At three O’clock on Saturday afternoon I woke up from a nap to the sounds of hollering, chanting and clapping outside my window. The NYU Berlin Residence Hall is located in Kreuzberg, next to a few decent size parks—in other words open space perfectly conducive to public gathering. I peeked through the shades with puffy eyes and saw a mass of people surrounded by police, passionately whooping. Some were jumping up and down with raised fists, some were stomping. My first response was soaked in naiveté. I felt some level of excitement at the prospect of positive progressive protest. As I study some activist movements and social justice as a part of my concentration I am always curious to see how protest is handled by authorities and by the protestors themselves. In other words, I was intrigued rather than wary— I was excitedly curious rather than cautious. I found myself relying on my usual experiences in the liberal Lower East Side of New York City where protest can be comforting through its minority advocacy. The protest that I long for often allows for individuals like myself to be able to exist comfortably. I indulged in a moment of prolonged liberal-Brooklyn-born stupidity and briefly forgot that protest can come in many different forms.
Prior to arriving in Germany, I was relatively ignorant to the German political climate. I knew about the state of Germany after World War One and World War Two, and I knew about recent history in regard to the Berlin Wall. The current events and political stances of Germany and Angela Merkel however, I had very little knowledge of. The only thing that I knew of solidly was that Angela Merkel had a very strong stance on the refugee crisis, and allowed for refugees to seek asylum in Germany when others in Europe were not so kind. I had so little awareness of the opposition that was stirring within Germany itself.
My first couple of weeks in Berlin did not make too much of a dent in my ignorance. While I began to do more research and ask more questions about the social and political climate of the city I was living in, I was learning more but it was difficult to transfer this knowledge into my every day life. Perhaps this is because selectivity at clubs and street style in Berlin reflects a queer inclusivity that gives me a sense of security whilst taking the U-Bahn or wandering around Mauerpark. It feels chic and safe to be queer in Berlin, and to show it externally gives you a ticket into the in-group, whereas these symbols of queerness might ground you in the out-group in other spaces. I believe that it was this sense of inclusion that gave me a false understanding of Berlin’s standing in social and political progress. Just because Berliners love a little bit of uniquely placed glitter and androgynous clothing does not mean that all Berliners are open to all and every type of minority group. The alt-right in Germany is growing in power. They hold almost 13 percent of the popular vote. They express anti-islamist sentiment. The party has drawn from the right as well as from the left. According to the New York Times, the Alternative for Germany party is “the first party to the right of the chancellor’s center-right bloc to make it into Parliament”. While I had read the statistics pertaining to this realization numerous times before, I had not absorbed it in full. Perhaps it was the comfort of denial, or the romanticism of a place in which the citizens are not drowned in the frustrating and confusing rhetoric of the current president. Either way I had subconsciously decided to distance myself from the statistics that showed the growing power of the German far right, of the protests popping up in many of Germany’s bigger cities, and all of the other statistics that showed that my little accepting Berlin I had dreamt up omitted fact and was tethered to fantasy.
This past weekend however, peering out of my window, I was able to see the unrest of the far-right first hand. Advocators for the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD auf Deutsch) gathered to protest Angela Merkel’s immigration policy, and to advocate for women’s safety—away from the immigrants. Everything I subconsciously did not want to confront was there outside of my window and a few steps away from my front door. A few of my suitemates who are queer femmes of color said that people had told them to leave the area fearing for their safety.
The alt-right in Germany is growing in power. They hold almost 13 percent of the popular vote. They express anti-islamist sentiment. The party has drawn from the right as well as from the left. According to the New York Times, The Alternative for Germany party is “the first party to the right of the chancellor’s center-right bloc to make it into Parliament”. They hold power, period. These facts I had read in passing were now embodied, yelling and making themselves heard a block away. This protest was the perfect wake up call, and not just from my silly little nap, but also from the fantasy I had constructed about a sheltered environment away from American Politics. So, to summarize, I am confessing to my disappointing ignorance, I am confessing to my fantastical construction of a liberal space without opposition, and I am deciding to proceed with a new sense of caution, and self-awareness.