Conducted by Judith Lauer (»Dissonanz« Author Collective)
In 1993 a discussion and lecture tour throughout East Germany, titled 'Something Better Than Nation', took place on invitation of the Hamburger Wohlfahrtsausschuss and stopped off in Dresden, too. A group from Hamburg had prepared an action on this occasion. Two years later this group visited Dresden again. Krischan, delegate of the Anti-nationalist Plenum Hamburg reports on their actions.
It would propably be best if you start with the welfare committees (Wohlfahrtsausschüsse), just briefly, to have a context.
This must have been in 1990, 1991 or thereabouts. I don't know exactly. There was a change of direction to some extent. We had grown a bit more mature and a bit more intellectual and had started to discuss theory, which was trendy then, though. According to the annexation of the GDR and the rising wave of nationalism we addressed nationalism and nation and the whole stuff, of course. At the same time anti-nationalistic groups were formed in many places. So we started to work with Antifa people from the Harburg district in this field, anti-nationalism. Well, our group decided to take part in the tour by the welfare committees (Wohlfahrtsausschüsse) in 1993, that went from Rostock through, I don't know, Leipzig maybe, ...
Leipzig had been a stop.
... to Dresden. This was explicitly meant to be a journey to the province. I still remember how we also technically prepared ourselves since we expected to be attacked. We must have been there with our posters already. We had made posters showing the ruins of a German city and saying "Bomber Harris said, I would do it again. We say, do it now!“ In addition we had flyers and a short explanation what the point of the action was. We hung up these posters in the district, together with the flyer. It was used to be glued half on top of the poster. And these were the posters we wanted to hang in Dresden, too.
So groups from different contexts met there for the first time. At least I remember that during the night watch we got into a lot of talking to each other. Well, besides actions and discussions there was a lot going on, but these were the moments when we got into casual conversations, we told each other about our groups and contexts and our plans. And so we talked about our plans to hang up this poster.
Also autonomists were with us, which was our background too, to a certain extent. We partly came from autonomous antifa groups, as I said before, but by that time we had broken away from that pretty much. We received fierce reactions from them, like, if you do that we will beat you up. So, under threat of violence they told us to better not put up these posters in Dresden, because it was considered cynical and mean and who knows what, and Bomber Harris was an imperialist and such things.
The background of the poster, of course, was not the call for a bombardment of Germany. This is, needless to say, nonsense. It was meant as a provocation to make people think about what is really going on in Germany at the moment.. It was also meant to be the wagging finger or the reminder: Folks, one day it might become necessary to bomb Germany again. And: Back then, during the last years of the Second World War, you weren't just victims but there was a necessity to bomb Germany, you see, there was National Socialism. And all this must be seen in the light of pogroms and riots and acts of violence and assaults that had been lasting for approximately two years at that time, on some days up to thirty attacks against foreigners throughout Germany. And not only against foreigners, but partly also against leftists. This was real terror. And practically no reaction from the state.
Anyway, this had led to conflicts within the groups involved in this tour of the Wohlfahrtsausschüsse. We then got into contact with a women's group from Hamburg. For us it was pretty interesting that they listened to us very carefully and shared our points of view. This was really surprising for us, because we didn't know such reactions then. So we agreed to cooperate and somehow the Anti-nationalist Plenum Hamburg, the ANP, was formed.
After that we came to Dresden. There was a big event in Dresden Neustadt. You mentioned the name 'Scheune', I think this was the name of the place. This was some kind of a big venue. Well, anyway, I can't even tell you, if we had hung up these posters in Dresden or not.
In Dresden the story goes that it didn't happen. I don't know if it was because of trouble with the larger community that one could reckon with, meaning that there would have been too strong a confrontation if it had been hung up in the city, and that safety couldn't have been ensured. Or maybe the discussion within the left-wing scene...
Yes, exactly, I mean, how many of us, of this group with the poster, were there? Half a dozen perhaps. And it was our action. We didn't agree upon it with the Wohlfahrtsausschüsse or with the other groups. But this was the approach: One takes this trip together, and every one has their own stuff prepared and just does it. And somehow it was clear, that there was some kind of a comprehensive consent. But this consent did not cover our action. And I do think we then cut it out because of the fierce reactions among our own people. And as for the population, sure, I mean, it was clear, that they would not jump for joy. But that was the meaning of it all. And we knew that, too.
So far I thought, the Wohlfahtsausschüsse were the ones who brought up these topics: reversal of the roles of the Nazi criminals, the perpetrators, and their victims, dealing with National Socialist history at the beginning of the 1990s and everything in the context of reunification. Now it sounds like these were your topics in the first place, more or less, and the linchpin for the others was the current Nazi-scene, attacks and racism?
No, it was not so much ours. Like I said, this women's group from Hamburg, they thought so, too. I don't think, we got that out of the blue. I mean, Konkret (left magazine) was kind of a pioneer in this field, concerning the content. I also think that we didn't make up this slogan 'Please, do it again!' by ourselves, but that there had been an action somewhere before that we found awesome, so we seized it and made this poster. I think there was a banner with this slogan somewhere. It didn't come ot of nowhere.
But the positive appraisal, the explicitly positive appraisal of the bombing of German cities, that's what caused the dissent in this, at that time, still very heterogenous scene during the tour of the Wohlfahrtsausschüsse.
So, you are assuming now, that you did not hang up these posters?
I know that we put them up in Hamburg.
Three or four months later there was the big commemoration of the bombing of Hamburg.
Our most successful action. There was an entire week of commemorations on occasion of the 50th anniversary of 'Operation Gomorrha“, the bombing of Hamburg. And we took part in this week by hanging up posters, partly on the routes of the memorial marches. And I think, it was even the first action of the Anti-nationalist Plenum Hamburg: We attended the service, the ecumenical service in Hamburg's main church, St. Michael's, called Michel. This was a really well prepared action of several groups. People went to church in decent clothes, dressed inconspicuously and suitably for the occasion, and positioned themselves strategically. So, we sat on the pews in a way that enabled us to get quickly out of the rows to the altar. And some of the 'Süße Dogmatikerinnen' [sweet (female) dogmatists], dressed very conservatively, very churchly, went through the corridors and handed out piles of flyers to the people sitting on the outer seats: 'Can you please pass these on?'
'Yes, for sure!' And than they passed them on. It was too late to stop these piles when it got through to the people, what they were just passing on. By this means we were able to spread hundreds of flyers in this church within a couple of minutes, by the active support of believers and attendees. And when the bishop - what was her name?
Jepsen, exactly. Jepsen. And just when the bishop marched into the church with this cross made of nails from Coventry, I mean this procession, then our action started. So, we all stood up, went to the altar and unfolded a banner reading 'Operation Gomorrha – There is nothing to mourn about!'. Someone went up to the lectern and started to read out a speech. The speech had been discussed in detail in advance. The purport was, that Hamburg was not an innocent victim and that Germans were no innocent victims of the war, but that the war was caused by Germany. Yes, and very important, there was a neologism: We opposed the 'Einopferung' of the Germans, meaning that as a part of this campaign on the bombing of German cities the Germans were to be made the actual victims of the war.
And what happened next was something, I mean, we were ready for anything during this action, but to be attacked at the altar ... The church was really crowded. There must have been two to three thousand people inside. And that they were not interested in an apolitical commemoration but in a political action, became quite obvious when the churchgoers behaved in a not very church-like manner. They cursed. They stamped. There is a wooden second floor. And when hundreds of people stamp with their feet up there, it does create a certain atmosphere. And it's not the piousness one knows from churches. Then, people tried to punch us right in front of the altar. There were attempts to wrest the banner from us. There were a few arguments between us activists and some churchgoers. There were also attempts from church-side to calm the situation. And there must have been talks as well. The compromise proposal was: We would read out our speech to the end and then leave. Okay, the church people said, do that. But they could not calm the churchgoers.
Later on a priest stepped up, Paul Oestreicher, and he said something we were going to hear more then once, by tendency at least: 'Well, it was very good that these young people appeared here. If they had not been there, we would have had to engage actors to perform this action, for they held up a mirror to those people. Many of them had raised their right arms during Hitler era. These young people called attention to it, a bit too radically, just like young people sometimes are, but fundamentally. And what scared me', he said, 'were the believers' reactions to it. They even said things like „You Judenschweine!“, „You didn't even know our Hitler!“'
The whole thing was incredibly dramatic. We tried to exert a little counterpressure, because, when 3,000 people are stamping their feet and shouting and howling and banging on the pews … Mega-Bernd had his megaphone with him and he frequently turned the siren on. A siren in a church, impressively loud. Siren, speaking of air raids. Absolutely emotionalizing. And of course rather escalating the situation as well. Then the door was opened and police entered. They must have been totally shocked. They have probably never seen something like that before. The main church St. Michael's crowded with people, who are shouting, yelling and stamping, and the siren's wailing in the air.
And now their task was to find the offenders.
They did make a face. They were completely disoriented. It was, wow … Yes, and this was the action. And really the most successful one, because we did it without all these splits, that happened later, on a large scale, a big group, and the preparation was really good and worked. Later on there have frequently been occasions, when it became a bit unprofessional, including the Dresden action in 1995, which, after all these split-ups, failed, because we didn't take care for details and the banner was not being unfolded at all.
But after July/August of 1993 in Hamburg and prior to Dresden in 1995, at other commemorations, you …?
There have been further actions. Another very, very important and very, very good action, which worked out excellently, was the occupation of the German Resistance Memorial Center.
So let's jump to Dresden briefly. What gave you the idea to go to Dresden?
It was actually clear from the outset that there had to be an action in Dresden. At that time this was THE bombardement in the German discourse. And it was a kind of a completion of this commemoration marathon, because Febuary 1945, there was not much to come. And for two years we have had this strategy to go where the commemorations are, to kick up a fuzz, or, communicate that we don't agree, and try to make our opinions public. And it was foreseeable, that the strategy won't work anymore when these commemoration events would change. Our assumption was that commemorating the expulsion of Germans would take on an important role, which did not occur. It was our guess that this would happen. Anyway, it was clear, we had to do something about Dresden, too. But there had been some splits before, partly substantial ones, because this anti-nationalist movement turned into the so-called anti-German movement, where anti-Semitism was declared the only and central main contradiction of society. They did not stand up agains nationalism in general anymore, but only and exclusively against the German nation. And they threw accusations of anti-Semitism around that weren't fun no more … And partly there were personal reasons. It always plays a major role in split-ups like these, that people can't stand each other no more on a personal level.
Initially, there was a major event planned for Dresden, during which different people should have talked on an international panel, a public event regarding the victimization of Germans and German discources in general and, of course, the bombing of Dresden and that there is nothing to mourn about.
Then a split-up occurred, also due to provocations from anti-Germans, which, in my opinion, were done on purpose with the intention to spoil a joint action. And that's when our group – I don't even recall, if this still went by name of Anti-nationalist Plenum Hamburg – did this little action combined with a declaration. Everybody's nerves were frazzled, because everything went so terribly wrong in advance. Anyway, the problem with the action was, that the banner was not prepared properly. Usually, if you smuggle in a banner, you have to mark the corners and have them at hand to be able to unfold it in one single move. And we hadn't done this. Four or five people went up to the altar. There was a live TV broadcast. The problem was, that the channel edged historical footage into the broadcasting. Only later I learned, that there was no live broadcast when we did the action, but historical footage aired instead. But besides that, four, five or six people went to the altar spontaneously. They tried to unfold this banner. But before they managed it, they were grabbed by security and partly dragged to the ground. We were not arrested but simply guided out of the church. And at the same time Bernd had the clarity of mind to shout 'German perpetrators are no victims!' And this slogan was later quoted in many newspapers. Although they said 'A young man shouted...', Bernd wasn't that young anymore, considerably older than 40. But shouting paroles, must have been young people.
In May of the same year there was another action in Berlin. There was an ecumenical service in this church at the Alexanderplatz, which resulted in an arrest of all of us.The chant was 'No conciliation with the nation of the perpetrators!' That's what the banner read. That's what we were shouting. We were misheard, unfortunately. So the newspapers said: 'No conciliation with the generation of the perpetrators!'
Have you been in contact with people from Dresden before you did this action?
No, there have been preparatory meetings for different things, among them this event that was supposed to occur. I can't tell you if there were Dresdeners present. I think so. Berlin was definitely there, Hamburg was there, different groups. Leipzig probably, but apart from that I don't remember. If Dresden as well, no idea. But the action we did there, this was exclusively Hamburg.
And did you notice the reactions of the churchgoers? I mean, as intensively as in Hamburg?
I don't remember the reactions, the whole thing was way too short and too quick for that. The churchgoers themselves didn't have the time to decide to do something before it was over.
How did you evaluate this internally?
Well, we were glad, that Bernd was quick-thinking enough to shout. And we were pleased that the newspapers in Germany take everything from the dpa (German press agency). The dpa first quoted that and therefore it was in almost every newspaper: 'A young man shouted „German perpetrators are no victims“'. Thus, given the state of our group and given the bad preparation, this was truly the best we could make of it. We were rather satisfied with it. We have put the issue back into public debate again. We have set a counterpoint. Okay.
Did you have the impression that you kicked something off in Dresden at that time?
It was a little bit colonial.We didn't have anything to do with Dresden. We went to Dresden, because Dresden was a nationwide and worldwide symbol and because it was just clear that we have to do an action there.
translated by Katharina Wüstefeld