On Saturday a friend and I used our semester train ticket to do some sightseeing in Hannover (about an hour north of Göttingen). When we came back in the early afternoon, we left the train station only to find dozens of police officers lined up in rows on either side of the entrance. It was a surreal moment. (If you remember the scene in "Lola Rennt" with the swat team pointing their guns at Lola as she comes out of the bank -- it felt a little bit like that, I wasn't scared, just puzzled, like I had walked onto a stage in the middle of a performance. Except that it was broad daylight and -- unlike Lola -- I hadn't just robbed a bank.)
My first thought, rather irrelevantly, was that I didn't know there were so many police officers in the entire city. And then the more normal question: Was ist denn hier los?
As we walked towards the city center: more police cars, blockaded streets, and the sound of a loudspeaker. Ah, okay. Must be something political then.
Was I supposed to know what this was all about? I thought maybe I had missed something as a result of my usual wandering around obliviously....
It turns out the occasion was the anniversary of the the death of a Göttingen student who was killed at an antifascist protest in 1989. The organizers, fearing, I presume, that their demonstration would be prevented if they announced it officially, did not advertise it beforehand. So in this case my ignorance makes a little bit more sense.
However, I think people active in leftist circles would have been aware of it well in advance. It seems this particular event has become something of a rallying point for groups all over the country: One of my Berlin friends said he had seen leaflets about the demonstration in the Berlin subway that morning!
There is an ironic aspect to this. Some of the posters for the demonstration proclaimed "Kein Frieden mit dem Polizei- und Überwachungsstaat." Rather than opening up space for change, however, the protest only seems to have turned onto a reenactment of the original occasion, turning the city for some hours into precisely that police state it was directed against.
Last week of course was the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the (unofficial) birth of a reunified Germany. Feeling a bit left out and isolated, I had been wishing I were in Berlin, in the middle of things. To be part of all of this, here, no longer looking on from afar, from outside, as I have done for so long, but actually seeing and experiencing some small piece of the history of this country.
It turns out I may be more in the middle of things than I had thought...