Monday, February 07, 2011

Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile by Ramor Ryan (AK Press 2006)

The modern history of Mayday in Berlin follows this model. Mayday is a ritualistic confrontation between rebels and authority. As West Berlin became a haven for those avoiding the military draft, so an oasis of civil defiance, a pirate utopia, a quilombo of sorts was created by the dispossessed youth and the resident bohemian artists. The theatre of confrontation became Kreuzberg, traditionally a workers’ and migrants’ neighborhood now colonized by a multitude of politicized squatters. Anarchists, autonomes, punks, Turkish, and Kurdish youth fought pitched battles with armies of riot police. Burning barricades, tear-gas-filled streets, fierce combat, mass arrests, and police brutality became standard fare for Mayday in West Berlin.

So this day in East Berlin, the conflict has kicked off early. As the convoys of police vans descend on the park to witness the smoldering ruins of the burnt-out carcass of this dead beast, we have all already taken off. Now is the hour of the Black Bloc, the insurrectionary anarchists, the Maoists, the Trotskyites, the political hooligans, the casares (a reference to French rioters) and the drunken punks.

Mayday and I, aligning ourselves with one of the above categories (not sure which), cycle down to Oranienstrasse, the heart of historical Kreuzberg. There is a full-scale riot in progress and we arrive on the wrong side, behind the police lines. The sky is filled with flying objects raining down upon the besieged police lines. lt is a truly astonishing sight as paving stones, bottles, cans or whatever beat down like a medieval barrage. The lines and lines of riot cops are under intense pressure and occasionally one cop or another is carried behind, nursing an injury. "A handful of skilled stone-throwers can fend off a whole battalion of cops” explained Ringrose my elder sister’s boyfriend, years before when I was still a kid. He was of the earlier generation of Berlin Anarchists, who had raised the stakes in the early 1980's by taking to the street with combative resolve. And today, years later, his words resound as we witness maybe 50 stone-throwing militants holding off this street-full of riot cops. The tight street is a chaotic boiling pot of bedlam and as usual, the press is out in force, cameras everywhere, vultures stealing images to sell.

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