28 March 2013

A violent-peace: the IBA opens in Wilhelmsburg

How many officers would you deploy, if you were in charge of policing an event where between 300 and 1000 demonstrators were expected, who, according to the police's own statement, can be categorised as ''middle-class'' i, i.e. harmless ? One hundred, perhaps? - remember, you're putting in the officers in full riot gear, helmets, body armour, metre long truncheons. That must be enough, that would give you a ratio of one well-armed, potential combatant to, at the most, every lot of ten do-gooders. The head of the Hamburg police service, under the direction of Michael Neumann, Minister for Interior Affairs and Sport, decided to deploy six hundred and fifty police officers at the official opening of the IBA  – the city's proudest piece of gentrification – in Wilhelmsburg on Saturday evening. The presence of these six-and-a-half centurias on that one day has cost the city an estimated €100 000 ii. A spokeswoman for Hamburg police was unwilling to confirm this estimate, but also refused to present their version of the costs, even though the arithmetic involved is simple.

Present with my family & young kids to witness the inaugural jollities, this unexpected sideshow provided much more gripping theatre than the overpriced main stage had to offer. My son, almost five, gasped for joy, when five of the police cars --  obviously bored with the mindlessness of waiting in a parked column with another 105 law-enforcement vehicles iii, not a criminal in sight – bombed past us with their sirens on. Us adults were trying to look at the architecture, but there's a limit to how much three kids all under 11 want to look at buildings when it's 0 °C outside. That huge curvy building you see from the train will house the Public Office for City Development, and its staff of 1400 people. Yes dad. We wander down towards where we think the action might be, the scale of the police action opening up to our eyes bit by bit, until we cross at the crossroads, and see the front that our girls & boys in blue have built for themselves. Right at the front: two water-thrower vehicles mounted with water canons, vehicles which the man giving away the paper for free informs me cost € 1 million a piece. Behind that, a tank like thing, with bulldozer arm on the front. Behind that: a row of police vans and police cars, parked in single file, stretching way way back.

We stand shivering at the back of the opening party crowd for ten minutes or so. A gospel choir is singing competently and generically: Country Road, some other pop hit. We could be anywhere. A functionary comes on the stage and tells the crowd how glad he is that Wilhelmsburg, through the IBA, has made the breakthrough, has turned the corner. A student speaks hesitantly about how, thanks to the IBA, she might stay living in Wilhelmsburg even when she starts studying. A thing lots of students have been doing for the last ten years, even before IBA started.
We stroll back up the road we've come down, it's too cold to stand around. And now the demonstrators have arrived. They're noisy, but it's hard to say exactly how many there are of them, because you can't see them clearly: they're surrounded on three sides by riot police three rows deep, they're not going anywhere. The Hamburger Abendblatt didn't bother itself with the time-consuming (for the journalists) question of how many demonstrators there actually were – see it's Monday report here – content as it was to marginalise the critics by printing two quotes against them, and nothing in their favour. The statement made by the IBA's managing-director, Uli Hellweg, is a crude piece of doublespeak: “criticism of the quality-increase that the IBA has achieved will lead directly to social apartheid in our city.” (See link directly above to Abendblatt article.) It's the IBA itself that has aggravated social division – primarily as a result of the high-end housing they have built, with overall rents in Wilhelmsburg rising by 20% between 2006 and 2012iv.

Intelligent critical thinking about Wilhelmsburg could ease the sores in the social body that IBA has helped exacerbate. But to do that the huge state & private property companies would have to listen to people who are, in their view,low-status and therefore irrelevant: the critics. This listening just wasn't happening in Wilhelmsburg on Saturday. Instead, a ridiculous-sized body of police officers were helping – through their utterly violent appearance – to keep the peace.

i  See the following direct quote and paraphrase of the Hamburg police's statement about the demonstrators from 19.3.2013: http://www.taz.de/Protest-gegen-die-IBA/!113141/
ii   The costs of the police operation on Saturday in Wilhelmsburg can be calculated fairly accurately, using public information which is already available about policing costs in Hamburg. The total costs for the operation of c.€100,000 are made up of costs for:
650 police officers, who each worked on average for 5 hours, with average brutto salary costs for Hamburg police officers of €22.80 per hour (including employer's health cover & pension scheme contribution), gives total pay/salary costs for the operation of: € 74 100 €
Daily costs for the 110 police vehicles, including two water canons, and one barrier-clearance tank, have been calculated, based on published information about yearly costs for the purchase and maintenance of these vehicles. Costs for 110 vehicles for Saturday were: c. € 28 000
Special administration costs incurred as a direct result of Saturday's operation: c. € 800
Gives total costs for the police operation in Wilhelmsburg on Saturday of c. € 102 900
iii   Senior figures in the Hamburg police will be prepared to confirm their statement, already made, that 110 police vehicles where in operation for the IBA opening on Saturday.
iv   For this statistic, please see: http://www.taz.de/Stadt-wird-entwickelt/!113372/