Wednesday, May 23, 2007

To Err is Human, to Protest Berlinish

You can feel it in the air in Berlin right now—the combined anticipation and wariness as the G8 summit approaches and thousands across the city prepare to protest. One hopes that slogan-memorizing, placard-painting citizens stay peaceful from June 6th to June 8th when Germany hosts the international forum in the northern city of Heiligendamm.

Then again, perhaps all the preparation feels more ho-hum than highly alarming to Berliners: protests are modus operandi here, and the latest slew of non-G8 headlines only confirms this. Axel Springer Verlag, among others, recently protested in court against the successful renaming of a stretch of Kochstrasse to Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse (Post Jan. 20). The conservative media mogul whose publishing empire bears his name was criticized heavily by Dutschke for his reactionary publishing. However, political concerns weren’t officially cited by Springer et. al. in their appeal to overturn January’s citizen’s vote for the renaming; rather, they focused on the costs they will have to incur. You know, big stuff like ordering new letterhead. Their case was rejected by a judge’s decision that emphasized the democratic weight of the local ballot, but the Dutschke-doubters plan to appeal the ruling. No surprise there.

Another rather ornery figure was also recently dismissed in courts: famously self-important architect Meinhard von Gerkan, who designed the capital’s Hauptbahnhof, has been chastised for claiming that it is Deutsche Bahn’s fault that hurricane-strength winds in January caused a steel support to fall from the station’s roof. Von Gerkan is already known for bickering with the Bahn about the extent to which they followed his original design when he insisted they rebuild the a lower-level roof at great cost so as not to disrupt the aesthetic effect of “his” train station (Post Dec. 6) Von Gerkan has now been slapped on the wrist by the same legal system that so surprisingly supported his earlier protest.

It remain to be seen, however, if protest will work on Kreuzberg’s Wrangelstrasse, where 24-year-old Katrin Schmidberger is organizing against the neighborhood’s first McDonald’s franchise. The interesting part of this picture is not Schmidberger’s youth or emphasis on non-violence (both “no duh” s in the world of home-grown social activism) but rather her justification: there are 7,000 schoolchildren living around the planned construction site, and many don’t learn proper nutrition from their parents at home. Schmidberger avows that she “knows what makes Kreuzberg kids tick” and wants to protect them from McCholesterol.

Home to all these nutrition-ignorant children, Wrangelkiez is also the same area that was briefly famous last fall when a group of Middle Eastern youths surrounded policeman and forced them to retreat from attempting to arrest two young men who had just mugged a third. The incident alarmed the public, largely because the press went into yellowest journalism mode, crying, “The next Paris?” and hoping to stir angst at banlieue-like chaos. Banlieue it isn’t, but Wrangelkiez is heavily settled by immigrants. In other words, what Schmidberger is essentially saying is that these foreigners don’t teach their kids how not to be fat. They are easy prey for McDonald’s.

With or without the perhaps gentrifying influence of the fast food chain, the neighborhood will likely retain its slightly rough reputation, one not helped by violence on the 1st of May. Although the traditional riots did not take place, thanks in part to a citizens’ initiative called Myfest bent on replacing drunken vandalism and drunken dancing (Post May 1), one woman was badly beaten during a protest/riot that did break out that night. The catch is that neither flying bottles nor stones injured her, but rather a clubbing incurred from a policeman when she tried to take shelter from the fray in an apartment building entranceway. According to reports from Der Tagesspiegel, the victim and Amnesty International employee, who suffered broken ribs and sharp pains after her beating from the peace-keeping forces, is looking into a lawsuit.

And there are continuing protests at the city’s oldest university, Humboldt, about the administration's participation in a federal “elite initiative,” or competition for government money to improve the school’s facilities. Students claim the measure will neglect other subjects.

This is just a selection, of course. There is a lot of reality with which to be discontented in Berlin. It will be interesting to see if G8 protests stand a chance at drowning out local rebelliousness on the news or in the popular mind. If so, this diverted attention surely won’t last long, as life slowly returns to normalcy…and people begin objecting to it once more.

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