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No-War-in-Iraq Demonstration in Berlin

Feb 15th 2003

Greetings from Berlin, where I just got back from Germany's largest post-war peace demonstration. They say there were half a million people who showed up between the Siegessäule and the Brandenburg gate! Only a hundred thousand had originally been expected.

On the west side it started at noon at the Gedächniskirche. The east end started simultaneously at Alexanderplatz. Many organizations cooperated to set up this event: parties from the center to the left, labor unions, attac, and other peace movements. I had along a little lightweight sign saying "NO (Saddam caricature) & NO WAR" where the Saddam caricature came from a Feb 13 cartoon by Schorr. For copyright reasons I can't display the cartoon or that certain part of it here.

Originally I wanted to meet-up with Anita and/or Maria, but they preferred to gather with their respective friends. (Dads are so uncool.) But along the way I met a former teacher, a Scottish dancer, and a former classmate. Walked a bit with an elderly gentleman who had similar ideas on his poster. Criticism of Saddam Hussein was visible or spoken out in several places. The Greens passed out stickers that said "Altes Europa" (Old Europe), quoting Rumsfeld, but which the demonstrators were wearing proudly. The route went past Nollendorfplatz, up Potsdammer Strasse, and through the Tiergarten.

It was crowded along 17. Juni. Was lucky to get to about 100 meters close to the big stage near the Siegessäule. They had a mixed program of speeches and musicians. Konstantin Wecker (He sang that Bush wouldn't loose face if he had to order the retreat of a hundred thousand troops - you don't loose face when you prevent a mass murder), Berry Kelly (from the Kelly Family), Reinhardt Mey, and Die Puhdys sang. Speeches where held by some who may have a name in the peace movement, but no-one notable to me. It was mentioned a couple of times that the protest was directed at Bush and his administration and not the Americans at large; especially the American peace movement was greeted. Although the mass of this and all those other demonstrations around the world ought to have sent a signal to the American government that if any one is isolated it might be actually them, an appeal was made to the German government that it is well to keep their anti-war stance, but practical measures ought be done as well such as denying fly-over rights for military flights on their war-time way to Iraq or withdrawing the German AWAC crew members.

Every now and then they would announce how many people were gathering in other cities; in Rom there were supposedly 2 million. One funny poster I like said, "Empty warheads found in Washington" with a picture of Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld with the top of their heads "sliced open" revealing nothing inside. Another equating Bush with Hitler I thought was too crude and unfair though. Drawing some parallels, e.g. their use of rhetoric or polarization may be grounds for a discussion, but equalization is going too far.

Shortly before five, as the sun began to set, the event ended. As I hiked over to the Tiergarten S-Bahn station, I passed by hundreds of tourist buses parked there waiting to take the demonstrators back home to all over Germany. No wonder there was such a turn out!

PS: A picture of me and my sign appeared on the third page of the "Südkurier" on Feb. 17th.

Former classmate Claudia Spieß, who lives near where the paper is published in Constance, discovered it and sent me a clipping. I spoke with the editor in charge of the page why he chose the picture. He said, first of all, because he preferred a personal picture instead of a mass photo like on the front page. He also liked my serious expression, which I admit I put on when I noticed a cameraman aiming at me. It did not show, according to the editor, the "Hurra-Pazifismus" that evidently is prevalent elsewhere. Secondly, he liked the message of my poster, which criticized Saddam Hussein as well (see above). Well I certainly am glad (and proud) that my concise and poignant message made it across - with the help of an appropriate facial expression - at least in the south-west corner of Germany. (Is it my imagination or is there some similarity in the facial expressions?)
PPS: Oddly enough the DPA couldn't find this very picture in their archives. They did send me a picture though of me holding the solitary sign amid a larger group of people. But to present that picture he would cost 100 euros a year. So we'll make do with the picture above.