An Afternoon with Antifa

“When one is polite in German, one lies.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Some years back, in 2006, I decided to move to Germany. Why Germany? Well, let’s just say it had something to do with a woman.

After several weeks getting used to my new surroundings, I managed to find a job working in a call centre for a Ponzi scheme which dressed itself up as a bank. At the time I wasn’t aware of the swamp of corruption I had happened upon and naively assented to my supervisor’s advice ‘not to worry about anything’ when I asked him where all the money came from.

The bank in question, which I will obviously not be naming, acted as an offshore credit reservoir for citizens of the United States who wished to gamble online without paying their federal government any tax.

The city I had based myself in was Leipzig. Leipzig has been the scene of many notable events in the past. In 1813 it was the scene of the decisive action between the armies of Napoleon and the Sixth Coalition, following the momentous disaster of the invasion of Tsarist Russia. One story I was told about this event, possibly apocryphal, was the responsibility given to one single member of the French army, to wait until all of his compatriots had crossed the river in their retreat before blowing up the bridge. Well, I guess you can imagine what happened. As a student of history, I’m constantly surprised and amused at the number of times ‘that guy’ pops up to foil best-laid plans.

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The site of this enormous conflagration was commemorated 100 years later on the eve of the Great War by the construction of the massive Volkerschlachtdenkmal at a cost of 6 million goldmarks.

This monolith quickly came to represent a new sense of cultural identity and nationalism for the people of Germany and was a favourite spot for some of Adolf Hitler’s most significant rallies during the 1930’s.

In the final years of the Cold War Leipzig became a hotbed of social dissent and demonstrations, principally led by the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Kurt Masur, who successfully negotiated an overall shift in power amongst the ruling party which led to the downfall of the Honecker regime and ultimate reunification of Germany.

So it’s really no surprise that this monument has become such a favourite place of congregation for ultra-far right Nazi demonstrations ever since the dissolution of the old East German Republic.

Every year, a small number of hardcore Nazis make their way to Leipzig to make their presence felt on a national stage. This usually occurs in late summer in order to coincide with the signing of the various treaties which formally declared Germany to be once more a single sovereign nation.

After disembarking from their trains in the morning, the German Police, with characteristic efficiency and order, line all Nazis up at the station so as to inspect and identify any visible representations of nationalistic iconography tattooed upon their skin. If any are found, the owner of the tattoo is then immediately handed a sticking plaster to cover up these images.

I was invited by a couple of friends to attend a demonstration which had been organised to counter the march the Nazi’s intended to make from the railway station to the Volkerschlachtdenkmal.

My immediate thoughts were ‘why give these guys any oxygen?’ The idea being that ignoring this march was the best way of combatting it. I now understand that for young German’s it’s not as easy as that. As a German, there are some things which you simply cannot sit on the fence with, which is rather ironic considering the sober-minded and analytical nature that characterises the German mindset on almost every other issue.

On the eve of the demonstration, I was warned by a work colleague of mine to be very mindful of what he called the ‘anti-Germans’. After inquiring who they were my colleague simply said that I would see them on the day.

These were of course members of Antifa. Antifa, like any group, is comprised of a number of differing sub-groups. The Anti-Germans I soon learned were: primarily young and angry; often unemployed and not at school; and carried with them a confused, almost masochistic sense of themselves and where they fit into their surroundings. This toxic mixture of youthful exuberance and nihilistic aggression made them particularly dangerous and it wasn’t long into the demonstration when I began to wonder whether I would be safer on the opposing side.

Truth be told, I never actually saw a Nazi all day. Whether this was due to the haze of tear gas and burning vehicles, or simply the methods used by the police to separate the warring parties, I don’t know.

At one point in a relative lull I heard a woman suddenly screaming ‘Sie Kommen!’ whereupon everyone around me took off running down the road. Being a pretty wet behind the ears shit kicker from the South Island, the only thing I could think of to do was to hide behind a tree.

As the day progressed the ‘anti-Germans’ became bolder and more aggressive. One young man who I had been very mindful of all day due to his unpredictable rage, got a bit too close to the police barrier and suddenly disappeared through a row of shields and batons, only to be spit back out again several moments later looking a little worse for wear. One of the more mature demonstrators quickly took him under her wing to console and attend to his wounds. For some reason I found this to be quite a touching scene. The older, wiser person, comforting the angry young man whose spirit had been momentarily broken by the authorities.

As the day concluded an eerie calm fell upon the city. As we walked back to our apartment, picking our way through the burnt out debris and checkpoints, I was struck by the lack of noise or movement one usually experiences in a built-up urban area. As if the day itself had retired for an early night after a rather busy and tumultuous day.

I was later told by a friend that the day had been an enormous success for the demonstrators and that much had been achieved.

Well, all I can say is that if that was what passed for success, I wouldn’t want to be around during a failure.

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