By: Jon Brunberg | posted: 5/9/2005 1:00:00 AM
It was when the sturdy policemen who blocked one of the bridges over the river Spree told the old lady in front of me that there was no way she could get into the west of Berlin without taking a very long detour it struck me that this the chasing game between police and demonstrators that took place on this sunny afternoon in the heart of Berlin had many symbolic associations. This day, the 8th of May, was supposed to be both a day of remembrance and a manifestation of tolerance and antiracism, indeed a day when the people of Berlin could take the chance to speak out against racial violence and anti-Semitism. This day would mark the 60th anniversary of the capitulation of the German army to the allied forces.
The NPD, the National Democratic Party, the successors of Hitler's party NSAPD, had received permission to march under the parole "Against the guilt-culture" but did not have a chance to get its cadres moving at all from their meeting place at Alexanderplatz. For the neo nazis, the 60th anniversary is hardly something they want to celebrate but in the opening of the new Holocaust Memorial, which is taking place on Tuesday the 10th, they have found an in their eyes legitimate reason to demonstrate.
The pressure from the tens of thousands of demonstrators that had marched only two hours earlier against right wing extremism threatened to block the roads of the NPD march and the police apparently found it to be safer to the let the neo nazis stay put. Many anti-racist activists tried to get over to the east side of the river after their demonstration to confront the NPD march but were efficiently shadowed by riot-police and hindered by police road blocks on every bridge. Traffic was not allowed in the centre of the city and the local trains stopped. The whole city held its breath and awaited a clash but a massive police force mastered the situation completely without provoking violence. What would have happened though if the NPD march had gone along is another question. In the late afternoon the police sealed off the train station at Alexanderplatz where they had total control over the NPD people and ordered forward several empty commuter trains that would take them out from the centre of the town and away from the awaited heat.
The city of Berlin was once again for a short moment divided into two parts representing different ideological systems, but this time the concrete wall was replaced by a barrier of green clad policemen in riot gear, fences and polices vehicles of all shapes.
This day have showed the complexity that WWII brought to the German capital. Most people of Berlin are utterly provoked by the thought that NPD were allowed to make this march on this particular day. The paradox is that the neo Nazis are offer many Berliners a possibility to clearance with the past by fiercely fighting against the contemporary expressions of Nazism. If we are assuming that there actually is still a feeling of guilt among the Germans for the evil that the nazis brought upon many Europeans, a "guilt culture" as the NPD puts it, would this guilt not diminish for every protest action taken against the neo nazis themselves?
The German Parliament and the city of Berlin have made a big effort to turn this anniversary into a manifestation for democracy. The Democracy Days at the Brandenburger Tor is only one example. This broad gathering of NGO's, governmental institutions and political parties could have been even bigger and visited by even more people but I am still impressed by the way the politicians are investing in information about democracy and political participation. It is perhaps not surprising; after all there is only 65 years since a fanatic dictator dragged the country into a devastating world war.
Previous articles about the anniversary in Berlin:
2005-05-06 | Berlin is preparing for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II
Part of the series ''60th Anniversary of the End of WWII in Berlin''
A series of articles from the events in Berlin during the anniversary of the end of WWII. All articles.
Memorials• Soviet War Memorial in Berlin (Tiergarten)
• Sowjetisches Ehrenmal in Treptower Park, Berlin (Soviet War Memorial)
• Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
• Neue Wache, Berlin
• Memorial to the Roma and Sinti Holocaust Victims in Berlin
• Memorial to Murdered Members of Parlament in Berlin
News articles• The 60 th Anniversary of WWII in Berlin
• The 8 of May in Berlin: Day of Victory, Liberation or Defeat
• Images from the Ceremony at the Sowjetisches Ehrenmal on May 8
• The Memorial to Europe's Murdered Jews Open for the Public
• More Images from The Memorial to Europe's Murdered Jews in Berlin
Editorials• The 60th anniversary of the end of WWII in Berlin
Features• Memorials are After All Only Symbolic Works of Art
• Holocaust Memorial: Architect Peter Eisenman, Berlin 2005