March 17: the first, gestetnered issue of the Besetzer Post appears. It announces that 115 houses are now squatted. A week later the second issue comes out. By then it’s 123.
“I’d like to go over sometime,” Horse says.
They are in Spectrum. A big place, monstrous in fact, the largest Freak watering hole around. And the cheapest. Mehringhof is one of the centres of the alternative scene. The upper storeys of the building complex house a printers, a theatre, die Alternative Liste office, Netzwerk – a sort of lefty bank that funds alternative projects – and even some sort of primary school or kindergarten.
Dread smiles one of his evil smiles.
“The price for decadent Westerners the likes of us is thirty marks now. West marks. But with that you can stuff your capitalist self full of as much socialist beer and vodka as you like. It’s probably the most boring country in the world. One great grey mass of sameness, with a red streak down the middle. Only a handful of bars. Hardly any restaurants. People queue up at four o’clock on Saturday afternoons to get into the disco. Most of the place hasn’t seen a coat of paint since the last bash-up. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls. No drugs, peepshows, video shops or other freedom-and-democracy essentials. Not even a fucking Burger King.”
“That’s a fairly superficial analysis.”
“Okay. There are some good things about it.”
“They can get Western TV stations!”
“Christ, for fuck’s sake, be serious!”
“Okay. There’s no unemployment. And the only Ausländer are Russkis.”
Outside the U-Bahn carriage windows Kreuzberg 36 passes by. Modern post-World War Two apartment blocks on one side, pre-World War One tenements on the other. This section of the U-Bahn runs above the street. It’s dubbed the Istanbul Express by Berliners because of the number of Turks who live here. Tina is browsing through the current issue of Spiegel – the cover story is on the failing fortunes of the SPD and associated building scandals. The party has administered the city since the war. Berlin thrives on its building scandals. She catches a glimpse of the Wall to the north. A divided city, like Germany, like the world itself. She’s from a Catholic village in prosperous Baden-Württemberg. Until 1871 the city had been the Prussian capital. Small. Spartan. Neo-classical. Militaristic. A barrack city. Engravings in old history books come to mind: officers on horseback, handlebar moustaches, epaulets, puffs of smoke from cannons. The battle of this and the battle of that at which General, Prince, Duke so-and-so is mortally wounded. Honour. Fatherland. Glory. Blood and iron.
Then, in 1871, victory in the Franco-Prussian War and Berlin becomes the capital of the new nation, the new Reich. And with the help of French ‘reparations’ it booms. Twenty years later it’s one of the largest cities in the world. The centre of an empire. 600 km from Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, then on the eastern border with Russia, and 600 km from France.
The tenements in Kreuzberg, and in Prenzlauer Berg on the Other Side, were built in those first twenty years of the Reich. Tens of thousands of Polish and East Prussian peasants flowed into the expanding city on the new railroads in search of work and found it. Many Berliners still have the Polish ‘ski’ at the ends of their names. In 1900 maybe ten or twenty percent of the population are non-German speaking. A bit like with the Turks today. The tenements, the Mietskaserne, a suitably militaristic word, go up to house them. Are put up! Block by block. The plan is simple, thoroughly implemented, and economic.
The front houses sport stucco facades. The streets are gaslit. Shops on the ground floors. The upper apartments, spacious, with balconies, inside bathrooms and double windows to keep out the winter that blows in on the wind from the endless Russian steppes, are for the civil servants, the officers, the new middle class. The back houses – one, two, sometimes three and sometimes even more, jammed so closely together that the sunlight never reaches the yards between them – with their cramped apartments and shared toilets in the stairwells house the masses, das Proletariat. The word conjures up a diet of bread and potatoes, rags rather than clothes, dying old young, families crowded half a dozen to a room. The back houses also house the twelve-hour-day small factories and workshops in which many of them worked. Pigs and even cows were kept in some of the cellars. Proletarian sweat builds the Kaiser’s Reich. Proletarian blood oils its military machine. They are the masses of the KPD and the early SPD who turn out to fight the Wehrmacht when it tries to artillery the Marines out of the Kaiser’s palace during the Revolution in 1919.
And what’s left of them now? The Klauses? The Marias? The Günters? The Heikes? Some drawings by Käthe Kollwitz who knew their pain and struggle and anonymous heroism. And some from Zille who knew their lusts and loves, their rare outings to the lakes and their black vulgar humour.
Our Hero finds a leaflet in the letter box. It looks official, it has the West Berlin coat of arms on it:
West Berlin Civil Defence Office
23 March 1981
For the attention of head of household
Re: Allocation of places in West Berlin anti-nuclear bunkers to civilians.
As part of our efforts to protect the civil population in the unlikely case of a nuclear exchange the West Berlin Civil Defence Office is in the process of allocating access to the city’s available anti-nuclear bunkers. Places are being allocated on a priority basis – first to essential personnel such as members of the city government, the civil service and police and fire department. Regrettably, the places available to the general population are insufficient to accommodate the entire population of the city. So, after much deliberation at the highest levels of the Civil Defence Office, it has been decided that the fairest method of allocating places to civilians is to award each household the right to nominate one household member for a place in a bunker (see form on the back of this letter). However, because current bunker capacity is also not sufficient to allocate a place to all city households, it has been further decided, as provided for under Paragraph 34, Subsection c, of the Law for the Protection of the Civilian Population During Wartime (Federal Law 3478), that an official lottery will be held to select those eligible for a place in the event of a nuclear exchange.
Completed forms (to be filled out, signed and dated by heads of households) need to be submitted by 1 June 1981 and returned to this office before close of business on that day. Registered post is recommended as the West Berlin Civil Defence Office cannot take any responsibility for forms lost in the post or otherwise mislaid/damaged.
Assistant Bunker Allocations Officer
West Berlin Civil Defence Office
It takes Our Hero a moment to realise that somebody is taking the piss. They must have put one in every letter box on the street.
The demonstration turns into Gneisenaustraße. A few hundred people. Leather jackets, masks, Palestinian scarves, parkas, arm in arm, angry, shouting.
The world, going home through the electrically lit dusk, glimpses a mob through car windscreens. Insanity. Chaoten. Raw hate in their slogans, out to smash, taking to the streets to terrorise at night. Nothing safe from them.
one, two, three, let the prisoners free!
kein gott! kein staat! kein vaterland!
Let who free? Law breakers? Stone throwers? Spoilt rabble! Should be all locked up! Covering their faces like terrorists! Supporting terrorists too – and murderers and kidnappers and hijackers! Smashing shop windows, burning people’s cars, attacking policemen! Senseless! As senseless as the nonsense about imperialism and freedom they daub all over the place! Dangerous fanatics! Thank God for the police at times like this!
Who are escorting them, in contact with Zentrale. Side streets are cordoned off to make sure the unregistered demonstration keeps to a certain route and remains under control. A riot squad waits on Zossener Straße, twenty-four men in riot gear, like a Roman phalanx. The angry mass of scarves and leather jackets hisses at them as they pass. Something glides though the air. A policeman collapses to the ground.
The bastards! They’ll fucking pay for this!
“We have been attacked. We are taking defensive action. Can you send assistance to Zossener-Gneisenaustraße! Out!”
“Zentrale here! Understood! Assistance arriving! Out!”
Achtung, hier spricht die Polizei!
You are taking part in an illegal gathering!
You are requested to disperse!
Achtung, hier spricht die Polizei! You are …
The phalanx charges. As fast as lightning in slow motion. The crowd scatters.
Run! Run! Run!
Christ! One of them’s behind me! Too many people in front of me! Swish! Something’s happened! He’s hit me! And swish again! My head! My eyes! I can’t see!
“GET OFF THE FUCKING STREET!”
Skull nothing but agony! Warm liquid in my eyes! Blood! Mine! That’s the road careering up to hit me!
The bastards! The scum of the earth! Beat the shit, out of them! It’s all they understand!
“Zentrale, C2 and C5 already engaged! Out!”
“Understood, C2! More assistance on the way! Out!”
The bells of the Passionskirche begin to ring.
Demonstrators jump into doorways for safety, realising too late that they are trapped there as two or three policeman lay into them. A young woman lies on the ground, bleeding through her long blond hair from skull wounds, eyes numb.
It is over almost before it begins. For the Bullen, coming from several sides and at close quarters, with few bystanders and easily identifiable targets, it has been a bit of a walkover – a turkey shoot, as they say.
The ambulances begin to arrive.
“Zentrale! Illegal gathering dispersed. We are securing the area. Out!”
“Zentrale, do you receive us?”
The Bullen regroup and take up positions at the intersections that crisscross Gneisenaustraße to make sure that no new crowds gather to disrupt the flow of homeward bound traffic. The routed demonstrators have retreated down the side streets. The badly wounded are being taken to hospital in ambulances and in the cars of sympathetic passers-by. The bells of the Passionskirche are still ringing. The dusk has turned to darkness.
The guy who sells the taz comes into the Godot with the next day’s edition. The smoky cramped space is packed. Standing room only. The Slits blare from the sound system. By the window, Dmitri, pissed as a coot, is talking to himself, raising his voice every now and again, raving on about Bullen, Nazis and pigs. Through the same window Our Hero sees a police transit drive by, slowing down as it passes the squatters’ bar two doors up.
Reich buys a taz and reads it aloud. Fraenkelufer 46, 48 and 50 evicted in the early hours of the morning. 2,000 riot police on duty throughout the day. 100 injured. 15 arrests. 4 still in custody. Brutal baton charge on the Gneisenaustraße of a spontaneous demonstration to protest against the evictions. A photograph taken during the eviction shows several Bullen in riot gear, one of them grabbing a young woman by the hair so another can snap a Polaroid of her for the files.
“Nothing about what started it in the Gneisenaustraße!” says Our Hero. “Stupid fucking thing to do in a situation like that – to throw a fucking stone!”
“Does it really matter?” Reich asked. “Stones are going to be thrown anyway. If not by us, then by some Zivi or provocateur.”
“Zivi?” Our Hero asks.
“Plain clothes policeman,” Reich explains.
Tina is silent. She’d come out of the U-Bahn just after it happened and helped pick up some woman from a doorway and walk her to an ambulance. Shutting out images of blood, darkness and flashing blue lights from her mind, she begins to listen to them again. Their words, with her memory fresh, seem so much waffle.
“The demo to Rathaus Schöneberg was positive,” Our Hero says.
“Depends on your point of view,” says Reich. “To the so-called normal citizen any demonstration is a harbinger of chaos – the exact opposite to the reassuring ordered ranks and uniforms of a military parade. The life of the so-called normal citizen is structured around work, the family, consumption, but especially around work. When the authorities that keep these structures in place are threatened, he – or she – screams for order. Any craving for the carnival, the fiesta, the orgiastic, is submerged under the fear of losing the security of the identifiable hierarchical structure that people are dependent on.”
Our Hero drinks deep from his glass.
Dmitri starts roaring at the top of his voice.
“He’s in a bad way tonight!” Reich says.
“He’s always in a bad way!” Tina says.
Excerpt from Anarchy in a Cold War by Kurtis Sunday
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.