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(en) Welcome to Hell: A Report From the Front Line of G20 by Novara Reporters
Fri, 14 Jul 2017 08:00:42 +0300
There are police checkpoints on all the major roads in and out of St Pauli and
Sternschanze, the leftist districts at the heart of Hamburg. Helicopters fly overhead
constantly, providing the backdrop to discussions on street corners and in parks. The
patrol cars that are sent through the district don't slow down for anything; they don't
want to come to a stop. Last night the cops attacked a street party with water cannons.
‘It was really just a party', people say, ‘just a party'. ---- Tonight, 20,000 people
follow ten truck-mounted sound systems through the heart of the district. The trucks are
covered in slogans: No G20, Refugees Welcome, Still Not Loving Cops. The crowd slows down
as they pass Rote Flora, the most famous squatted social centre in the city, and are
greeted with a firework show from the roof. It feels a bit like a wedding disco. People of
all generations and kinds are dancing and smiling.
As soon as the party leaves St Pauli, police numbers increase. Armoured personnel carriers
and water cannons shadow the demonstration along side streets. Eventually, the trucks are
stopped just in front of a residential squat. The occupants are waving five huge
inflatable silver cubes from the roof. On the front of each they have written a letter: ‘A
L L E S' - everything. The police have drawn up their vans and cars across the road in an
untidy barricade. Officers appear from every side road, polished white helmets already fitted.
The state opera is kicking out. Hundreds of well heeled audience members walk quietly out
of the building to the sound of violins, and three hundred metres away the police and
demonstrators look at each other. The sound trucks tell the demonstrators that this is the
official end point. ‘But the official end isn't the end of the fight against capital and
the nation state...' Chants echo up and down the road.
People keep pouring into the city, most are looking for somewhere to camp, but the camps
themselves are in chaos. Some are legal, some have been attacked by the police. Some are
both legal and have been attacked by the police. The camp in Altona is apparently home to
20,000 people. It's only 20 something degrees, but it feels much hotter. An occupied city
is hosting a carnival. The language of the graffiti is changing. Yesterday it was all
German, but today there is French. ‘Macron, we will kick your ass in Hamburg too'.
An international anticapitalist demonstration is assembling at the fish market by the
harbour under the slogan 'Welcome to Hell'. 12,000 people mill around, listening to music.
A 1000 strong black bloc has assembled at the front of the demonstration, on a small road
leading out of a square. The police are nowhere to be seen, until the bloc starts to move.
They block the way forwards with lines of cops and four water cannons, before starting to
slowly surround the entire demonstration. They refuse to let the demonstration move for an
hour. The black bloc wait, calm, for the demonstration to begin. Then the police attack.
They smash into the side of the crowd, pinning demonstrators against the high wall behind
them. They charge again and again, using kicks, punches, batons, and pepper spray to force
people back. In desperation, the crowd start climbing the walls to escape. The water
cannons move in and blast the top of the walls, hitting anyone climbing out of danger or
trying to help. The police charge again against the crowd on the top of the wall, and push
them towards a three metre drop on the other side. People start escaping over that, only
to be charged again at the bottom. Those who fall (or are thrown) injure themselves as
they land and then are injured again as the cops put the boot in. Mobs of twenty police
roam the waterfront hunting anyone not already fleeing. The shattered remnants of the demo
hide on the rocky beach below the embankment or huddle against walls. Water cannons are
driven into the square at the back of the demonstration, and suddenly the police are
attacking from the rear too. Bottles and flares fly back at the police as they advance,
but the resistance is never coordinated.
The police don't make arrests. They are happy to just beat anyone they can get their hands
on, and then let them stumble away. Crowds gather around the paramedics. They are worried
the police will attack them too. The floor is slippery with blood and phlegm.
Quickly the crowd moves back into the city, away from the waterfront. Half an hour after
the police attack began, dispersed crowds have begun their own offensive. Cars are
burning. People navigate towards the columns of smoke and begin to reorganise. Spontaneous
demonstrations march back into the centre, defying the police and regrouping for the night
Convoys of ten to 20 police vans charge backwards and forwards along the main roads. There
are 20,000 police in the city but they can't cope. The situation isn't contained, it's
escalating. Fighting carries on until late in the night. St Pauli and Sternschanze are
under occupation, thousands of cops have moved in. Then, early in the morning, the
protestors launch another offensive. 30 police cars are on fire by the time the city wakes
up. Altona, to the west, is already covered by plumes of smoke.
The city is on strike. The habour has been locked down by 1000 demonstrators, the students
have shut down their schools and colleges, and ‘colour the red zone' actions have collided
with the police across the centre. The police have called for reinforcements. They are
overstretched, and have been unable to prevent both the economic heart of the city and the
G20 coming to a grinding halt for hours. The strategy of aggression has only exacerbated
A ‘second wave' demonstration meets at 3pm and moves towards the Elbphilharmonie concert
hall by the edge of the harbour, where the G20 leaders are being serenaded on the roof. If
they turned around and looked behind them they would see the spray of the water cannons,
brought in to prevent the demonstration advancing any further. Some of the crowd have
reached the roof of Landungsbruken train station and throw bottles down on the police.
Others take a different route: boats set off across the harbour to try and reach the hall.
But everyone fails.
Another assembly is called for 8pm. But between now and then dispersed groups are fighting
all over the city. Attempts to blockade the leaders on their way out of the red zone
become irrelevant when the police decide to use a fleet of military transport helicopters
rather than cars; they don't have the territorial control required to ensure safe passage
for convoys. They are spending all their energy attempting to put the lid on the city and
regain control. Lines of cops rush up the street pursuing one set of protestors, only to
themselves be pursued by more protestors. The police convoys are breaking up - whereas
they were once ten to twenty vehicles long, now vans race around in ones and twos, rocks
bouncing off their windshields.
At 6pm the police make a big advance past St Pauli to the edge of Sternschanze. They are
stopped at the junction of Stresmannstrasse and Schanzenstrasse by a crowd of 5000. A huge
flow of people begins to move into Sternschanze to defend the district from the police
advance. The crowd grows further. They are only a few hundred metres from the edge of the
red zone. A critical mass cycle demonstration rides round and round the centre. It must be
4,000 strong. It passes to the north of Sternschanze at the same time as a police convoy
trying to move south to reinforce the police there. The cyclists slow down to impede the
cops, and immediately police squads jump out of their vans. Batons and fists clear the
family demonstration eventually, but not as quickly as the cops want. A young man rides
past and calls the police fascists, they respond by pushing him off his bike.
By sunset, Sternschanze is a war zone. The police have been forced back to the main roads
in all directions. They begin to mass their forces on Max-Brauer Allee/Altonastrasse,
Stresmannstrasse and Schanzenstrasse, abandoning any pretence of control of the triangle
of small streets between them. This 2.3km perimeter is the front between cops and rioters.
At key junctions a constant barrage of rocks and bottles is exchanged for water cannons
and tear gas. Fires are lit all up and down the Schulterblatt, their smoke mixing with the
tear gas to create a noxious smog.
Couples sit outside cafes having dinner and watching. Kids sit in a few small parks and
drink. Banks are broken open. Any chain shop without anti-G20 messages on its window is
looted. Rioters sing ‘wonderwall'. Two helicopters with spotlights circle overhead,
pointing down at key barricades. Rota Flora, the social centre at the heart of the
district, is now acting as field hospital for those injured in the clashes.
At about 1am, the police begin their assault on the encircled district. They attack from
both sides of the Schulerblatt, aiming to cut the zone in half. Their progress is slow.
They can hardly move forward at all on the west where a railway bridge allows protestors
to force the police into a choke point. To the east, the police move faster, but are soon
facing Molotov cocktails and attacks from the rooftops. The situation continues to escalate.
As soon as they have broken the zone in two, the police use water cannons and armoured
vehicles to break through the lightly defended barricades at the northern tip of the
triangle. Looters pour out of the supermarket there and are driven north.
The fighting over the final few streets is grim. Isolated demonstrators lead a last stand
against an increasingly confident police force. Any rioter caught out now faces a savage
beating, away from the eyes of the press. The number of arrests begins to creep upwards.
Counter-terrorism forces armed with assault rifles and specialist urban warfare equipment
are deployed. They are used to raid squats and other strong points. They soon establish a
military dominance. By 4am, the district is back in the control of the state. The
insurrection is over, for tonight.
The sound of helicopters is finally replaced by the sound of street sweepers. Sternschanze
returns to normal. Today is the large NoG20 trade union demonstration. 200,000 gather in
the city centre for what is sure to be the largest and calmest demonstration of the
weekend. The riots are over.
Until the police attack. Again, relentlessly, they escalate, sending snatch squads into
the crowd and trying to cut the demo in half. The organisers halt the march immediately.
They won't move on whilst the police freely attack. The situation seems to be
degenerating. Helicopters are back in the sky. In Sternschanze, cops flood the streets and
begin mass kettling bystanders. They then conduct full body searches and identity checks.
En masse, people are banned from entering the district, under threat of arrest and
detention. In response, residents come to the streets and begin to march against the
police. This isn't the ‘black bloc', these are people who have spent the past few days
under siege and who have run out of patience. They confront the cops, chanting ‘Haut ab';
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