A Police democratises itself

Diskussionskommando Berlin

The Shah Of Persia in


After 1967 almost every demonstration ended in violent excess. For both sides the Persian Shah's Berlin visit and the police actions around the opera house on Krumme Strasse proved as the key moment for that development. Instrumentalizing the political situation in Persia, the APO contested the state's monopoly on legitimate use of force as a whole. Since the June 2 events violence was regarded as a legitimate means of resistance against the state's alleged oppression. "Macht kaputt, was euch kaputt macht!" – the refrain of a popular protest rock song, calling to "destroy what destroys you!" –  became a leitmotif for the "revolutionary groups".  Police behavior on Krumme Strasse was harshly criticized by the media immediately afterwards, especially the eviction order, given by the riot police's commander Werner and police commissioner Duensing, with the approval or even by request of mayor Heinrich Albertz himself. While film documents show the demonstrators loudly protesting against the shah, there is no outbreak of violence. I was on duty in front of "Deutsche Oper", and all I remember are a few firecrackers and other objects flying around. The eviction order was completely unproportionate for the on-site situation. Mayor Albertz's real motive was uncovered much later: Berlin authorities were eager to cut a fine figure and by all means avoid that the visiting high couple from Persia might feel harassed having to see anti-Shah posters. The idea to use the opera's side entrance was rejected with disgust. Commissioner Duensing's infamous "Leberwursttaktic" seemed the right thing to do, even for mayor Albertz, an ex-reverend: treat a group of demonstrators as if they were a "liverwurst", stab midways into it and squeeze the contents out at both ends. That same night on Krumme Strasse, detective inspector Karl-Heinz Kurras shot and killed the student Benno Ohnesorg, claiming to have acted in self- defense. Today we know he was a Stasi informant, i.e. a collaborator of East Germany's secret police. Until his death in 2014 he enjoyed full retirement subsidies of his Western German employer, Berlin police. That killing further aggravated the confrontational situation. The media reflected the city's polarization, and their reporting nurtured it instead of defusing it.     
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68th Revolt

A Police democratises itself
The "Springer Presse" was definitely anti-student movement, whereas critical reports in nationwide magazines like "Der Stern" and "Der Spiegel" were wholesale anti-police. Neither politicians nor media people were all-too scrupulous with the truth, sensation and sales figures was all that counted. Most of the West-Berliners despised those "long- haired bums" anyway, who should better get up and work. There is a film about June 2, 1967, released by Berlin police, ending with the statement: "All that's left is a broken bill-board fence, lots of refuse and an injured demonstrator." Sounds like a dead student would have ruined the picture. Social conflict and its consequences are usually dumped on cops' shoulders. But exactly them, the cops of those days, had never been trained for operating in violent demonstrations. Berlin's riot police was a sort of professional army, trained for action in closed units and military drill. Nobody expected their leaders to know about flexible response. Their only competence was to restore "public security and order" by use of force, if necessary by armed eviction (bats). No doubt, evicting a place is sometimes inevitable. But in those days nobody talked about alternative modes, indeed there was no talk at all. Closed units were no place for "talking cops" anyway. A Discussion Command did not yet exist even as an idea. June 2 launched a spiral of violence. There was no more need to escalate an anti-Vietnam protest in front of Amerikahaus, it already set off with violence. Stones, wood slats, steel bullets – those were now the "arguments" of violent demonstrators. Police responded with water cannons, bats and the squad on horseback. Police equipment was completely inadequate. The only head protection were the usual uniform cap or the ancient Tschako "helmet", both allowing for serious head injuries. Modern hard hats were flewn in from West Germany, for the first time during the "battle on Tegeler Weg". I received mine when the operation was finished.