Sunday, July 12, 2009

It started on the cobble stone streets of Schtutterblatte.  

Hamburgers packed the streets and filled it with energy and noise.  We muscled our way throughout to find the 1 Euro beer stands and join the celebration.  People adorned their perfectly cristened mohawks of vivid shades of pink and blue.  Leather jackets with metallic spikes were the popular outfit.  On both sides of the streets, graffiti decorated the archaic buildings of local shops and apartments.  

As we passed each intersection of city streets, cops were garbed in riot gear from head to toe.  They stood at attention, ready for action, in groups 40 to 50 strong. A bullet proof shield in one hand and baton in the other, they resembled ancient Spartans whose Herculean strength resulted from working as a unit.

Why so many cops? All these people want to do is show off what wood glue can do to hair and have a few cheap Astras.  Astras are the Hamburg local beer. At 1 - 2 Euros a bottle,  Astra is the preferred drink of party goers because it's cheap, effective, and local. They taste a hundred times better than a budlight, yet are priced the same.  Germany 1, USA 0.

Ze americanas. Joe, Brian, and I, strutted about the streets in graphic shirts, cargo shorts, and flip flops.  The crinkling of glass underneath our leather soles was heard with every step above the excited talk and song of the Hamburgers.  Then, everything changed.  

Smoke rose from afar.  Amidst the smoke and the growing wisps of yellow and orange, a man in a sleeveless leather jacket was suddenly several feet above the heads of mohawks and spikes.  As he struggled to keep his balance, he continued to stack foreign objects like fork lift palletes and outdoor speakers and climb atop them.  

Little did we know, he was building a burn pile as a demonstration against capitalism.  Curious and ignorant to the situation, we ventured closer.  Explosions were heard.  They sounded like M-60 fire crackers in a mailbox.  People ahead of us started covering their eyes.  It was tear gas. We were getting gassed.  Brian caught a waft in his right eye and immediately had trouble seeing. This was no longer a demonstration. This was a riot.

As the flames grew, so did the energy of the crowd.  The sleeveless leader spastically led the crowd in German chants.  He resembled a musical conductor as he waved his arms around wildly and the people followed his every move with arms held high.  A sea of hands wrapped in spiked bracelets clutching beers could be seen for blocks and blocks. Then came the water cannons.

THe crowd turned into a mosh pit as almost everyone fled the range of the cannon.  Those who stayed scurried about the streets to grab empty bottles.  Here's the interesting part: when the crowd fled, they only ran far enough to avoid getting sprayed.  Once they were out of range, they continued chanting and cursing

For the few hooligans who remained in range of the water cannon, they were doused heavily. They threw beer bottles at the water guns as an act of defiance.  This explained all the crinkling of glass I was nervous about with every step in my flip flops.  

When sprayed, they would stand still with arms held high in rebellion.  This continued until the water pressure became too intense, or the cops would kick and punch them into submission.

I was freaked out.  I had no desire to experience jail time in a foreign country and was ready to leave.  Joe and Brian were intrigued to keep watching, so we stayed and watched from a safe distance.

The riot started in the center of Schantzee (not sure if I'm spelling it correctly).  The Schantzee spans about twenty blocks or so. By blocks I'm talking about the equivalent of a Chicago city block for the sake of comparison.  Since all the cobblestone streets of Hamburg are winding and convoluted, it's more of a labyrinth than a city grid.

The riot went on all night.  It was a slow effort by the cops to spray the crowd and progressively push them back. It took about a half hour to move the crowd twenty feet.  For the first hour, this was their tactic.  

Cops formed lines 80 - 100 strong to block off the side streets to prevent people from looping around the streets to come up from behind the water cannon and try to sabotage it.  I felt like a herded cattle as the cops and mobile water turrets forced us into a confined area.

The rest of this story is continued in the previous blog entry. This was as far I got last time before Blogger destroyed my work.  To hear the rest, check the blog below.


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