glass are an entrance to apparments, the resident explains- “Oh no man, sorry!” the stone-thrower is calling out. Both are shaking hands. “That’s normal to us, we are used to this.” the resident says.

Logical effect

Walking through the area many thoughts are in my head: What does it is supposed to mean, the things that happen here?
The day in Hamburg started with a ban on demonstrations from 6am in the inner city and affecting an area of 38 square kilometres. Demonstrators tried to block the access road to the fair district and the Elbphilharmonie as the space where the G20-meeting will take place. It was successful to reach the Red Zone, to prevent a meeting of the German finance minister Wolgang Schäuble and to lock up Melania Trump, the American President’s wife, in her hotel. But the police was fighting with tear gas and water guns.
The freedom of assembly, one of the biggest goods in and of a constitutional state, was exposed, to protect authoritan head of states, such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Wladimir Putin. Attempts, to get back that right, were answered with violence by the police. Long since the blockades ended, aimless violence unlodaded in the Schanzenviertel [an area in Hamburg]. Even though, it’s not a justification of this actions, to read the events as an effect of the
politico-security hysteria: when fundamental constituinal rights and freedom gets levered, it’s no suprise, the atmopshere changes to anarchism.
A policeman who bar our way home got to the heart of the whole issue: Hamburg has been no democratic ruled area yesterday. He said: “This here is a troublemaker- and media-free area!” Somewhere we got out nevertheless.

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