Massive Riot Ahead of the G-8 Summit The Rumble in Rostock

It was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration. But suddenly, it turned into a war with anarchists battling it out with police. Almost 1,000 people were injured. But what went wrong?

By in Rostock, Germany


For just a brief moment, the officer seemed unsure about what to do. Next to her, a couple of young protesters were dancing, beer bottles in hand, and smiling. The officer almost seemed ready to start moving to the rhythms herself. But only for a moment -- dressed in full riot gear, she quickly broke off and followed her colleagues. On stage, Judith Holofernes was singing: "We came here to stay here!"

On Saturday evening in the northern German city of Rostock, Holofernes's chart-topping Berlin band, Wir Sind Helden, was doing its best to recapture some of the day's festive mood. Earlier on Saturday, tens of thousands had taken to the streets of the harbor city to protest the upcoming G-8 summit in the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm. It had been a largely peaceful, almost lazy march. And extremely loud. But suddenly, in the afternoon, it descended into violence of the kind Germany hadn't seen in decades.

Police estimate that it was a group of around 2,000 Black Bloc anarchists who transformed the city-center into a battlefield. Chaos quickly took over. Hundreds of police were held in check by a steady rain of projectiles thrown by the black-clad, masked rioters. Elsewhere, police went after the anarchists with Billy clubs. The air quickly became acrid with tear-gas and smoke from burning cars -- and filled with the sounds of the battle: rocks raining down on police riot shields, breaking glass, whistles and shouts from the rioters. And everywhere, the screams on both sides of the many who were hit and injured.

'Brutality Unknown until Now'

The coordinator of the police response to the G-8 summit, Knut Abramowski, spoke of "brutality unknown until now." There was also criticism to be heard -- that the police reacted poorly and too aggressively to the first stone throwers as the march arrived at the harbor in Rostock.

The hollow shell of a burned out car not far from the stage where "Wir Sind Helden" continue playing quickly became the day's charred symbol of anarchist violence. Images of the station wagon in flames have become the Rostock demonstration's legacy, along with the repeated rushes of armored police into the crowds.

"I am happy at least that I didn't park my car in the city center," says one Rostock resident who has ventured into the old town with his wife to survey the damage. On one street, shards of glass blanket the pavement, and a burned out shopping cart lays stricken on the sidewalk as a reminder of the rapid escalation. It seems ironic, given the day's anti-globalization tenor, that the windows of two American fast-food restaurants nearby remain intact.

'Atypical for German Groups'

On the other hand, though, the image fits -- after all, the anarchists who kicked off the violence in Rostock have little in common with the goals protest organizers had in mind. "There is absolutely no justification for violence against other people," Manfred Stenner, peace activist and co-organizer of the demonstration, on Saturday evening following the riots. He also lamented that the organizers were unable to pull off the peaceful march they had planned.

There was speculation on Saturday evening that the violence had come from anarchists who traveled to Rostock from abroad. Werner Rätz, another co-organizer from the anti-globalization group Attac, said, "in any case, the behavior of many anarchists, in the way they continually chased the police, was atypical for German groups." But, he went on, it remained unclear for the moment who was behind the violence -- and, he said, it is too early to criticize the police for their response.

Others, however, weren't in the mood to be so charitable. Monty Schädel, who registered the Rostock demonstration, is furious with those who ignited the violence, but is also no less irate with the police. "What do you want, you asshole?" one policeman demanded of him, he says, when he sought to intercede. "Then he shoved me away." Looking exhausted, he went on. "There wasn't much in the way of de-escalation to be seen."

Rather Be at Home

The casualty numbers for both sides are shocking. Officials say that over 400 police officers were injured in the fracas, some of them seriously including compound fractures. In addition, over 500 demonstrators were injured with over 150 arrests made. Not exactly the headlines the protest organizers wanted to produce. Indeed, a day after the Rumble in Rostock, nobody is talking about the speeches made on Saturday, the debates, the music -- the tens of thousands of marchers who remained peaceful have been forgotten. The only question is: "How could it have happened?"

But luckily there was Saturday evening -- time for at least a little bit of reconciliation. Even the police boats bobbing up and down in the harbor seemed unthreatening. While glaziers work in the city center to replace the window of a bank, the band members of "Wir Sind Helden" were doing their part to de-escalate the situation. The police even allowed the crowd to build two small camp fires in the square.

Late in the night, the last water cannons were finally pulled out of the city center. Police dressed in full riot gear stayed until the bitter end as well. Yes, said one, the music makes it a bit easier to stand around in full uniform. Only his eyes can be seen under the mask. "But I'd much rather be at home."

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