Defying G20
Chronicle of the protest
In July 2017, Hamburg witnessed the largest European alter-globalist protest over the past decade. G20 summit – the meeting of the heads of the most powerful states and other actors aspiring to share the seat of power – became a convenient occasion for alter-globalists to announce themselves and to promote their position. Media showed us juicy images of riots and clashes with the police. One would think there is nothing wrong with presidents meeting each other to talk world politics. Why to build barricades, burn cars and attack law enforcers? Where did 100,000 protesters come from? Who are they?

We went to Hamburg as an independent media-collective – this is how we registered with the activist media center. Our goal was to shoot a video that could be still watchable a month after the events, this is when we had planned to launch our new media project. We were interested it the stories of those people who not only took to the streets to protest the summit, but also spent months of their free time to make the protests happen.

But then something went wrong: we were arrested and put in prison. That is what convinced us to tell our story now, while the disputes about who is to blame for the riots have not been resolved yet.
Hamburg is the bulwark of German left. In a country, where Nazism was morbid reality for many years, this means that there is truly a lot of leftists in the city, and their presence is very visible. For instance, the fan club of Hamburg's football team consists of antifascists exclusively: they love migrants and help LGBT. The team's name is "St. Pauli", its emblem is a pirate flag with a skull and crossed bones, while its motto is "No Gods, No Masters". The team has been playing since 1910, it competes in the second tier of the German football league, but remains very popular, and its merchandise can even be found in duty-free shops in the airport.
The name of the team originates from Hamburg's district St. Pauli – the territory of freedom and anarchy with historic roots. During the time of the Hanseatic league, the present-day Hamburg stretched over two countries – Denmark and Germany. The Danish crown controlled Altona, a fairly successful seaport bordering and competing with Hamburg. St. Pauli was a buffer zone located between the two. It did not belong to anyone. Consequently, it attracted rich men and paupers from both sides who sought carousing. Everyone was equal here. This is why it is not surprising that anarchists, autonomists and other less radical leftist groups frequented the area. Today, St. Pauli has a dozen of houses run and owned by self-organizing collectives, a park by the river made by the dwellers of the neighbourhood, bars, cafes and sex workers. The latter, by the way, are in perfect comfort with the local police station situated in the immediate vicinity. It is not unexpected that the last illegal squat in Germany, Rote Flora, is also located here (all other squats have either been given to communal ownership or are being used with owners' permission).

An interesting thing is that the so-called "red zone" – the territory where the summit was organized – immediately adjoined St. Pauli. Hamburg is large, Germany is very large. Why did they have to bring presidents right into the anarchists' lair? No one knows for sure, but activists have at least three possible explanations, from local to global. The first version claims that it may have been an intentional demonstration of power on the part of the authorities. G20 summits have not been organized in large cities for a long time. Primarily, this was because of security concerns: farther away from activists and large masses of people and for the sake of better logistics. This time, however, the heads of states allegedly wished to demonstrate that they had nothing to be afraid of. They have the police and the army that could protect them wherever they are, even right under protesters' very noses. The second version runs that Angela Merkel may have decided to discredit her main political opponent on the 2017 elections. Even though Martin Schultz's party has no connection to the protest organizers, riots induced by radical left forces usually damage the reputation of social democrats. The third possible explanation might be that in such a way the authorities legitimize gentrification and try to expel the poor. St. Pauli's real estate is the most expensive in Hamburg, while the city itself is experiencing a shortage of housing.
Squat Rote Flora
Streets of St. Pauli:
The photo above shows one of the self-governing houses with a long history of resistance. The authorities had been insistently trying to rehouse its residents until the confrontation took the form of street fights that got enough hardcore for the city to capitulate – the house was given into collective ownership. As a moral recompense, the administration forbade protesters to cover their faces.

Below is the new building of Hamburg opera, where G20 met. Its reconstruction was marred by an embezzlement scandal akin to the one connected to Zenit Arena in St. Petersburg. This is how the new opera looks like from St. Pauli's embankment:
The G20 summit plans were announced back in 2015. The first mobilization among alter-globalist activists started the same year. Various politicized leftist groups have since been planning their individual and collective actions. The preparations involved both more liberal reformists aiming to merely change G20's agenda and radicals, such as autonomists and anarchists, who see no use in presidents and governments whatsoever. Importantly, all the activists promoted a change (or reform) of the government system in the entire world, not in any given country.

Ideologically, such insurrection differs from national protests, such as anti-corruption meetings, Ukrainian Maidan or Arab Spring. In order to emphasize such motivational difference, journalists invented the label "anti-globalists" in the 1990-s, as if those people were against globalization. In fact, a better name for them would be "alter-globalists" because they promote alternative horizontal globalization where there is no place for elites and no country or transnational corporation can influence the world order and impose its own rules on all the others.
Walls of a new elite house in St. Pauli
We do not know the details of the organizational process, but can evaluate its efficiency based on the protest dynamics and the stories we heard from participating activists.

We arrived in Hamburg, when the first demonstration, G20 wave of protest was already over. It was organized by left reformists and dissatisfied liberals: by environmental activists, trade unions, human rights defenders, and the church among others. Overall, tens of thousands of people took to the streets that day. The participants demanded to include migration, climate change and global inequalities into the summit agenda. They also urged governments to make concrete decisions and take specific steps and responsibilities. Few people outside Germany knew about the wave of protest, but, as far as we know, the organizers were happy with the turnout.
Anti-capitalist camp
A few days before the official opening of the G20 summit, more radical leftist groups faced a lot of problems. The most topical issue of those days was the dispersion of the so-called "anti-capitalist camp".

For over a year, Hamburg activists were planning to organize a large camping that could host ten thousand people. Long before the summit they applied to get a permission for organizing the camp in the city park. Receiving rejections, they were filing appeals and discussing backup strategies, including possible relocation of the camp farther away from the city center, to the park on the peninsular. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that the activists' demand to organize sleeping places and political events was legal and justified.

This happened in the beginning of June, when the first visitors were already arriving in Hamburg. Having learned about the Court's decision, activists rushed to the island to "reserve" their spots. At the entrance, they were met by a group of cops who were blocking the way. In response, the protesters organized a spontaneous demonstration in the street and were about to camp right there, but the police suddenly let people enter the park. It was getting late, and some activists started setting up tents, which had been previously allowed by the court ruling. However, the police did not like the idea: they called for backup and stormed those five tents that had been put up already. They even used pepper spray.
The defense of the camp was the first indicator of a fierce confrontation to follow. After such obvious and unjustified police violence, the activists got very angry. And they seemed to have every right to be upset: they organized massive mobilization, visitors were coming from around the world, the court permission was there, but it was impossible to set up the camp.

In the end, the church intervened and helped resolve the situation. Its representatives organized a meeting and agreed to host the protesters on the church premises. It was 5 July, and the organizers were desperately trying to find a place where they could host incoming visitors. Hosting ten thousand people in one place was already out of the question. Consequently, several smaller camps were set up in different parts of the city.
A camp near one of the churches
A counter-summit was opened on the same day. Its program included nearly 50 public events and discussions. Visitors and experts tried to imagine a future without capitalism, states and corporations. One day prior to this, there opened a media-center where anyone could get an accreditation as a media-activist to attend press-conferences and other events with international speakers.

The team of the media-center worked quite independently from those who organized the protests. This was a less politicized group. Its members neither devote their entire lives to activism, nor belong to any factions. They describe themselves as a network of friends who cooperate on project-to-project basis. They also run a few permanent projects: their own squat and a music festival.

The media-center was in the very heart of anti-G20 activities – on the stadium where St. Pauli football team trains. This place was popular not only among journalists, but also among those who wanted to be useful but did not know how, those who wanted to observe and stay updated simultaneously. All in all, 450 people participated in the organization and operations of the media-center, and it took them one month to prepare everything. They set up a studio, brought computers for editing and hard drives for archives, and built a few rooms for interviews. Before every protest, its organizers came to the stadium to explain their position.
St. Pauli stadium
The evening of 5 July was the shining hour of pop-cultural leftists ("Haven't you heard of them?" – asked our German friend when we smiled at such a name.) In the program, they were also called "political hedonists". They claim that one should always find time for partying, since social struggle and constant stress associated with it may be very tiring. The hedonists organized a rave-march with a slogan "I'd rather dance than G20". This group must have managed to bring their political message across quite successfully, for no one tried to disrupt their procession.

The first large demonstration with a provocative title "Welcome to Hell", which required no translation, was scheduled for 6 July. We believe it was this event that trigerred an open conflict between the protesters and the police.

This protest was organized by Hamburg autonomists – anarchists from Rote Flora. According to some rumors, this was supposed to be the largest action of the Black bloc, but in reality, the event was approved by the city authorities and included not only a march by the side of potentially militant radicals, but also several hours of speeches by activists from different countries. One speech was delivered by a human rights defender from Russia. It received a huge round of applause. It stands to mention that for the protesters Putin, Trump and Erdogan embody the darkest evil and are directly associated with the rotten capitalist system. Posters with their faces were present at every protest without exception.
Disposition before "Welcome to Hell" march
The march was scheduled to start at 7 PM. At this time, tens of thousands of people started to move from the square where the stage was installed along the agreed route of the protest. It went along the traffic section of St. Pauli's embankment. Yet, they could only walk for a couple hundred meters before they were stopped by a large police squad with water cannons. We stayed on a hill nearby awaiting while the column would start moving further. We had to wait for a while. It was hot, but we were in good spirits. Loud music was playing from a car in the crowd. Right beneath us, people in black masks were discussing something.

Suddenly, the police went into the offensive. The cops penetrated the crowd from several directions and started dispersing people, sometimes violently. The guys in black were the least lucky – the police were forcing them away using shields and fists. We continued filming the confrontation feeling relatively safe outside the column, but this feeling turned out to be illusive. In less than five minutes the people that stood on the embankment rushed towards the square. Apparently, the task of the police was to clear the area completely. Police squads with water cannons reached the square very quickly. People were running away in complete panic. We do not know exactly what provoked this attack, but from our viewpoint (a part of the group was on the roof of the building, near which the march was blocked), this looked like the slaughter of the innocent. "Down with the cops! Hamburg against the police!" chanted the protesters during those rare moments when the police was relieving pressure to regroup. Unjustified violence triggered another wave of hatred and wrath that turned into street riots with burning cars that were later shown on every TV channel.

That evening, the police continued clearing the area using water cannons and gas. They did not stop until the entire street and the square were completely cleansed.

In the heat of the moment, some protesters somehow managed to form a column and begin marching along the planned route, but very slowly and with constant interruptions. They were accompanied by an equal number of police officers. By midnight, several thousand people joined the march, while the cordon of shields and water cannons completely blocked their way. Protesters went furious. They began throwing bottles and stones at the police and their vehicles. Water cannons did not help, and the police yet again used pepper spray. A short break – eyes stop smarting in ten minutes – then bottles, stones, water and gas are put in action again. And so it goes, until the parties drop with fatigue.

We were returning home in the deep of night. St. Pauli was still awake. There was a fire burning in the middle of the street in front of Rote Flora. People around it were chanting "A-anti-anticapitalista!" The police was near by, but they did not interfere. All of those who stood by the fire were pretty drunk and tired. We almost passed by heading our own way, but at this moment the police attacked again. This time, the cops were much angrier. They didn't simply try to disperse the crowd, they ran and shouted and beat people up without much regard. We caught a couple of hits, but were not arrested.
Near Rote Flora, night of 7 July
For the morning hours of 7 July, activists planned several interventions into the red zone. This was the day of "direct action" against the summit. Various groups were preparing for this day independently from each other. Some actions were announced beforehand, e.g. a bike ride, but most of them were kept in secret, especially those that were held inside the red zone.

At 6:30, a friend sent us the location where a road blockade was about to happen, but we were already asleep and missed everything. The main goal was to stall presidential corteges, so that they would stop, notice the protest and get scared. As we found out later, the action succeeded: Trump's car was forced to change its route, while Melania Trump refused to leave her hotel afterwards.

The blockade was organized by Interventionist Left – a leftist organization from Germany and Austria uniting different political strands. It already has 20 thousand members and continues growing, probably due to their tolerance towards members' political views. Besides this daring road blockade, Interventionist Left organized discussions and other peaceful protests, including a school strike, which was attended by as many as two thousand children. Another faction, the union of anti-authoritarian communists "... umsGanze!", decided to "block the logistics of capital" this day: they organized a demonstration in the port.

Mexicans, who came to support them, later admitted that they left immediately, when they saw the police, having got scared of confrontation. It seems, their fears were unfounded – the event ended peacefully. Yet, this was not the case everywhere. There were, in fact, real grounds to be apprehensive about the police. Several activist were already hospitalized with serious injuries.
The police and and the protesters on the border of the red zone, where the heads of states meet
One could say that the activists were expecting police brutality, and not only because of their ideological intolerance towards police control. Several weeks before the summit, the city administration made a few provocative moves. It is not even that 20 thousand police officers from all over Germany were sent to Hamburg. What was more important was that the newly appointed chief of the city police (and all incoming officers) had been previously dismissed from his office several times precisely because he was giving inadequate orders during the protests organized by the left. What is more, in keeping with the best democratic traditions, the city adopted a few regulations that upgraded the punishment for disobedience of police orders.

Nevertheless, the police could not cope with the situation. By the evening of 7 July, the confrontation came to a head. We walked from one police cordon to another until we saw burning barricades. The sight was very filmable, so we decided to stay. Quite conveniently, there was a house covered with scaffolding near by. It meant that a good camera angle was guaranteed.
A real street fight was going on: the crossroads was surrounded by police squads with huge armored water cannons. The latter did not remain idle. People in black were constantly running around: they carried empty bottles, while running towards the cordon, and returned soaking wet with red eyes affected by tear gas. Meanwhile, Schulterblatt street was taken to pieces for the construction of barricades.
All this may sound dangerous, but it did not seem like it. There were much more spectators than active participants. Perhaps, that is why the police did not go into the offensive, they only fended off the protesters. The confrontation went on for at least three hours, and ended abruptly after that.

Suddenly, the arch where we hid from the tear gas got completely empty. Everyone ran away. We decided to finish eating a sandwich and stayed in place for just a couple more minutes. Suddenly, people in military uniforms flooded the yard and pointed their assault rifles at us. They shouted something in German, approaching us very slowly. We put our hands up:

– English!!!

No reaction, they continue yelling in German. We yell back altogether:


– Lay down! – shout the officers while hitting us in the legs and in the torso. One of us, who was already on the ground, was also kicked in the face.

This is how we became political prisoners. Later, all our German friends were saying that this was a great story to tell our grandchildren afterwards. It turned out we were arrested by a special counter-terrorism squad (SEK), i.e. by supercops, who do not even usually perform such kinds of tasks as dispersing protests. As a rule, they are called exclusively in the situations when there is a terrorist threat. It also turned out their bullets were not made of rubber.

This was another inadequate order of the new police chief.

To better grasp the atmosphere, have a look at the last video we managed to record that night, just several minutes before the special squad intervention.

Pretrial detention center was built specifically for the people arrested during the protests and looked like a huge hangar with container boxes. From the inside those containers were covered with white chip boards. Because of this, we jokingly called them IKEA-boxes.

Police officers working there presumably were on special terms: they walked around without uniforms and badges, and only wore green vests. They were rude and treated us quite disgracefully. In those 24 hours we spent in detention, none of them answered a single basic question, like "Why was I detained?", "On what grounds?", "What am I suspected of?" and "How long will I have to stay here?"

After one day, a trial was organized right there, in one of the boxes. Our defenders were the lawyers from an activist group called Legal Team, which was created specifically for helping those who had been detained during the protests. Despite numerous procedural violations and the lack of evidence that could prove detainees' involvement in the alleged offenses, the judge was arresting everyone until 10 July (9 July was the last day of protests). After the trial, we were transferred to a real prison called Belwada. It was more comfortable, if one could say this at all about any detention facility, but at least, we had soft bunks, windows and food.

I do not want to go into too much detail about the time we spent in prison to avoid unnecessary comparisons. Being in prison is never a pleasant experience. Of course, if one is innocent, it surely feels better. Yet, if learning the details still sounds attractive, go ahead and read an ironic text written by one of our crew members with all the nuances of a German prison and some of its characters a-la "Inglorious Bastards".
After the protests
Melted asphalt had been repaired, and the streets seemed completely unfamiliar – the summit was over. It resulted in one concrete decision on Syria, several vaguely formulated reports about the progress of negotiations and a final communique on the countries' readiness to help migrants, fight corruption, provide aid to the third world, etc. – in other words, nothing new. It was precisely the same format that irritated the protesters. The summit eats up unimaginable resources. For more than one week the life of a large city is completely paralyzed. At the same time, there are reasons to believe that the heads of states manage to discuss much more than is being reported in the media.

We stayed in Hamburg for a couple more days and could hear and see a lot of opinions about the events from various activist groups.

Everyone was upset that the media discourse had changed after the riots. It was especially sad that before the evening of 6 July, the media was supporting the protesters and condemning the actions of the police.

The most heated debate was related to the operation of the counter-terrorist squad, the one that arrested us, peaceful visitors of Hamburg. The house no. 1 in Schulterblatt Street became the epicenter of political confrontation. The police claimed that the attack was so serious that they would not be able to rebuff it on their own. State officials supported the same version – this was the only way to justify the amount of money they spent on this police operation.

On the other hand, the activists claimed the opposite: that the measures employed by the police were inadequate, that there was police brutality, and that the amount of police officers was disproportionately large. Our experience certainly supports the latter version. Nine more people were arrested together with our crew. None of them looked like terrorists. Now, i.e. ten days after the events when witness accounts begin to appear in the media, the public opinion about the protests gradually softens.

Meanwhile, our identities became the subject of speculations in different media: Why were so many Russians detained in Hamburg? Who are they? Might have they been sent by Putin himself? Unfortunately, we would have to disappoint all the conspiracists. We are no one's agents. Hence, this topic might as well be closed right now.

The people who deserve to be discussed, however, are those 50 plus people who remain in custody and may be as "guilty" as we were. 20-27 July were announced as the united solidarity action days in Russia.
Instead of conclusion
just a short summary of how the debate has unfolded since last weekend


all political parties have been refusing since sunday to even talk about the unconstitutional police brutality. instead a witch hunt has begun that includes the whole spectrum of the political left. the party die linke has been accused to be the parliamentary arm of the black bloc.


there's been widespread hate speeches and threats against anything left, be it shop owners in the schanze that contradicted the official version of the riot, be it activists, book publishers, clubs and others. to my mind it's the biggest surge of public rightwing hatespeach for decades.

however, there are some good news.

the media has finally caught on investigating friday night. der spiegel quotes in its new issue a police document that explicitly set the priority of protecting the G20 delegations above protection of inhabitant of the city. mayor scholz claims he did not know that such a document existed when confronted with a copy.

buzzfeed has made an extensive recherche about the number of police injuries. initially reported at 476, the police departments of the 16 bundesländer admitted that more than half of the injuries were due to circulatory collapse. many police have been on duty for more than 50 hours without sleep and proper catering. the number of police severely injured during demonstrations is now down to 2.

some policemen are going into the public criticising the whole police concept.

there will be charges against 35 policemen because of brutal acts so far.

there are still no numbers on injured protesters.

media have now reported attacks on lawyers and journalists.

personally i'd like to add that i'm deeply worried about this shift to the right throughout hamburg's society in particular and german society in general. though not surprising the intensity is unprecedented.

the quarters of schanze and st. pauli will hold an assembly in the millerntorstadion on thursday to give neighbours the opportunity to exchange views and experiences. all initiatives in both quarters stand by the rote flora as do many shop owners and inhabitants though the criticism of the rote flora is stronger than it has ever been.

maybe a second open letter to the city of hamburg from international protestes is needed.
Unknown, from activist distribution
20th of July, 2017
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