The mother rule: No matter what, DON’T PANIC!
This first rule is borrowed from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Whether you’re hitching a ride on an intergalactic freighter or protesting in Kreuzberg, always remember: no matter how bad things seem, they probably aren’t.
1. Be prepared
This rule was a favourite of the East German youth organization FDJ, “Free German Youth”, and also the Boy Scouts. Ninety-nine percent of people at Revolutionary May Day are not going to have any problems, but a wise demonstrator always prepares for the worst. Bring the necessities – water, comfortable shoes, some kind of identification, an extra pair of glasses, any medicine you might need etc – but don’t take anything the police might have a problem with. That means illegal drugs, pocket knives, glass bottles, ski masks… even a bicycle helmet can be confiscated as a “passive weapon”, whatever that means. And know your rights (see “If you get arrested…”).
2. Go in a group
Attend the demonstration with people you know and trust. Talk to them beforehand about how you will react in a ‘hot’ situation. Four or five people is the perfect number for a Bezugsgruppe (“affinity group”) – you’ll know if anyone disappears. A lot of arrests take place after the demonstration and at night, so your whole Bezugsgruppe should leave the neighbourhood together.
3. Do you need that camera?
Sometimes the police detain protestors just to get at their cameras, in the hope of finding evidence against them or others. So leave the camera at home. There will be plenty of photographers at the demonstration who have experience and can take better pictures than you, anyway.
At the demo…
4. Use your head
If you just want to watch (and probably about 97 percent of people are only there to watch), then keep a healthy distance from the police. If you do end up in the front lines, link up your elbows with people next to you – human chains make it much more difficult for the police to pull people out and arrest them. If everybody starts running in a particular direction, wait a few seconds and figure out what’s going on before following them. Above all, don’t consume alcohol or drugs. You need a clear head to stay safe.
If you get arrested…
5. Don’t panic! (again)
Statistically, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be detained by your “friends and helpers” in the Berlin police. But it can happen – and if it does, it’s not the end of the world. Follow some basic rules and you’ll be out in no time.
6. Let people know
If you get arrested, call out to your Bezugsgruppe and anyone standing nearby. Tell them your full name and have them call the “Fact-finding Commission” (in German – Ermittlungsausschuss or “EA”). This is a group of leftwing lawyers who will make sure you don’t get lost in the system. You’ll get to make at least one phone call from the detention centre and it should be to them: 6922 222 (“six, nine and five twos”).
7. Don’t talk to the police!
In the detention centre, a ‘bad cop’ might tell you that you are required to make a statement or sign a paper. This is a lie. All you have to tell them is what’s on your ID card: your name, age, nationality and a general description of your profession (such as “student” or “office worker”). Besides that: not one word! Anything you say can be used against you and others. So just say one simple phrase, “Ich verweigere die Aussage.“ (“I refuse to make a statement.“) And, if necessary, say it again and again like a broken record.
8. Again: don’t talk to the police!
A ‘good cop’ might tell you that you’ll get out more quickly if you talk. This is also a lie. If you answer even one question, you’ll be asked a dozen more. The quickest way to get out is to remain silent.
9. In fact, don’t talk to anyone!
Sometimes police in civilian clothes are at the detention centres, posing as demonstrators. So talk about the weather, your favourite Berlin park, your least-favourite club – but don’t talk about what happened! There will be plenty of time to talk once you get out.
If you are hurt…
10. Get help
At the demonstration there will be Demo-Sanis (left-wing medical personnel in red jackets) who can give you first aid. A good place to ask for them is at one of the loudspeaker trucks (”Lautiwagen”). If you get pepper sprayed, have a friend pry open your swollen eyelids and flush your eyes out with water. It will feel absolutely terrible at first, but the effects will wear off after 15 to 60 minutes.
11. Document what happened
Write down what you remember as soon as possible – this could come in handy later. If you go to a doctor, ask for a written report of your injuries. You should also take pictures of cuts, bruises and so on.