My time in Rostock

Some have asked for me to tell a bit more about what Rostock really was like. In some of the international media the G8 protests were completely ignored, and in for example the Norwegian media, the stone throwing on Saturday the 2nd were big time news with, as far as I understand, live pictures of riots being beamed to living rooms across the country. Also in Germany, stations such as N-TV showed the same two burned out cars from all angles at various stages of burning, making it look like there had been a whole line of cars that had been whole line of burned out cars. On top of that you had the number of 433 hurt police officers (status Sunday, 3rd). Sounds like civil war, huh?

Well, on the ground it was not quite like that. For anyone reading this only to find action, I can tell you now already that I was never arrested nor hit by a water cannon. I was neither anywhere close to stones being thrown and I did I do anything that in itself, forgetting the special circumstances, would have been very exciting. Well, maybe. If sleeping on a street counts.

The blockade consisted mostly of young people.
The blockade consisted mostly of young people.

The bureaucratic beginnings

So what did happen? A few weeks before, I was called in to translate for three German anarchists as part of the discussion series “Agitatoria” at Humla, Hausmania in Oslo, Norway. I had been at a G8 preparatory camp of [‘solid] last summer but I had not prioritized doing any mobilization for it in Norway. After the introduction we were a group of people interested in continuing planning for it. I knew that Norwegian Attac had set up a bus, so I argued for taking it rather than splitting and setting up our own transport. Others argued though that there could be conditions connected to the Attac bus which would make it impossible for some of those present to go. Others announced that they would go by completely different routes, so we would never know exactly how many would come.

After a bit back and forth, during which at one point of time Marte Nilsen, my good friend and leader of Attac Norway, accused me of turning everything into “Lost in Translation”, we figured out that we would be allowed to go on the bus as individuals but that we could not be part of the group organizing the bus (Don’t ask me why some see organizing a bus high status work.).

I also presented the Block G8 effort — the civil disobedience blockade of the G8 summit and I got one of the leader people of SLUG I believe, to say that they would not distance themselves from us in the media if we stuck to the guidelines of Block G8. Marte Nilsen said something close to it: “No, all other things being equal, likely not” (Norwegian: “Nei, ikke i utgangspunktet”). None of them considered participating in the blockade themselves though, and instead they printed out a program for the anti-conference for all those who would sit on the bus.

All this showed that we would need to do our own press work, and so we had planned a system in which we would have one mobile in Norway and an Icelandic one in Germany that would be passed around in order for no-one getting to be a leader figure in the media. All that was connected to us having set up a press release system and sending out press releases continuously. Because Norwegian media needs that, we gave ourselves a name — “Blokk G8.”

I had had my last exam on Wednesday and the bus would leave on Friday the 1st. Before that I had about 4 different web pages to program so you could imagine just how busy I was. Nevertheless, it was all done in time. The thing that threw me off was that needed to wash all my clothes and I had not bought a tent yet. everything was planned to the minute. And when I sent out the final version of our first press release on Thursday night, we had included the two phone numbers — but these were not active yet. So instead I was called up on my private phone by Norwegian TV2. They wanted to film how I packed and left for the bus. Ouch! Well I had no time to waste, and ended up leaving without both tent and sleeping bag. TV2 did not find my place in time, but instead they drove me down to the bus to film me leaving. Already then they asked about what violence I would expect in Rostock.

My high school friend Linus joined our affiliation group.
My high school friend Linus joined our affiliation group.

In Germany

The bus ride was quick and the next morning we were in Rostock. I had planned on meeting my ex flat mate Linus back from high school. And I needed to meet up with my Solid friends, so we put Linus’ tent in their part of Camp Rostock. After putting u the tent Linus and I went back to Rostock train station where we were to meet up with some of his Berlin friends from university. This was going to be the big demonstration which later was to be portrayed as violent and chaotic. At this time it really seemed peaceful though. Many tens of thousands had shown up, and the speeches were very clearly anti-capitalist and calling for the overthrow of the current world system. At least for Norway that is quite uncommon.

The Norwegians had largely split in two groups: one group consisted of those who walked with Attac, and the others were my anarchist friends from Blokk G8. For some reason media expected us from Blokk G8 to be amongst the stone throwers. In reality they walked very close to Linus and me at the “Rave against the machine” wagon.

I had not understood that it somehow was connected with anarchism until when we almost reached the harbor and someone started giving a speech through the wagon’s sound system saying that somehow we were better than everyone else around because we were anarchists. We ran into lots of Linus’ co ethnology students there, so I am quite sure that very few understood that part. But it really did not matter either.

Suddenly everybody slowed down. It looked as if something was blocking our way. We who had been on the bus from Norway were quite tired, and e saw no point in waiting. Instead we walked up one block to a parallel street to find an ATM machine and a place to sit down. Everything had seemed peaceful so far, but here the windows of at least one bank were smashed.

The hype in Norwegian media

That was when I received a call from our Norwegian press contact. Norwegian media had made a headline out of the violence, and Marte Nilsen had managed to comment on in a not very thought through way. I told him that everything seemed peaceful. I even grabbed a hold of a police officer who stood around in front of the bank with the broken windows and asked him to confirm that it was peaceful. He agreed: “largely peaceful, yes.” But he also admitted that he did not have a complete overview. We sent out a press release saying that there was not a whole lot going on, but obviously such news were not prioritized from the Norwegian media. Norwegian VG wrote at this time that there ere only 20,000 demonstrators — 5,000 lower than than even the police figure. Later that night they would call me and it became clear that their reporter had left for Berlin the day before.

There and then though, we saw a few groups of police run around somewhat chaotically and followed one group that ran towards into the demonstration. We wanted to film them, but they slowed down when they came close to people, so there was nothing for us to see.
Instead we went another half a block towards the inner city, where we sat outside something that usually seemed to be a clothing store. Today they were instead selling beer and sausages and had put out a few chairs and tables in the pedestrian zone in front. We sat with an older couple from the area. Various groups of black-clad demonstrators and police ran by in 5 minute intervals. I later learned that those running by were some of the black block demonstrators who felt they had won against the police and now were on their way to the SAS Radisson Hotel where they expected to run into one delegation.

While millions of Norwegians and other northern Europeans were being scared to death with live war-type footage of burning cars and up to 30 demonstrators throwing stones in the direction of police, we enjoyed our sausages maybe 150m from the worst actions.

Also the Rostock couple did not seem very scared. I was interested in their view, and some of the others wanted to practice their German, so we started talking. “We hope not so much will be destroyed,” she said. “But there is of course always someone or other who does that kind of stuff,” he added. They did not seem too bothered about the windows of the bank around the corner already being smashed. “Our son is also out there,” she explained, “… well yeah, we also used to demonstrate.” And after a little break she added: “we wanted capitalism.” “Well, congratulations with it!” I commented. The man began to laugh.

After a while I went home. The others stayed around, unsuccessfully trying to get footage of something going on. At the camp I made sure to synchronize my account of what had been going on that day with those Solid people who spoke to the German press. One f the Left Party MPs who was staying at our Solid camp had been going in the black block and could report that it was a tiny number of those in the black block who had actually been involved in the stone throwing actions. That night the camp plenary had a discussion about whether one should collect stones in case of police attacks on the camp. The other Norwegians stayed out and went to some kind of beer place, but to my horror I noticed that they had spoken to continued to give statements to the media which enforced the violent account of things. At this stage it was important to have as little media attention on it as possible, in order for the blockade to go ahead as planned.

To the defense of Ingrid Fiskaa and Marte Nilsen it must be said though that after we had discussed it the next day, their statements to the media from then on were a lot more constructive — also a lot better than some a large part of the German political scene.

From demonstration to blockade

The next few days were mostly used for preparatory work for the blockades. There were a few high lights such as the speech of Oskar Lafontaine in Bad Doberan in which he demanded the nationalization of the finance and energy sectors and the weapon industry and called for using general strikes as a weapon to achieve this goal. Linus and I went there, and we ran into one of our high school teachers who video filmed the event. And there were minor demonstrations, in part attacked by the police.

On the 5th we decided to move to Camp Reddelich in order to be close to one of the planned blockades the next day. I had received the tip the night before that it was up to each mini group to make its way it on its own. It was kept a secret until the morning of the 6th when the blockades were to happen where exactly they were to take place. Members of the “logistic group” at the Camp Rostock had said it would be no problem if 5,000 were left at the Camp Rostock on the 5th. No-one I met knew what to make of it at the time, so we thought it safer to move to Reddelich, which would be within walking distance of the conference center at Heiligendamm. Linus and those Blokk G8 people who had been staying in the Attac camp hitherto came along (the number of how many other Norwegians were present and where they went to are uncertain at best), and we made a camp with some of Linus’ Berlin friends. In total we were 15 in that mini-group.

Once I reached Camp Reddelich I checked the net, and read there that I had announced that I’d be going to the demonstration at the airport that day.

Uff, OK, so I better had to go soon. With two of the others I took the train back to Rostock and from there to Schwaan. We were maybe a few hundred waiting at the train station were we were checked by the police. It was a whole train loaded with young demonstrators and although we saw the police in their riot gear standing next to the train station, we all walked directly across the tracks. Usually that would carry a 2,000 Euro fine, but with the huge amount of people that could not apply that day. I had been in Schwaan during last summer’s Solid camp, so I had some sense of direction. Instead of waiting, we walked.

While in much of Europe people would probably have been scared of us after the media coverage of Saturday, that was not the case here. On the contrary, people had put out their chairs on the side walk to be able to follow what was going on and cars were stopping to pick up demonstrators and drive them to the airport where Bush would arrive. The three of us, Hausmania Sjur, Robinson Chris and I were picked up by a bus of the labor union Verdi and driven right to the demonstration after just a few minutes of walking.

The demonstration was really tiny with just a few hundred participants — most had been stopped on the way out there. Amongst them though was my good friend Tom from Santa Barbara. I had met him in Oaxaca and when I left him, he stayed at the APPO-camp on the sidewalk in Mexico City . He had hitch hiked up to Canada and with a friend taken a cheap flight to Paris. From there he had hitch hiked to Rostock.

Support from the locals

One of the things that would mark the next few days was the support we received from the local population. At the demonstration, the police had sealed off the street towards the airport. That tends to work in cities to stop demonstrators from going where you do not want them to. Here however, we could just march right through the fields, and so we did. That led to complete chaos for the police and at the next street cross they drove cars up and down, using their speaker system for commands such as: “Could please also all the officers who are not under my command move out of the way so that I can move this car forward.” They tried to circle the demonstrators, but they had forgotten to close the street off for normal traffic and so when our music car drove into the entire mess, everybody was able to escape.

Locals supported us a lot. On the demonstration following the blockade this old man send water bottles from his apartment down to the demonstrators.
Locals supported us a lot. On the demonstration following the blockade this old man send water bottles from his apartment down to the demonstrators.

The farmer stood at his house, and two youngsters who I believe were his kids had been following the demonstration. I did not understand who he was at first, but he seemed to be somehow in charge, so I asked him whether I was safe when I reached his drive-way. “Safe? Sure You’re totally safe here. This is my little empire.” And that empire was clearly not for the police to enter. “I have never had field that colorful!” he exclaimed when demonstrators with various banners moved back across to avoid arrest. His daughter announced: “your house has been on TV!” “Really? Well today it’s on TV — tomorrow it will be on TV, burning! Hahahaha!” He did not seem too concerned about his home being the site of clashes with the police during the blockades. “They must have counted on me!” he commented the police’s inability to keep control. “Counted on what?” Tom said later, “That he’d hire a private army to keep us away?”

The chaos the police organized really seemed too good to be true.

The blockade

On the 6th the blockades then started. We had had one last meeting on the 5th on how things were to happen. Linus had attended one delegates’ meeting and we all blessed his plan on continuing to attend those meetings for us. Out group was assigned to the middle, green finger as part of the five finger strategy. We were divided into minor groups after language (Norwegian, German) and according to what we were willing to do. I must admit that I was amongst those not up to going very far. My mini group was OK with being arrested and OK with being blown away by a water cannon. Also, we would not move if horses or dogs would be lined up. The group of tougher Norwegians would in addition be willing to take some beatings by the police, bites by dogs and horses riding over their bodies.

<%image(20070618-helicopters_landing.jpg|2272|1704|Helicopters landing was about as exciting as it would get at our blockade.)%>

Linus had devised some kind of plan whereby we were to wake up extra early and then wait forever until we finally were to leave. ­čÖé In the middle of that night the police stopped at the entrance and announced that the entire camp would be raided. Although it was all just a big lie, it was enough to trigger an alarm across the camp and we all woke up and raised adrenalin levels made it somewhat impossible to fall back to sleep.

When we finally were moving, we were to walk for something like two hours before arriving at our destination. Again, people in those villages we passed waved at us like war heroes. The police had closed off the road network at some points and had helicopters in the air. Like the day before, we simply moved across fields instead without any problems. Three radio stations called me on the way to the blockade and although I told them that this was the least we could do, it was probably not just me who wondered whether we actually would be able to do anything and whether it was worth risking all employment ones in the public sector for this.

But then when we arrived at the street there really were not more than 200 police against several thousand of us and after maybe 15 minutes of staring us down once we sat on the road, they disappeared. And they remained away from Wednesday and Friday, when the NATO conference ended.

Police idiocy

There is something almost bizarre about the way the police handled the situation. The whole thing was planned for 18 months, quite publically. They must have seen us leave Camp Reddelich, seen us walk down the street, they monitored us from helicopters during the entire time and then they put up 200 police and during their press conference about half an hour later they announced that they were “surprised” by our action. Also they had put up a really nasty “NATO fence” of barbed wire along the road that we were to occupy. Only problem was that it was on the wrong side of the road. It was taken down nevertheless once we controlled the street, and hammocks were made out of the plastic part of it.

During the entire time of the blockade, the police did not remove us from there once. After a while, helicopters landed and dropped off border police, then they rode up with horses and stood with a few hundred meters distance and throughout the next 24h or so, water cannons were driven up to the front of the police line at times and then back to Bad Doberan. Anti terror/Robocop police was starting to line up on one side of the road, but they went away when someone over the loudspeakers told them that “we have no need for you standing there.” And that went on and on. A lot of the media was there, so they could not really be brutal.

A few hours later it a group was formed of those who wanted to go on to other streets to block more roads. All of the Norwegians of my mini-group but me and Chris went with that group. I stayed at the blockade for two days, and Chris went home to his hotel room in Rostock for the first night. The next day on VG TV he emphasized that we needed to stay on the blockades 24h a day. Incidentally that night a photo journalist stayed with our group all night, and so did as well Chris, even without a sleeping bag.

On the blockade

Sitting on a blockade must sound exciting for anyone who has not done it before. And to some extend it is, but not the way you think. Especially when you are just hanging around, you have a lot of time to socialize. I managed to talk to comrades Helke and Lea from Solid.org (a recent split from Solid), Ines from Solid and my first cousin Jennifer from L├╝neburg carrying water from the camp out to us, whom I had not seen since some time in the end of the 1990s when she had been 12 years old, and Linus ethnology friend Henrike and some of their friends. German Cornelia Sch├Âler who had been an active member of Blindern Fred fall 2005 when she was an exchange student in Oslo and Petra, with whom I had been active in Oaxaca were on other blockades, so I was only to meet them before and after.

Being together in his lawless space of a blockade one can feel an awkward but welcoming sense of unity against the major powers of this world.

But after the initial confrontation with the police, it was only at around 2am the first night when someone announced that the water cannon was about to be used and everybody other than Linus switched to water-proof clothing, that there was an actual situation of danger right there. In addition I was called up that evening by the reporter of Bergens Tidende, who tipped me that Camp Rostock had been surrounded by 1000 police with military vehicles. That scared me quite a bit, but there was nothing I could do from here.

After the first few hours, two portable toilets (we others used the adjacent forest) and a lot of vegan food was brought from the camp, so life became quite comfortable. Nevertheless, there will probably always have to be drama on a blockade.

That drama happened in the plenary, which I luckily did not have to attend. Our delegate Linus sat in meeting after meeting on that road and was often just coming back to our group for a few minutes to hear our opinion on things before he went back to yet another meeting. Things that were decided there was everything form that we needed to move 200m in one direction for the night (and back the next morning) to to that we wanted to stay all the way until Friday (in spite of the Herbert Gr├Ânemeyer concert for 2.50Euro in downtown Rostock Thursday night).

However they talked and talked. “It is really true what they say, that once you block a street, it takes about 30 minutes until people start doubting whether they are sitting the right place, whether the blockade is effective or whether one can withstand attacks by the police,” Marco Heinig from Solid, who had been on another blockade, would remark a few days later back in camp Rostock.

Also, it seemed that although the plenary only consisted of direct delegates who were to do nothing more than to bring information back and forth between their group and the meeting, one could somehow rise in the ranks. Linus, who I had known as being so reflected about everything that he would never be able to give his approval for any slogan or chant because they were way to populist back when we lived together in Flensburg 1998-2000, had turned into quite a revolutionary blockade bureaucrat. At one pint of time he volunteered me and Henrike (we were only three left in our group at the time) for setting up an info point to give out information to anyone. That enhanced his status, and as he said himself: “After I had the idea with the info point, suddenly people ask me questions such as what to do with the police that is lining up down the road.” The only problem with it was that neither Henrike nor me had left the street for other blockades, so we really did not have very much information to give on how to get to anywhere else. Instead I asked two young girls who asked me to make a sign and stand on the side of the road and wait there until someone would come by who was going in that direction.

The End

On Friday it was all over then, and we all went to Rostock inner city — peacefully and by public transport from Bad Doberan. We were stinking and we were sweaty, but we had won. I met back up with my Norwegian group in Rostock for the last demonstration, and then left for Camp Rostock were I would help Solid wrap everything up during the next two days. Then I went on to Berlin with Barbara and Roland from Solid and after about two days in Berlin at Linus’ place, I went on to Norway with Bob from Hausmania (almost getting arrested in Copenhagen when she and I tried to find our host for the night at a K├Âpi-solidarity demonstration that was surrounded by the police).

It is hard accepting the quietness here.

One thought on “My time in Rostock”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.