Merkel confirms that victims caught up in anti-globalism protests will be compensated.
When Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and other world leaders boarded their planes at the end of a two-day summit in Hamburg on Saturday, they left behind a bruised and beaten city whose historic identity had been shaken to the core.
Two nights of rioting, looting and transport chaos left many residents asking why their government had decided to hold the annual summit of leading economies in a densely populated city with such a strong tradition of counter-cultural protest.
At a press conference on Saturday afternoon, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel was confronted with the suggestion that the chaotic scenes on the conference fringes represented an “embarrassment” on a par with the New Year’s eve assaults on women in Cologne.
Merkel pointed out that previous summits had been held in other large cities, such as London and Cannes, and that Hamburg could not have “shirked responsibility”. Her deputy, foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, had gone a step further, suggesting that every future G20 should be held in New York, the seat of the United Nations.
When the chancellor had previously argued that her birthplace of Hamburg had been “predestined” to hold the summit, due to its status as a wealthy port city and “beacon of free trade”, she had only told half the story.
Like many other European cities with maritime histories, Hamburg also has a strong tradition of anti-establishment culture and annual May Day riots. It is no coincidence that the symbol of the St Pauli district, where many of the last few days’ clashes between protesters and police took place, is a skull-and-crossbones flag, or that the local football club refers to its team as “the buccaneers of the league”.
An estimated 50,000 people took to the streets for the biggest of several protest marches through the city on Saturday. The march, backing Borderless Solidarity instead of G20, managed to bring members of anarchist, socialist, anti-globalisation, green, feminist and Kurdish nationalist movements together in peace, while a smaller, 5,000-strong march, with a less overtly leftwing slogan of “Hamburg shows attitude”, walked in a parallel line along the harbour area.
One protester, who would only identify himself as Karl and carried a sign reading “For Africa but without Africa: Huh?”, said that he saw the G20 as “a symbol of the richest industrial economies conspiring to make decisions on behalf of the whole world”.
Julia Kaiser, a 30-year-old local product designer, said she was marching to protest “for global women’s rights and against everyday sexism”. Anne Best, 64, who had also marched in Thursday’s controversial “Welcome to Hell” protest, said she had taken to the streets because wealth was not distributed fairly around the globe and the Nato alliance had become a “pact of aggression”.
Faced with the suggestion that the march’s heterogenous nature made it harder to define what people were actually protesting about, one demonstrator came up with a swift riposte: “Can you define what the G20 is about?” said Ingo Gesterding, 63.
The violent scenes on the streets of Hamburg over the two previous nights had left their mark, however. A couple who called themselves Berit and Stefan carried a homemade poster reading “Yes to peaceful protest – NO to activism without content”. Another had painted the slogan “Against violence: go away, black bloc!” on his T-shirt.
After groups of hardcore anarchist activists in black masks and clothing had torched dozens of cars and smashed shop fronts in the Altona district in the early hours of Friday, the action had moved to the city’s alternative scene, the Schanzenviertel quarter – home to many of the same people who marched over the course of the summit.
For several hours the 15,000-strong police force in the city appeared to have lost control as masked rioters erected and set fire to barricades, pulled slabs of concrete out of the pavement and looted local shops, including a supermarket, an Apple retail store and a pharmacy.
In particular, the targeting by looters of the Budnikoswky pharmacy, a widely respected family-run chain that has offered apprenticeships to refugees, was widely condemned by local people.
As tensions rose in the city, Ewald Lienen, technical director of FC St Pauli football club, many of whose supporters belong to the leftwing political spectrum, issued a statement via the club’s social media channels, appealing for peace on the streets and warning of “another Genoa”.
The 2001 G8 summit in the Italian port city was overshadowed by clashes between police and an estimated 200,000 demonstrators, and the death of a 23-year-old Italian anti-globalisation protester, Carlo Giuliani.
Even Andreas Blechschmidt, one of the organisers of Thursday’s” Welcome to Hell” march, condemned the rioters’ “mindless violence”.
Police eventually managed to regain control of the area by the early hours of the morning and extinguished fires burning on the streets. Many protesters were injured, and around 100 have been taken into custody.
Police also confirmed that an officer had fired a live round in the early hours of Friday morning as a warning shot, though the incident had been “unrelated to the protests”.
Merkel later condemned the rioters’ “unrestrained violence” but she also partly acknowledged responsibility by confirming victims of the last few days’ riots would receive compensation from the state.