Coming upon a fence and police guards on the way to the Brandeburg gate felt a bit like a time warp. I decided to wait by one of the guards and watch both the people interacting with the guards and each other on my side of the fence (the public side), and whatever it was that was happening behind it that warranted this barrier. I was able to see a few people being escorted out of the Adlon hotel and put in black cars that caravanned through the fences and toward the Reichstag. I heard the word “parade” several times, but that word definitely didn’t match the scene, the public was definitely being excluded from the festivities. After watching for a while longer, I made my way to the corner of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe across from the Tiergarten, certain I could get to the other side of the Gate via another route. Instead, I came upon more fence, more police, and this time a few people holding a ‘peace’ flag and having somewhat confrontational discussions with those police.
I dug for my camera to snap a few photos of the scene, and as I brought my gaze back up from my bag, six or seven more police officers, this time riot police, were jumping out of a black van one-by-one outfitted in protective armor and carrying night sticks. They began to arrest a middle-aged woman. I began to take more photos. A young man standing with his bicycle next to me asked me a question in German.
I used my worn-out sentences, “Ich spreche kein deutsch. Sprechen sie Englisch”
“Sure, where are you from?”
“Near Seattle, in the states, and you?”
“Really? Do you know what’s going on here?” (After noticing his I L G8 shirt)
He told me it was a military parade celebrating the anniversary of the July 20th, 1944 plot by German officers to assassinate Hitler (made famous recently by the Tom Cruise movie, Valkyrie). As I had suspected, the parade was only viewed by invited guests. The rest of us were kept at a quite comfortable distance- Unter den Linden was blocked off before Hotel Adlon, part of the Tiergarten was off-limits, and I assume the barrier was erected at a good distance in the other direction from the Reichstag as well. I walked with the demonstrators into the Tier Garten to try and get closer, and to cause a bit more of a stir. Those on my side of the fence were met by similarly amour-clad riot police and dogs. When a few more people were arrested and I had seen a few of the dogs ordered to jump up onto the protestors and bark and growl loudly, I thought it best to leave.
Political protests and demonstrations are not permitted on the Reichstag lawn because they could “damage the grass.” Apparently the German military has exclusive grass-damaging privileges. Just over a week later, the grass was burnt down in large letters that read, “No War.” A few days after that, the grass was removed and presumably replanted.