Archive for April, 2012

May Day in Berlin 2012

I’ve picked up a bunch of stickers for May Day in the last few days, which is one of the reasons I chose to come to Berlin at this time of year (that plus a cheap ticket!).  On Monday, April 30, starting at 2:00 is Das Antikapitalistische Walpurgisnacht, a rally and “Reclaim Da Streets” concert in Wedding.  A march begins at 6:00.  More about the various activities and events can be found here, on the Indymedia Web site here, and SDAJ Berlin Web site here.

On May 1, Kreuzburg will hold its annual Labor Day festival with concerts on several stages, food booths, picnics, etc.  This year, 2012, marks the 25th anniversary of famous May Day riots in 1987 when unprovoked German police attacked peaceful protesters, causing looting, violence, and damage.  A new book from PM Press is coming out called Fire and Flames: A History of the German Autonomous Movement that includes a brief but useful description.  About the book, our friends at Amazon write:

  • Translated for the first time into English, the history of the German autonomous anti-capitalist movement is traced back to the 1970s in this firsthand account.  Battling police in riot gear, the early members of the autonomous movement used military tactics that included barricading and hurling Molotov cocktails in protest.  Dubbed the “Black Bloc” by the German media, those tactics were soon adopted by scores of anti-capitalist groups across the globe.  The dawn of the autonomous faction spawned a movement in which average citizens can reclaim their lives from governmental control.  Political activists and anti-capitalists will find updated historical context to the movement and the current state of the German autonomous movement in this updated chronicle.”

Yesterday, I went to Red Stuff in Kreuzberg and picked up some antifa literature, stickers, and posters.  They also had some interesting swag, including “Still Not [Loving] the Police!” canvas tote bags and ceramic mugs.  This seems to be a great example of the Situationist International concept of recuperation, wherein subversive works or ideas are co-opted and commodified by mainstream media.  I wonder what they’d have to say about that.  I really should go back and ask.

Other May Day activities include:

  • “… the ‘Overcome Capitalism!‘ trade unions march at 10:00 on Hackescher Markt, the ‘Prevent displacement – reduce rents – expropriate real estate companies!‘ demonstration at 17:00 on Mariannenplatz, and the ‘For the worldwide socialist revolution!‘ demonstration at 18:00 on Lausitzer Platz.”

May Day tourism was the topic of an article in Spiegel International in 2010 entitled Anti-Capitalist Tour Guide Offers Riot Sightseeing.  The Exberliner also offers May Day survival tips, including “Be prepared,” “Go in a group,” and “Do you need that camera?”

The Exberliner has additional background and history of May Day protests in an article called May Day for Dummies (April 9, 2010) in which the author Wladek Flakin writes about clashes in 1987 between the police and autonomists (inc. “feminists, anarchists, anti-imperialists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, and every other shade of ‘left'”), and subsequent annual protests the following years.  According to the article, “MyFest” was developed as an alternative in the early 2000s, “initiated by residents, but financed by the police,” which led to further counter strategies.  Nowadays, everyone seems to be involved in one way or another, including mass media and anyone else with direct or indirect vested interests.  Flakin describes those to join the demos to include “the usual ageing autonomists in leather jackets, Kreuzberg kids, and bored middle-class teenagers from the provinces,” as well as “workers, students, unemployed people, and youths angry about the misery of the education system [who] come together to fight for anti-capitalist change.”  I’ll be curious to see who shows up this year, though as I mentioned in a previous post, it’s not always easy to distinguish who’s who.  Everyone wears black, that’s for sure, and I’ve read to look at people’s shoes.  That’s the giveaway.

Thor Steinar storefront in Friedrichsain and other protests

I took an early evening bike ride on Thursday, this time southeast from Greifswalder Strasse along Danzinger, which functions sort of like a ring road.  Danzinger turns into Petersburger Strasse, and as I approached Frankfurter Tor, I noticed a couple of good-looking stickers on an electrical pole, but as I got closer, I could see they were covered with paint.  Looking around further, I saw a storefront with shattered and taped up windows, and in fact, the entire building façade and sidewalk below had been splashed with several layers of pink paint.

The shop was a Thor Steinar outlet, a right-wing company that has been criticized for what has been labeled a neo-Nazi clothing line.  You can see pictures from a protest demo in late February 2012 here.

The German text, “Die Modemarke ‘Thor Steinar’ transportiert rechtsextreme Ideologie und ist fester Bestandteil des rechten Lifestyles” translates roughly to “The fashion brand ‘Thor Steinar’ represents right-wing ideology and is an integral part of the right-wing lifestyle.”

I wrote about Thor Steinar in 2009 (though I didn’t have any stickers to show then), and given the controversy at the time, I thought the store in Berlin had been closed.  Turns out the store in Mitte had shut down (the one I wrote about in 2009) and moved east to Friedrichsain district.  I was surprised to see it yesterday at its location near the Warschauer Strasse U-bahn.  That part of town has always been difficult for me to figure out.  A lot of commuters were coming off trains, so it was busier than usual.  But there were also groups of young hippies and punks who were loitering around, drinking, getting ready to party, it seemed.  Everything was fine, but I didn’t linger.

Thor Steinar recently ran afoul again in the east German city of Chemnitz with an outlet store called Brevik, which to many sounds too overtly similar to the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik of Norway.  I won’t go into detail, but you can read about it here.

On the other side of protest, yesterday my friend Nada showed me a few commercial storefronts in central Mitte that had been stoned by lefties protesting capitalism and gentrification.  I’ll get their company names and add info to this post later.  Lots of protests in Berlin these days, including one in the dark last night with a few hundred people on bikes and cops trailing in cars behind.  An “eco-protest,” I was told.

Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurgis Night

Arrived in Berlin safe and sound yesterday morning, slept, and spent a couple of hours in the late afternoon walking a loop around Prenzlauer Berg from Greifswalder Strasse up to Danzinger Strasse and back on Stredzkistrasse.  I collected about 60 stickers in just a few hours, mostly political and a bunch announcing May Day-related strikes and demonstrations.  The one below is for an anti-capitalist strike in Wedding on Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurgis Night, with several events listed hereWalpurgis Night is a traditional pagan spring festival celebrated April 30 or May 1, six months from Halloween, in which huge bonfires are lit and witches meet and revel with the gods.

Every sticker has a story, doesn’t it?  Walpurgis Night is mentioned in works by Goethe, Thomas Mann, Bram Stoker, and even Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Apparently, Walpurgisnacht also signals the beginning of May Day riots in Berlin in Mauerpark where I walked yesterday.  There is a great flea market there on Sundays that Spencer Homick and I went to last fall.

Mieten Verdrängungen” above translates to “Rent displacements,” and you can see a guy getting kicked out of a house in the picture on the upper right.  There was another version of this sticker below that said “Bullen, Repression & Knäste?” or “Bulls, repression, & prisons?” and showing police beating somebody up, though many of these stickers had the illustrations cut out.  Not sure why.

One of my goals on this trip is to write every morning (rather than run myself into the ground collecting stickers – ha!).  I met some art students who are having a show opening tonight, Long Lonely Swims, at Kominek Gallery right around the corner from where I am staying, so I will check that out.  Off now to rent a bike!

STUCK UP review and two upcoming conferences

Another great outcome from CAA 2012:  I was invited to write a review of DB Burkeman’s traveling exhibition STUCK UP: A Selected History of Alternative & Pop Culture Told Through Stickers for the Journal of Curatorial Studies.  The show premiered at the SCOPE Art Fair in Miami last December and has traveled to Chicago and the 323East Gallery in Detroit.  You can catch it next at the New Bedford Art Museum and UGLY Gallery, Rhode Island (opening April 21, 2012).

The journal deadline was tight, which is why I haven’t been blogging lately.  That, plus I learned that two papers of mine have been accepted for conferences later this year: Return to the Street at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Riot, Revolt, Revolution at the University of Brighton, UK.  This line really caught my eye in the call-for-papers for the Goldsmiths conference:

“Considering this ‘return’ (although it is questionable whether we every really left the street), how might a line be drawn between the type of discourse which pays lip service to banal, neoliberal fetishised notions of street as site and object of subversive cool – incorporating graffiti, fashion, skateboarding, hiphop – and a more critical and engaged examination of processes of exclusion, confrontation and violence which constitute the everyday reality of life on and in the street.”


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