Ingo told me not to go to downtown Hamburg today… I intended to stay home, I really did. But the weather was fantastic and warm, not windy… the ferries were running and so is my bike. The moon is almost full and the call to play some accordion on the street was just too loud.
I caught the ferry at the König der Löwen stop (yes that’s Lion King in German and the island where I live also houses a giant perma-tent for the German language stage production of this Disney musical.) There were more bikes than I’ve ever seen on this boat before… and a bunch of spandex-clad Frenchmen with road bikes were talking to each other about sleeping in somebody’s garden tonight. Presumably they were here to protest as well. But they looked like a yuppie cycling team. ?!?
Helicopters were flying back and forth over the river… I almost went home when I heard them. Ingo did think I was crazy to head out into a protest like this! But whatever. Rebel is loud enough to be heard amidst helicopter noise so why not? I decided to cruise around downtown and look for a spot. In the worst case I could just take the next ferry home. It was about 7:30pm… the sun doesn’t set here until 10pm in midsummer. That’s enough time to make a little magic happen before dark (and not get a sunburn.)
Cops were all over the place at Landungsbrucken on the other side of the river. Protesters were gathering in little groups all along the main street. Helicopter growl was drowning everything out so I rode up the hill to the Reeperbahn, trying to find a narrow alley to shut out the noise. No good. The ultimate buzzkill of the helicopters was strong here and I could feel the beginning of a really slow night for the bartenders and strippers in this neighborhood. How the heck do you relax when you hear a loud WAAAAAAAAAAA sound drowning everybody’s words? I decided to cruise up to Altona… what the hell. Normally you have to stop playing street music at 8pm there but this was by no means a normal night. WAAAAAAAAAAAAA…
Most of the G20 camps have been disbanded by the cops. There are police stationed here from other cities in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. They are patrolling around in squads like little SWAT teams, looking hot in their riot gear. (Warm, not sexy! I’m not kinky like that you pervert!) On the way to Altona I passed one camp downtown on the church lawn along the Königstrasse; I guess the old medieval idea of sanctuary on sacred ground still holds true today. I also saw a dumpster, half-melted, with caution tape all around. Now I know what a burned out plastic dumpster looks like!
I continued up the hill to Altona and set up my little stage on the Ottensen Hauptstrasse near the train station. I could feel an instant appreciation from the neighborhood when the music started. Yes, it’s G20 weekend and the leaders of 20+ countries are visiting my new city. Yes the street corners are swarming with cops to protect us from terrorism. But dammit there are not many warm, moonlit nights a year in Hamburg and the normal people just want to let loose a little. Well… most of them. There was a homeless guy sleeping on a piece of cardboard across the plaza who didn’t seem too happy to hear music, since he rolled over the other way…
Every time the helicopters came close I played a non-singing, hard-rocking folk song. My new Turkish tune and my Klezmer tune sounded great with helicopter as a backdrop… maybe the music was born in times of oppression so it can stand up to harsh noises? Songs in minor keys can handle a lot. I drew a very appreciative crowd… I got plenty of 2 Euro coins and a $20 bill from a mother with her two young daughters. I played “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” for her girls. I got some money from a homeless shaved-headed woman who didn’t speak… it’s always a deep affirmation for my music when someone who lives on the street gives me a tip. Even if it’s twenty cents. I love you, too, homeless lady. Thanks for being more generous than most people when you have so little…
I didn’t have long until the last ferry back home so I played without a break. Well… just one short break to open my beer. Drinking beer on the street is my favorite new liberty in Germany. It’s the first right I’ve experienced here in Europe which showed me America isn’t really free. Anyway just after that beer break I got this feeling and started playing “I Fought the Law”, the Clash version. The homeless dude who was trying to sleep got up and even danced a bit… two squads of cops patrolled right through our plaza just I was singing “I fought the law and the law won”. I could feel a sense of victory among the onlookers, parents with their kids, immigrants, homeless, diners… we are all having a normal time here officers. A little folk music, a little enjoyment of a warm evening, and we’re ready to keep having a good time when you have to park those noisy helicopters!
I raced home over a sea of broken glass on the Landungsbrucken. The protest was underway and folks were making a big mess. I was in a rush… I didn’t plan to have my route to the ferry blocked by a full-on protest… whoops. I said “Entschuldigung” about a hundred times and ran alongside my bike through the crowd. My accordion fell of the back (don’t worry, button accordions are built like little tanks and the padded backpack is enough protection). Another lady said “Entschuldigung” back to me and I turned around, to see that she was holding up my bike bag for me… which also fell off in my mad rush through the crowd. In my little flash opinion of this event, on my way back to the ferry and my safe little island, I found that German anti-capitalist liberal protesters are a little excited, a little crazy under this full moon… but still very kind and polite.
Vive la resistance, my friends. I hope these party-loving liberals get heard somehow. They are out there to say: Our planet is important. Climate change is important. People over profits. I’m so lucky to get a chance to be a witness and to make a few bucks on the side, too. I choose profits and people, dammit. I was also incredibly lucky to catch that last ferry and see that big old moon in a pink and purple sky over the water on my ride home.
July 6th 2017
UPDATE July 8th
Ingo has been following the G20 news on TV mostly on NTV, German News TV, also on the local station NDR, Nord Deutsche Rundfunk. I’ve been following along as best as I can with my limited German. There are many videos of violence on the street. Dudes in black clothes, sunglasses and bandanas setting cars on fire and throwing cobblestones. I also saw plenty of video of regular peaceful protesters who even brought their kids along. Old folks too. A few days ago, a group of 1,000 cops came down on a group of peaceful protest campers in Hamburg, spraying pepper spray in their faces and forcing them to leave. Right of assembly is normally guaranteed in Germany (as long as you pre-register your protest) but there has been a very large “no protest” zone declared in Hamburg which the people have definitely been crossing into!
Friends of mine went to a protest rave in Altona… so there was plenty going on besides just this violent stuff. There is a general flavor of people standing up for the environment, for freedom of assembly, and to represent for other protestors who were assaulted by the police. Another interesting bit of local news is that Melania Trump was not able to leave her flat on Friday morning to accompany the first-wives expedition for the day, because she was completely surrounded by protestors! What a scene. The folks living in St. Pauli and the Schanzenviertel neighborhoods were interviewed and many expressed disgust about smashed windows, pulled-up cobblestones, dumpster fires, car fires… I can see why. They have not only been hearing non-stop helicopter noise for the past few days, been surrounded by military-looking phalanxes of cops, but they have also had their neighborhoods torn up. I’m glad they get to come back to normalcy soon. There are hundreds of reported injuries among protesters and police, too.
On the lighter side… my favorite protest action by far was the one presented by Greenpeace on the river Elbe. Here you can really see what many lefties think of Trump:
U.S. President Trump is being characterized as a baby man whose diaper is leaking oil all over the planet. It’s a pretty good dig considering his rejection of the Paris Climate Accord a few months ago. I think that blaming him for all of the world’s environmental problems would be false. At the same time… his rollbacks of EPA protections worry me. Humans need clean water to live. Period. There’s no way that you can morally justify fracking, massive-scale pesticide use, and other industrial operations which threaten water supply such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, especially since scientists say that part of climate change is very unpredictable weather patterns. Fracking in drought-and-earthquake-prone California, for instance, is just crazy. And no, I don’t think that Democrats do much better on this issue so don’t misinterpret me please! Hillary Clinton said that she approves of fracking as long as it’s done responsibly. In the current situation I see the need for street actions to demand a sustainable future and I’m sad when people get hurt and property is needlessly destroyed in the process. I think that calling out the American president for childish behavior on this issue is fully justified. Trump’s administration is very dangerous not just to the beautiful rugged American landscape which I love, but also the American people and the rest of the world. If global warming continues at the same rate we are really messing with a dangerous future. Thanks for being on point with the criticism, Greenpeace. I’m really curious is images of this prominently-displayed boat ended up on U.S. news!
-Renee de la Prade