Calls for calm after ri­ot­ing in Ham­burg

Ri­ot­ers loot stores and burn cars as city hosts world lead­ers for sum­mit

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY ISAAC STAN­LEY-BECKER isaac.stan­ley­becker@wash­

Far-left mil­i­tants rav­aged parts of Ger­many’s sec­ond-largest city late Fri­day in protest of the G-20 eco­nomic sum­mit.

ham­burg — For days, pro­test­ers seethed. They marched. They chanted. They took over pub­lic parks. They re­fused to obey po­lice com­mands to dis­perse. They filled this north­ern Ger­man port city with signs con­demn­ing global trade as world lead­ers de­scended for the Group of 20 eco­nomic sum­mit.

Then, late Fri­day, vi­o­lence erupted as far-left mil­i­tants rav­aged parts of Ham­burg, set­ting cars on fire, smash­ing store win­dows and loot­ing.

The tur­moil cre­ated dif­fi­cult ques­tions for ac­tivists who con­tin­ued to rally Satur­day as some made a point of dis­avow­ing rad­i­cal tac­tics. It also re­newed con­cerns about whether Ham­burg — whose more than 1.7 mil­lion res­i­dents make it the sec­ond-largest city in Ger­many, a coun­try with fed­eral elec­tions sev­eral months away — was a wise lo­ca­tion for a sum­mit bring­ing to­gether many di­vi­sive heads of state. All to­gether, all at once, in a mo­ment of global un­ease, were Pres­i­dent Trump, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan.

An­tipa­thy to­ward Trump was a par­tic­u­lar ral­ly­ing point in demon­stra­tions that oth­er­wise lacked a uni­fy­ing theme. Pro­test­ers railed var­i­ously against cap­i­tal­ism, cli­mate change and na­tional bor­ders, among other griev­ances.

“This sum­mit was sup­posed to ad­vance the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment,” said Leo Lehmann, 67. “In­stead, be­cause of Mr. Trump, we’re go­ing nowhere.”

Bill de Bla­sio, the mayor of New York City, seized the man­tle of in­ter­na­tional anti-Trump sen­ti­ment, an­nounc­ing at the last minute that he would head­line one of Satur­day’s demon­stra­tions, “Ham­burg Shows At­ti­tude,” spon­sored by the city of Ham­burg. An­other demon­stra­tion Satur­day un­folded un­der the ban­ner “G-20 not wel­come” and fea­tured a va­ri­ety of far-left groups, in­clud­ing a group of “black bloc” ac­tivists, known for an­ar­chist sym­pa­thies and for con­ceal­ing their faces. Po­lice warned of pos­si­ble es­ca­la­tion as the sum­mit came to a close Satur­day.

Ten­sions had been run­ning high since Thurs­day, the eve of talks, as po­lice of­fi­cers faced off against mem­bers of the bloc at an anti-cap­i­tal­ist demon­stra­tion dubbed “Wel­come to Hell.” Au­thor­i­ties used wa­ter can­nons and pep­per spray to dis­perse the crowd, which num­bered about 12,000.

The cen­ter of the may­hem Fri­day night was Schanzen­vier­tel, a hub of the city’s left-wing ac­tivism not far from where Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel was host­ing the lead­ers of the world’s ma­jor economies for a con­cert at the lofty Elbphil­har­monie. As sum­mit par­tic­i­pants lis­tened to “Ode to Joy,” about 1,500 an­ar­chists ri­oted and looted, at­tack­ing po­lice of­fi­cers with iron bars and lob­bing molo­tov cock­tails.

Ger­man spe­cial forces were de­ployed as au­thor­i­ties called in re­in­force­ments from across the coun­try. Po­lice said 144 peo­ple had been ar­rested by Satur­day evening and the same num­ber were be­ing held tem­po­rar­ily in de­ten­tion.

Mean­while, 285 of­fi­cers had been in­jured since protests mounted Thurs­day. One had a bro­ken limb. Many in­jures were also re­ported among pro­test­ers, some of whom were shel­tered in­side Rote Flora, a cen­ter of left­wing Ger­man rad­i­cal­ism and for­mer theater where ac­tivists have squat­ted for nearly three decades.

Its lead­ers Satur­day dis­tanced them­selves from the vi­o­lence but dis­persed blame.

“This mil­i­tant ac­tion was wrong,” said An­dreas Blech­schmidt, a spokesman for Rote Flora who had helped or­ga­nize the open­ing march on Thurs­day. “In gen­eral, we say mil­i­tant re­sis­tance is of course for us an op­tion, but this was only ri­ot­ing with no po­lit­i­cal aim. Though per­haps it was a re­ac­tion to the very strict strat­egy of the po­lice in the last week.”

The ri­ot­ing in Schanzen­vier­tel led many to re­flect Satur­day on how to voice dis­sent with­out re­sort­ing to vi­o­lence. Ur­sula Haun, part of a group of physi­cians who op­pose nu­clear arms, said the aim should be to counter bru­tal­ity, not pro­voke it.

Thomas Weinand, 25, car­ried a sign urg­ing, “Black bloc go home.” Across sev­eral years liv­ing near the scene of Fri­day night’s chaos, he had never seen any­thing like the “hell” that un­folded, he said. For sev­eral hours, mil­i­tants lit fires, smashed street signs and looted a gro­cery store.

Weinand said an­ar­chists from across Europe had hi­jacked Ham­burg’s his­tory of left-wing ac­tivism, un­der­min­ing the cause of peace­ful pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing many from Ham­burg whose aim was to de­fend their city.

“We don’t want the G-20 here,” said Weinand, who stud­ies man­age­ment in Ham­burg.

Ger­man of­fi­cials Satur­day de­fended the de­ci­sion to hold the sum­mit in Ham­burg, say­ing ad­e­quate pre­cau­tions had been taken. Wolf­gang Sch­midt, a Ham­burg politi­cian in­volved in sum­mit prepa­ra­tions, said the city did not re­gret play­ing host to world lead­ers. He said the pur­pose of spon­sor­ing a demon­stra­tion — in the model of the in­ter­na­tional women’s march after Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in Jan­uary — was to give ac­tivists an out­let that did not en­tail con­demn­ing the sum­mit it­self.

“I don’t think we can say we shouldn’t have sum­mits in cer­tain places,” Merkel told re­porters Satur­day, point­ing to talks held in Lon­don in 2009. Next year’s sum­mit will take place in Buenos Aires. Other world lead­ers weighed in as well. French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said, “We’re not talk­ing about ac­tivists re­ally but row­dies.”

Ve­he­ment protest has of­ten marked in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic talks. A sum­mit in 2001, in Genoa, Italy, be­came a site of mass antiglob­al­iza­tion demon­stra­tions that left one pro­tester dead at the hands of Ital­ian au­thor­i­ties.


Po­lice in riot gear use pep­per spray on de­mon­stra­tors Satur­day in Ham­burg. Rag­ing street bat­tles marred the Group of 20 sum­mit there.


A girl in a su­per­hero cos­tume sur­veys the dam­age in front of a looted drug­store fol­low­ing ri­ot­ing in Ham­burg’s Schanzen­vier­tel dis­trict, which had been the cen­ter of the may­hem Fri­day night.

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