My parents had flown in that afternoon to visit me for a few days. We went straight from the airport to the airbnb flat, and then straight from their flat to Turmstraße, where we bought some Döners and Sternies for a quick dinner in the Kleine Tiergarten. Ester, Corinne, and their flatmate came and said hello, but didn’t stay for the demo. We ate quick and then met Oskar and joined the march at the beginning, and headed downs the Hauptbahnhof.
The march was against Pegida, a counter demo. Pegida is an acronym, Patriotische Euopaisechern gegen die Islamiezierung des Abendlands (patriotic Europeans against the Islamification of Western Europe). They were protesting every Monday night, in every major German city, basically calling for the resignation of Angela Merkel, a reversal of her policies on accepting Syrian refugees, but with big racist undertones (conflict between whites and Arabs, Christianity and Islam). They were meeting at the Hauptbahnhof, and we were going there to confront them. My Mum asked me if it were ok to call them “nazis”. Oskar said yes, yes it was definitely ok.
Given the country’s history, there’s understandably a strong anti-fascist movement, or “antifa(s)”. We would shout “alerta, alerta, antifascista!” The mood felt quite violent, with a massive police escort, all fitted out with riot fear. Everybody was wearing black. Average age was only twenty. We had a van with a soundsystem, blasting out heavily politicised punk and hip hop. We marched past LaGeSo, the processing centre for refugees which was understaffed and always had a queue of new arrivals outside, who clapped and cheered for us as we went by.
I met George there for the first time, he was cool. My parents didn’t stay long, and headed home just before we got to the Hauptbahnhof. I found out the next day that they accidentally walked straight into the middle of the Pegida demo. It was good that they left, up until that point I had felt that I had to keep an eye on them. I don’t know what George thought about my parents being there. Oskar thought it was cool. We pulled a couple more beers out of his bag after they left.
We got the Hauptbahnhof, just as they left. All the entrances to the station were surrounded by police (“Bullen”). Pegida had gathered about half an hour before we got there, rallied, then all took the train to Zoologischer Garten to continue their march. They always kept the route of their march secret until the last minute, so that the antifas couldn’t more effectively obstruct them and organise larger counters-demos. But there was something going on with twitter that I didn’t understand as I didn’t have a smartphone, that meant we could track where they were going.
But the only problem was now was getting to the Zoo, as the police surrounding the Hauptbahnhof wouldn’t let antifas in. So I told George and Oskar, I’d deal with this. Walked up to a couple of Bullen tentatively, and asked in purposefully bad German, “’Schuldigung, sprecken Sie Englisch?” And then explained that the three of us were trying to get back to our hostel, and didn’t know if it was ok for us to go into the station. I made an effort to look as cowardly as possible, and it worked. The officers were cool and said yes yes of course, Oskar said thank you in his most concentrated English accent. George was impressed but stayed silent till we got to the escalators. “Einfach”, I said, and we were the first of the antifas on the train on the way to the nazis (although lots more of them joined quickly after).
And so at the Zoo we were at the front of the counter demo, before the majority of the police. They formed two lines separating both groups by about only ten metres. George and Oskar were both behind the second line, I was in between. Pegida rallied for just a few minutes, and then started to move. At this point the police were still undermanned, and gave up trying to stop just me, as they ran off to the front of the march. And so somehow I found myself separated from Oskar and George and the others antifas, and in the middle of the nazis. Although I completely disagreed with their political opinions, I was still curious, and so I walked with them to hear what they shouted and chanted, what kind of people they were like, and what the general atmosphere was actually like. Also I felt a bit stuck, as there were now a lot of police in between me and my friends. Plus I figured, that all these antifas were always trying to circumvent the police to get closer to the nazis, to protest against them. And I was in such a lucky position, it would’ve been a waste of an amazing chance if I just stuck my tail between my legs and didn’t do anything provocative.
I was open minded at the beginning, I try to be always, but they were real thugs, revelling in their violence, so much subtle and not-so-subtle fascist imagery. I was scared, for my personal safety, but also for the horrible political situation in general with the xenophobia that came about as a reaction to the refugee crisis in 2015. It seemed as if Islamophobia was simply the new anti-Semitism. And I was in Berlin in the middle of it. And I had no idea what to fucking do.
I sent George a few texts to tell him where we were. There were progressively less antifas, as the police gradually doing a better job from preventing the two groups coming into contact. Every now and then a few would run and break past the police cordon and shout a few things, but only for a few minutes at a time. I felt alone, and my adrenaline was rising. I kept a calm face though, and walked up to the front of the march, where they were holding a big banner with their name and logo etc., and stopping people from walking in front of it, getting in the way of photographers.
I walked slowly closer and closer to the banner. Four proper skinhead nazis jumped into the march from the street, and began to shout anti-Semitic shit, but were quickly quietened by some of the Pegida organisers, who had this attitude that they clearly agreed with the shit they were saying, but knew that they had to tame down their fascist racist bullshit whilst in public.
The amount of adrenaline in my blood at this moment was almost through the roof. I walked slowly closer to the banner, and ever-so-slightly put my hands on it, right in the middle, looking around to see if anybody cared. I got a tighter hold on it, and helped carry it, like a good young fascist, chanting along “Merkel muss weg, Merkel muss weg”. At this point we were at quite a large road junction, the police lines in front of us were thinned out, and there were finally some antifas on the other side of the lines.
So I grabbed hold of their banner as tightly as I could, and ran off with it, tearing it out of their hands, and headed towards what looked like the weakest spot in the police line. The rugby world cup had been going on at that time, and I felt like I was going singly up against the All Blacks with the try line just the other side, but with fascist propaganda instead of a rugby ball, and police in riot gear instead of New Zealanders.
I only made it about ten metres, before I was on the floor with five police officers on top of me, pinning me to the ground.