Berlin’s A100 motorway is one of the city’s busiest traffic arteries. On weekdays, starting around 7:00, the traffic can be heavy – and it won’t get better until about 9:00. Todays things are even worse than usual: the climate activist group Last Generation are blocking the motorway exists, as part of a protest against the German government’s climate policy.
The police were on the lookout early on at Hohenzollerndamm in Wilmersdorf, an area with four motorway exists. The Berlin Police Department knew something was going to happen: they read websites and social media posts too. A police van with eight officers was parked on the bridge that crosses the A100 at 7:30 on Hohenzollerndamm. At 7:40, four of them gathered behind the van to have a coffee and a smoke. At 7:48 a.m, while the police were engaged in pleasant little conversations, the event they were looking out for took place across the street.
One of the officers was trying to detach Judith’s hand from the asphalt, using salad oil and a little brush.
Four Last Generation members sat down in front of countless vehicles that had just left the motorway. Their drivers were waiting to turn into Hohenzollerndamm at a red light. It took officers about 60 seconds to notice what was going on. Once they did, they ran across the street, but it was too late. The activists had already glued their hands to the asphalt. If they hadn’t done this, it would have only taken a few minutes before they were carried away by the police. The glue prolongs these protests substantially: it can take 30 minutes to detach one hand from the street.
Judith was one of the protesters whose right hand was glued to the motorway exit. “It is important to us to be quite clear”, she said, as police officers and angry motorists stood around her and her colleagues. “We are in the middle of a climate crisis. I believe everyone noticed it this summer: the heat, the drought and those forest fires. We are here because it is important to have this debate in our society too. We ask ourselves what will be happening, because the government does not have the climate situation under control. There is not much time left.”
We are in the middle of a climate crisis. I believe everyone noticed it this summer: the heat, the drought and those forest fires.
It’s worth noting that the Greens are in power in Germany, forming part of the ruling “traffic light coalition” – but Judith thinks they’re not doing enough.
“It would be a good thing if the government became more active,” she said. “Unfortunately, the climate goals are not good enough. Nor are they being implemented with the required urgency. Even relatively simple measures like a speed limit on the Autobahn or a prolonged 9 Euro ticket do not seem to be feasible. How can this be?”
While Judith and the other activities worry about Germany’s climate policy, many of the Berliners affected by their blockade were annoyed about the protest. A middle-aged man who approached the intersection said he himself had been “radical”, back then in the days. He had been part of all protests and squatter activity. “This is shit”, he stated. “These kids who sit down on the street do not know what they are doing.”
Some motorists who were stuck in the traffic mess that was created by Last Generation this morning showed a degree of understanding, but most were against it. “This is kind of contradictory”, an Italian expatriate said. He had just dropped off his son at school and was on the way to leave his daughter at the kindergarten. “On the one hand they are right. I get it. On the other hand, they are causing more CO2 emissions right now because they are creating this traffic jam. See, I have to drop off my kid and I need to go to work. So, they are not respecting everyone. Staging protests is right and necessary, but the way they are doing it is not respectful. It is aggressive and arrogant.”
The longer the situation at Hohenzollerndamm dragged on, the more motorists left their cars and came to the intersection. In fact, Judith and the other protesters had achieved one of their goals this morning: creating a debate, if an ill-tempered one. One truck driver started to shout: “You have no clue! Who in the hell will benefit from a speed limit?” This bloke got louder and louder until one of the policemen on site told him to calm down.
Staging protests is right and necessary, but the way they are doing it is not respectful. It is aggressive and arrogant.
According to one of the Last Generation members, a young man who was recording everything with a nice DSLR camera, the police officers in charge down there in Wilmersdorf this morning were “nice people”. He said this had not been the case at another demonstration he had been part of earlier this week. “We are lucky today.”
Throughout this disruption, one of the officers was trying to detach Judith’s hand from the asphalt, using salad oil and a little brush. This needs to be done to avoid injuries – but it takes time to get rid of the glue. The officer with the salad oil and the brush was a medic, too – his colleagues got on with other tasks. Some of them questioned motorists who were stuck in the mess. When asked why this was necessary, they said the aggrieved parties needed to be listed in the documentation of the legal cases that were being initiated against the protesters.
Last Generation are very active right now. On Monday, they triggered a fire alarm at the Bundestag and blocked several other motorway exists. For better or worse, it looks like we can expect more activity of this kind.