Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day 37: WTF March

PG-13 Warning for today's post (some PG-13 content included)

Chris went to a conference today. Xander's cold has gotten worse... what to do with the day?

Ever since I've "translated" the WTF (here is a video) posters we've seen around town, I've been thinking... what if we went to just watch? However, everything is in German (duh), so I don't quite understand all that is going to happen.

From my search online and from my experience at the march, this is what I came up with:
  • A fundamentalist Christian group was scheduled for a demonstration today (seems to occur annually)
  • Either a March for Life (pro-life) or 1,000 Crosses March (in memoriam to the aborted children and the families affected by the loss) - I think both
  • Opposition groups (including One Solution, Revolution) wanted to sabotage this Pro-Life demonstration
  • In addition, there is legislature (either trying to be passed, or is already passed, or...) 218 that is against the LGBTQ community (and women's fertility rights and...?) that the groups are protesting
  • And, let's throw in some empathy for the refugees while we're all here 

The facade of the old Anhalter Bahnhof (left) and a football game in  play (right)

We joined the crowds at the Anhalter Bahnhof, a historic site from Nazi Germany. This Banhof was grown to be the main station in Berlin. During WWII, almost 10,000 Jews were deported through this Banhof "to Theresienstadt, in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia, and from there to concentration camps." Nearing the end of 1943 and early 1944, bombing raids rendered many tracks unusable and destroyed most of the station. Now, just the facade, along with a placard in memorial to the deported Jews, is still standing.

So, while we were waiting (and we waited for almost an hour for "things to happen") we read up on our history and watched a soccer (um, football) game begin. We wandered, we sat, we waited.

The announcer from the "red card" mostly spoke in German. Out of all her speeches that day, I think only 2 times did I heard English. So, we were cloaked in mystery much of the time. What we could NEVER figure out, throughout our day, is what the "end-goal" was. It seemed to be to thwart (that word was even on one of the German signs) the fundamentalist Christian's demonstration. But how? We walked throughout the streets for hours. We stopped traffic. We chanted, "My body, my choice. Raise your voice!" And then, we got closer to, what I think was, the other demonstration. But the police line wouldn't let us near (at least, that's what seemed to be happening). We assumed the police were trying to keep the peace by keeping the two groups apart.

We saw some marchers with maps, and when I could glimpse one, I still couldn't tell if it was a map for "our" march, or a map for "their" march.

More Buddy Bears!
So, around noon, the crowds started to enter the streets. We decided to walk near the end of the large group, for the most options (to bail?) if needed. The crowd was very big, we were guessing 1,000 people or more? I feel super bad for the regular travelers of the day (on buses, in cars, etc.) as we walked through as one big, never-ending line.  They probably had to sit through 5 lights until we were all through... at least.

As we were walking, it almost felt like a walking tour of Berlin. We got to see some fun sights. Cool buildings, old buildings, more Buddy Bears. Pretty soon, I realised we were about to walk through Check Point Charlie! Sorry tourists, you'll just have to wait 20 minutes while we walk through! And at one point, we walked by the Nespresso store and Ritter Sport (we were tempted to skip out and get a free espresso and some chocolate!)

The crowds at the beginning (top)
Bottom: Approaching (left), crossing (middle), through (right) Check Point Charlie.

Gendarmenmarkt square that includes the New German church (not pictured), the
concert hall (bottom-left) and the French church (bottom-middle)

Somewhere "in the middle" of all this, we stopped at Gendarmenmarkt, a square the includes the New German church, the concert hall and the French church. People sat on the steps of the concert hall for a break, others dispersed for the bathroom line at the public WC, still others (like us) looked for food. I thought it would be a demonstration where we met, I didn't realise it was a long walk, so we had no water and no snacks on us! Bad planning!

There seemed to be more police here, so I thought something would happen here (like the "other" march would arrive here?) But no, after a long while, the group started marching again, so we joined, once again.

Top-left: March for life? WTF!
Top-Right: Heteronomy my ass! Thwart 1,000 Crosses March
Middle-left: For the freedom of women and their sexual self-determination
Middle-right: Away with 218. Tackling child poverty
Lower-left: Queers also want abortion
Lower-right: Ovaries before Rosaries

I thought everyone came with us, but we seemed to have lost a few at the square, or they went another route? In any case, we walked farther, clapping alongside with the protesters. As we were walking, we slowly crept up closer to the "red van", that is, the front of the marching group. Maybe when we were about 10 rows back from the front, I could see police running and people running at the front. There were no sounds of yelling, whistle blowing... or if there was, I didn't hear it. It just seemed like a sudden wave of quick movements. As we neared the commotion, you could see a row of police standing guard of a street that was mostly empty, save for the few protesters that seemed to have gotten behind them and were running... where we don't know. I could see a motorcycle with flashing lights blocking the next street, as if it were part of a motorcade or parade-guide. I could see other people, but I couldn't see beyond that. For the time being, there was now an empty block between us, the police blockade and the next street (where I'm going to presume the "other" march was happening).

Approaching the police barricade (top-left), After a few protesters "got through" (top-right)
Turning to try another way (bottom)

Our group stopped here. The "red van" announcer said something and people cheered. I'd like to think that she was saying two things. One, that a few got through the blockade (cheers!) and second, later, that we want to keep peaceful, so let's move on (cheers!) So we turned and walked a different way. Note, several police came with us and they "leap-frogged" with us at every street, some here, some back, but always a barricade to every street turn on our right.

The group went farther and then stopped at another police blockade. This one had police vehicles in addition to a line of police preventing anyone in the group from going farther. The group didn't move for minutes. At this time, Venice and I were starving, so we ducked into the market that was right there. I knew we were taking a chance, but I couldn't let us starve! And yes, when we came back out (dang we were behind some slow customers) the "red van" was gone. But there were lots of groups hanging out. Some were sitting with their signs, others were trying to cross the police barricade and were peacefully being turned back.

Just as we were deciding if we were going to hang out, look for the "red van", or go home, we saw several police vehicles packing up and leaving. Things here seemed to be dying down. Having had our "experience" and wanting to get back to Xander, we decided to head home, the U-Bahn station was right there (we were now near the Jewish memorial and the Brandenburger Tor at this point) and we were able to hop right on and get home safely.

From this news post, I think we missed the most exciting moments of it all (which is probably a good thing). Our time in the march was mostly uneventful and us being confused much of the time. But, I felt safe the entire time and it was fun to participate. From some of those we were walking with, it seemed like a walking "coffee date". People catching up, chatting, smoking a cigarette, hanging out with friends. If you were closer to the front, it was more chanting, clapping, and higher energy, but near the back, it was casual-chatting.

All in all, Venice and I were gone from about 10:30am-4:30pm (that includes train times, but it was a lot of walking, for sure!)

And the day wasn't over yet. I made a late lunch for the kids and then went to the market (and uh, oh... my throat is starting to hurt... ack!)

I reserved a table at a Dim Sum place down the street. You send a reservation for a table online, get a number and then wait for the restaurant to confirm... but of course, they never confirmed. We went anyway, just in case it was ok, and yay! Our table was waiting for us, right there!

The food was SO GOOD. I think everyone would be happy to go back there.

At the end of our meal, the waitress asked if we'd mind sharing our table. We said no problem (although a certain youngest-family member isn't keen on sitting next to strangers) and scooted over. We only had to share for about 5 minutes while we finished drinks and paid the bill. Easy.

Now for some good rest for us all.

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