Conversion on the dance floor - A weekly report by an Israeli in Berlin
By Amit Epstein | 17/02/2011
Last week, 66 years ago, Dresden was bombed by the allied forces. Last week, just a few days ago, memorial-demonstrations were held in Dresden, as for every year in the last few years. The biggest event of all was in 2005 as thousands over thousands of Neo-Nazis and supporters came to Dresden to march in memory of 60 years to what they refer to as the terror attack.
Photo: Amit Epstein
I was there – by accident. Had I known then what will be happening on that weekend, I wouldn't have chosen to witness it. But I did. The circumstances were naïve – I was invited to be present at an opening on an exhibition. They showed one of my earliest video works, "Bar Mitzvah", and I was happy to attend. It was set for the 12.2.2005, I went there by train with an Israeli friend of mine, and little did we know where that train was taking us…we had in mind a short trip, coming early that day staying for a Sunday after the opening party. I had friend I wanted to visit – none of them thought of the coincidence.
I first noticed the policemen – they were all over the town, but they were mainly blocking access to the Synagogue. They looked like the Ninja Turtles.
Then, slowly, we've started noticing the people – most of the demonstrators were not residences of Dresden, they took the time and effort and came all over the country. First just a few, then more, then groups and by the night fall the city was covered with men wearing black, skins, heavy metal and the smell of bier and piss…The violence in the atmosphere escalated by the hour. We have attended the opening, but were only able to talk about what we saw – the policemen, the crowds yelling, the tension and aggravation. The demonstration was to be held on Sunday morning, our train tickets were already bought for Sunday evening, as we were about to walk by the river. We didn't know what to do; it wasn't meant at us, sure, but we felt under threat. If not a physical threat, if not an actual and concrete threat, it was an ancient threat that was brought alive. It was a fear-ghost which was séanced and was now clearly in the room, whispering – get away from this place. Was "this place" the open unprotected space? Was "this place" Dresden? Was "this place" Germany – the "new" Germany, the "other" Germany, the promised Germany – Deutschland, Deutschland.
I argued against fleeing the city. I said, we are here, they are not here for us, I may not agree with them, but they are entitled to express their pain, and anyway the train tickets are not refundable. My friend, slightly more hysterical creature then myself, claimed that if there is one lesson she has learned from her family's story it is – get another train ticket and get the hell out of here, it's worth the money. My friends in Dresden stated in their defense that there will be a counter demonstration of antifa activists, and that partly this demonstration is in memory of the victims of that attack, as justified as it may or may not have been. I do have a place for sympathy to others who convey their pain – but a memorial march for the "Bombenholocaust" ("holocaust by bomb") didn't sound like something I can contain without vomiting. Much more, after I have heard that since a few years this tendency has grown and grown, and although the hardcore seed might be of right-wing fanatics, citizens of the city would every time join the demonstration, hopefully misunderstanding the subtext, probably not. It was such a bad flashback.
We stayed the night, but my friends have organized for us to flee the city in the morning with a car heading to Berlin. Before we got picked up, we did go to the river side and we saw the march from far. They were drumming, they played Wagner out loud, they shouted "Sig Heil" and all the rest. Along the river all stone trash cans were broken – the visitors vandalized them, in memory of the city's destruction. Interactive demonstration approach, I assume. I later heard that there were a few hundreds of people who stood up to the thousands who marched, yelling at them, spitting at them and all that what the active left wing fanatics like to do. I remember thinking, as long as they yell and shout t each other, I'm just happy to be on the other side of the river. I'm happy to leave it – it's not about me. It's about how Germany wants to remember itself, it's about how German want to know who they are.
This year I've read that about 17,000 people held hands in a human chain, expressing their resistance to the memory hijack in a non-violent way. On the photos I see them standing along that river side I stood by, all kinds of people, citizens, not necessarily political activists, and I feel much less secluded then that time I saw the line up of policemen, all dressed to attack back.