It’s bliss waking up in the van under the trees by the park. So quiet and still, despite being in a residential neighborhood.
We are in Gähler Park, occupied since December last year to help stop Moorburg power-station. It is already being built, but a pipeline is planned to take water from the Elbe to the power-station. That pipeline is planned to cut straight through this and several other parks. The trees will be cut and the power station will be returning water three degrees warmer to the river.
It’s Saturday and still Hamburg is an ice-rink, so we walk rather than cycle into town for the weekly anti-fur demo. Possibly because it’s the only other weekly noise demo I have ever been to, it reminds me a little of the weekly Smash EDO noise demos in Brighton. The main differences here are that we are right in the centre of town – in an area so rich it is shocking, there are doormen in all of the shops and a champagne bar on the top floor of the shopping centre! – and that the police have managed to put a lot of restrictions on the demonstrators. They are only allowed to stand outside each of the two shops the campaign is focused on once each per month and are only allowed to make noise for ten minutes in every hour.
We stand at the end of the pedestrianised road behind a giant banner. Every other person that stops to talk asks why on earth we are standing there to demonstrate. Sigh. Yes, we know. The other thing they ask is why Escada should be the target of our demonstration when there are so many other shops selling fur, in fact some of them sell only fur, while Escada at least have items that are not made of fur as the majority. This is a tactical and long-running campaign, one that has already managed to get a string of other shops to abandon the fur trade. Escada also designs it’s own collections and produces them in it’s own factories. A solitary policeman sits in his car next to the demostrators. He seems bored.
Every now and then we begin a chant. Of course, we find this bit difficult, it being in German. Sarah writes the main ones out for us and we have a go at chanting them along with the others. Every now and then she’ll look over and say “number 4 now!” and we’ll have to quickly find the one she means and try to get the pronounciation and rhythm right so as not to sound too obvious or too stupid. Some of my favourites are:
- “Pelzhandel stopp! Escada boykott!”
- “Wir sind hier und wir sind laut, veil Escada pelz verkauft!”
- and “Hände weg! Hände weg von tieren!”
Some of the others are a little bit trickier, especially the ones where you have to change the word each time you run through it. Phew!
The demo ends early at 3pm due to the cold and we get a “free bus” (like in London) to Hin und Veg for lunch. Vegan pizza with melty cheese. Mmmm…
Somehow we are still in Hamburg. We are not so good at leaving places, I think. The morning we had decided to leave, we decided to stay. Each of us is searching for meaning in our travels and this campaign is one we can both resonate with. We decided to stay at the tree-camp and get more involved.
The dynamic is strange. Half or more of the people on site are from an organisation called Robin Wood. It broke away from Greenpeace in the 1980s. We are told the organisation is non-hierarchical and anarchistic in nature, but it still has some paid staff and people are only allowed to use climbing equipment unaided after they have completed one of the Robin Wood climbing courses. It’s a far cry from what we’re used to. I remember Blower teaching us to climb at Lappersfort with a bottle of beer in one hand. I remember the safety risks I have seen people take just for the crack on just about every site I’ve been to. None of that here. The Robin Wood people sneer at the three autonomous people living in trees because they sit round the fire drinking before they go to bed. It’s good to be safe and I appreciate learning some new, safer climbing techniques, but don’t these people realise that where sites are concerned this is normal behaviour? At Titnore I remember people taking ketamine and climbing up to bed, let alone a couple of beers!
A lot of local people are supporting the protest. This is manifested in a variety of ways, from free saunas to cooked food to offers of showers and internet use. We basically never have to cook. There is a string of chocolates and cakes and pots of stew being constantly brought through to the Gählerhause (the strange square building in the middle of the park with fitted kitchen where the Robin Wood people mostly hang out) and to the fire (the classic fire in metal cylinder under a bit of tarpaulin where the other, autonomous people hang out. It’s hard not to feel there is a bit of a division.
We had already said our goodbyes, so our animal rights friends are surprised to see us turn up for their fortnightly soli-vokü at Cafe Knallhart, the “self-administered student cafe” (once a squat) at the University of Hamburg, the following Saturday. It’s a vegan organic buffet and definitely the best vokü yet.
There is also a talk, which Sarah translates for us and a short film, which fortunately is very visual with not many words, about an open animal liberation group. It’s an interesting concept. They actively state that they are liberating animals and even show their faces and car number plate on the film. They go to farms where there is little security and thousands of animals. They take only a few – as many as they have found homes for in advance – and it’s very rare they are even noticed as missing.
The Fischmarket has become a weekly chore for us. We have to get up early and try to get there for 9:30am when it closes (by the way, what sane individual would go to a fish market at 5am??) and go around collecting the unsold fruit and veg before it is thrown into the giant skips. On the first week we get hordes of papaya, mango, grapefruits and raspberries and live on tropical smoothies all week. The second we get mostly bananas, strawberries, grapefruit and papaya. The third week we get there late and get only a box of bananas, a box of avocados and a lot of oranges. Where is our tropical fruit? Too late, alas, it is all in the big skip. Some student film-makers interview us about why we are going through the garbage. They will send us a copy of the DVD.
Cafe Exil is an independant information and advice centre for refugees. The walls don posters about freedom of movement and No Borders. It’s here that I first learn about the free German classes held at Kölibri on a Monday and Thursday evening. These are obviously aimed at refugees and aslyum seekers, but the guy at Cafe Exil seems to think it will be ok for me to go also.
I turn up one Thursday night and tentatively enquire if the classes are available for all migrants, or only asylum seekers and refugees. The nice woman replies that I can certainly join them today, but she will have to ask her co-workers how they feel about me coming in future. And so it is that I find myself sitting with a small group of friendly Iranian and Afghan men, politely introducing themselves to me in simple and carefully pronounced German in a go-round. “Ich bin Jo. Ich komme aus England.” “England!” They seem surprised. What is this crazy English girl stiking of wood smoke doing in our class. They don’t say anything about it though, only smile openly and say “angenehm” – “pleased to meet you”. This is where my daily study in the library opposite the camp comes in handy. I am able to muddle through most of the excercises, which seem to be at about my level (basic!)
As we have decided to stay we decide we had better try to be useful. A very helpful David (of Robin Wood) helps to procure us a tree-platform and some of the others get it up in a tree for us. We are right next to the road – frontline when the police come! A problem arises when we come to wanting to actually sleep on the platform. Jürgen and Olivia have a spare set of climbing equipment, which they kindly lend to us, but we can only use Robin Wood equipment if we’re accompanied by one of them. To sleep? No. The platform stays suspended and empty above the park.
It’s amazing how you can be in a town for weeks, ask everyone you know and everyone you meet for things of interest to see and do and still things keep popping up, just when you thought you had seen it all. We are round at Sarah’s doing a spot of laundry and making smoothies and banana pancakes with our weekly haul from the Fischmarket, when Sarah mentions that she got some of her books from the Free Shop. “The what?” “Oh, didn’t I tell you?” Sigh. We go to have a look. It’s in a commercially rented building on Stressmanstraße and has mostly books, but we do manage to procure some odd bits and bobs also. Libertäres Zentrum, or “Liz” has a vegan vokü on Thursday and Sunday evenings at 8pm and is the friendliest social centre with the best food (apart from the animal lib one of course!) How did we not know about it until we’d been in Hamburg two weeks?!
Good news – the high court has ruled that the lower court that made the decision about the trees being cut made a bad decision. Now the lower court has to make a new decision. Everyone is celebrating tentatively, not sure if it’s for real. Does this mean… we’ve won? After some lengthy meetings it is decided to retreat some of the structures slowly, but to keep a pesence in the trees at least until we are certain they are safe. There have apparently been complaints about noise and rubbish – which is just a joke, this is the cleanest and quietest site I have ever seen – spotless!
The sun is coming out and our feet are getting itchy. It’s time to move on. Our final demonstration is outside Unger, another fur-seller. Before this we did another, smaller demo on a big main road where nobody could hear us outside the Finnish Embassy. There is some info on that here.
It’s our last night. After one beer at the fire with Jürgen and Olivia they manage to persuade me that one night at least must be spent on our tree-platform. They lend us their other spare climbing belt for one night only. It takes ages for Pete to climb up, secure the tarpaulin, me to tie all of our sleeping equipment with blankets and bits of styrofoam (it’s zero degrees) to the end of a rope and him to haul them up. Finally it’s my turn to climb. On reaching the top I can’t help but notice how the whole thing is bending and cracking in the middle, just where Pete’s foot is. “Don’t be silly!” he says when I tell him, but on looking himself he sees the truth: our platform is about to break in half. Down we go, along with all of the stuff again. We’ll spend our last night in the van with the fire on thanks!