22.9.81 – Death On The Potsdamerstrasse

An anonymous account of police violence during a protest against evictions in Berlin. 19 year old Klaus Rattay died during the demonstration, although this is not directly covered in the text. (Rattay's death is covered in "A Short History Of The Berlin Squatting Movement December 1980 - July 1982")

Originally appeared in Bar Fax.

Now they're shooting the teargas directly at the spot where he was killed. People are screaming; standing and scattering like so much chaff. A few cannisters are tossed back at the police but not enough really to help. Only about twenty demonstrators remain seated at the spot now.

The police vans, roaring up with sirens going full blast. Stopping, shuddering, a few centimetres away. Stopping reluctantly - the drivers' faces make it clear they would prefer to drive on through. More cannisters are rolled out and for a few seconds an eerie quasi-silence is there. Tableau of hell-clouds of gas rising, flashing blue lights, bulking green and white vans waiting.

But you're too busy trying to breath to note much of it. The flimsy hankerchief seems to help a little but there's nothing to do about your eyes. Just try to catch occasional glimpses through the streaming tears. The smoke starts to clear away. And now comes the charge: the drab, running mass, riot sticks and shields standing out as symbolic promises. Alright, clasp hands on your head in an unequivocal posture of passive rest.

The first policemen is in too much of a hurry — just one casual blow from his stick in passing. But it's enough to knock you from the sitting position onto your back. The next two are more efficient. They stop, one on either side, and get in full, well-aimed strokes. The image of hell is reinforced —those helmeted, goggled faces and writing mouths, with hate blaring out.

You catch a glimpse behind you, towards the spot — there are only a few demonstrators left and they are receiving the same treatment. At one point, to a policeman with arms drawn full back with riot stick, you ask, shout; 'What are you doing?'

You have no idea how many policemen have struck you — eight. nine, ten? — but it seems to have being going on forever. Then, suddenly, there are no more policemen charging at you. You struggle into a sitting position and look behind — just in time to see them coming back. You can't raise your left arm so, this time, you try to make do with your right.

But none of them uses a riot stick on you. You realise later that it's probably because the right side of you is covered in blood from a head wound. Nonetheless, a few take half-hearted kicks at you and and one repeats the earlier performance of shouting at you to 'go away' and tries to help you with his boot.

It's probably about a half-hour later when they make the second attack.

Same procedure to start off except for the minor point that a van stops directly in front of you—maybe 50 centimetres away —and thoughtfully rolls a teargas cannister under your legs. There seems to be more teargas this time too but that may be just imagination. Another change —this time the police are massing behind their vans and moving slowly forward as the gas clears.

Just then a medic runs up, stands over you as protection. You shout at him to go away. Can't see that the whole point of your being there is lost if you are protected! Finally, after argument, he goes. Then you notice that the police haven't moved any further forward, that they are listening to a girl who stands in front of the spot. Listening! As she pleads with them to respect an honest sorrow. Finally, she kneels down, head forward to the ground, arms outstretched in front, palms open.

The police seem confused, are wavering. Long moments of indecision. Then they turn, get back into their vans, drive away A victory for passive resistance!

It's not, of course!

The third attack comes at about one and a half hours later. Again the teargas, the sudden near-miss stops of the vans, the massing of policemen. A man in a wheelchair has positioned himself in front of the vans but he can only stop one at a time. A teargas cannister is dropped under his wheelchair —he retreats reluctantly.

This time the police aren't stopping short of their own version of a final solution. Slowly, systematically, they start dragging away those few who are still on the spot. Ruthlessly clubbing with riot sticks and boots any show of the faintest resistance. Deliberately kicking away and scattering the flowers.

And there's the medic again. He refuses to leave, stands over you resolutely. The police are disturbed, try to push him away but he won't go. A girl is there too, haranguing the police loudly about their brutality.

Finally they lose patience, bundle the girl away into a van, A second medic who has been standing by at the side, also protecting, disappears— you don't know how or when. A fat faced. particularly enraged policeman starts clubbing the first medic from the back, riot stick sweeping in great thudding arcs. The medic is wearing a helmet and a leather jacket, but its clear that he's being hurt. Nonetheless he stays there. Until at last, a particularly hard jab in the small of the back pushes him away.

But you don't have time to see what has happened to him because Fatso is in with the boot, screaming with each kick for you to get out. You're beginning to find everything a bit hazy by this time so you don't really notice when or why the kicking stops. Anyway, you sit up again, took around. Now the area around the spot is totally cleared of demonstrators except for the man in the wheelchair and yourself. The police am standing ready in front of their vans, presumably waiting for stragglers of their own. You sit there, looking at the line of police in front of you.

Then, one time when you look behind, you see a photographer suddenly run forward to within a few metres of you, He flashes a shot, turns to run back, But the police are onto him immediately. Five or six bear him to the ground, try to take his camera away. But he holds fast so they half-carry, half drag him back behind their lines. He holds the camera aloft, a futile attempt to protect it. The police lines close around you but you can still see a bit — the riot sticks and fists swinging around and down, a glimpse of a civilian leg seemingly dismembered among the rolling olive-green. And hear — the sickening thuds can only be those of wood and leather on flesh: and the screams.

After a long, long time, the police get back in their vans, drive away. You look around, at the wreckage, the deserted street, the crushed and scattered flowers, Everything seems very quiet now. And hopeless.

There's a sound. It's an armoured car with a water cannon, Slowly moving towards you, sweeping the street clear of debris. And people.

You sit there, feeling that you might as well carry this through to the end. You don't really want to stay but you're so completely depressed that it doesn't seem worth moving. Not giving a damn anymore what happens.

And then there's an man and a woman there. Gently trying to drag you away. You protest, but then you don't really mean it. You've had enough. You walk with them supported on either side. The water canon gives all three of you a short blast but they are strong enough to hold you up. You leave them, walk home. Thinking about passive resistance.