“Art and politics are my two favorite things in the world,” said my German artist friend a week ago upon returning from the Pope demonstrations. At first, the statement confused me. To me, art was something that transcended politics, but as I’m learning in Berlin the two terms are often inseparable.
I’ve never considered myself a political person at all. Actually, there were often times that I despised politics for the greed and the corruption that became symbolic of many of the ideologies. However, I’ve noticed that every time I leave my own country, I find myself accidentally entangled in the politics of a country I cannot possibly understand.
Most recently, I found myself in Egypt in the months leading up to the revolution, during the revolution, and the months following the revolution (approximately one year). While I didn’t plan for it to happen that way, I found myself totally engrossed in what was happening around me. But in these times, everyone became their own analyst of the political situation. Sometimes, I felt lost amidst these discussions and intellectual debates. Every Friday after prayers there were demonstrations. People on the streets would vow to start another revolution, the counter-revolution, or to overthrow the military. By mid-June, I was completely exhausted by it.
“I heard Berlin is nice in summer,” said a friend. A month later I was on a flight.
The night I left Cairo for Berlin, there was a mass demonstration in the square. Because of the traffic, I wasn’t even sure I would make the flight. I didn’t have a place to stay in Berlin or a plan. By fate, I befriended an old man on the train from Munich. He brought me to the apartment of several of his friends, who lived in a small studio in Fredrichain. The “commune,” they called it. There lived several others, who were all ex-squatters and exceptionally kind people. The guy who rented the apartment, started the Uber Partei and was active in many politically affiliated groups. Actually, many or all of the people I would meet through the commune were all somehow involved with the Uber Partei.
In my first few weeks, I hung around Tachelles with Willi and Frank. I went to a videoactivist group at the Kopi once a week. I was still struggling to adapt here and I discovered quickly that people in Berlin love revolutions. Mostly, people became excited when I mentioned that I had just come from Egypt. It was a nice conversation starter, but mostly I felt uncomfortable, like I was supposed to recite a poem about the event and how it affected my life.
“Were you there when Mubarak stepped down?!” said a drunk tourist one night. “That must have been so funky!”
“Yea, I guess it was pretty funky.”
In a short time, I moved into an actual apartment in Kreuzberg. On the night I moved in, my roommates were late getting home so I killed time wandering around Oranienburger Str. Suddenly, I heard shouts and chanting as a massive group of people dressed in black marched down the street. Instinctively, I ducked into a pizza joint for cover. The patrons in the restaurant did not seem at all concerned about the riot. Most didn’t even seem to notice. Poking my head outside, I saw that no one was carrying weapons and the drunk people from the nearby bars seemed to be stumbling outside to join.
In time, I would learn how normally these demonstrations occurred in Berlin. To me, my roommates were the epitome of normal. They seemed to attend demonstrations of all kinds and they always invited me. I went because I wanted to be normal too. Several of the demonstrations seemed more like parades to me and my roommate remarked that it was something fun to do on the weekends.
One time, we went to demonstrate against a Nazi rally in Alexander Platz. We waited around for hours with the anti-fascists and eventually went inside the U-Bahn to corner the Nazis when they came out of the train. When the commotion began, I got lost in the chaos. For starters, the anti-fascists and the Nazis were both wearing black and I couldn’t help but fixate my eyes on this old man Nazi. He looked to be 100 years old, and for a second, I didn’t think he’d make it up the stairs on his own. I doubted whether he even had the capacity to hear the shouts of the protestors with those extremely large hearing aids he was wearing. I flashed to another scene of an adolescent boy who looked to be 14 or 15 years old. He seemed completely unaware of the Nazis and more focused on trying to angrily charge through the line of police officers that were blocking his entrance. The police officers were nearly twice his size and with every blow the police stood there completely unphased as the boy bounced off of them and stumbled backwards again and again.
When I went to visit some artist friends in Hamburg, I arrived inconveniently in the middle of a political meeting they were holding in the park. It was a group of five or six people really, but when I came to join the circle they all became noticeably apprehensive of my presence. I wanted to yell at them, “I don’t even speak German, and even if I did, I probably wouldn’t be very interested in whatever it is you are discussing. Instead, I sat on a bench on the opposite side of the park to ease everyone’s nerves.
It seemed to me that so many of the people I had met in Germany took the politics far too seriously, that it became laughable. With all of these demonstrations, I wondered whether the government could ever take them seriously. I felt judged for my lack of interest in politics or for the fact that I didn’t dress like an anarchist or a punk. Every time, I go to the Kopi for my meeting I meet the disapproving stares of the regulars. Last time, one of their dogs pissed on my leg, as if to say, “I’m a dog and still I know you don’t belong here.”
But lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe I take politics far too seriously myself. Taking the U-Bahn to Warshauer Str., there seemed to be a large gathering on the Oberbaum Bridge. People were running at each other, throwing rocks at the police officers, several people were violently beating each other. Pressed against the window on the train, I started to hyperventilate. I turned around and everyone on the train seemed to be sitting quietly and calmly. Had they not seen the riots? I thought to myself. When I turned back around to face the window, I could see now that the people were laughing. The rocks they were throwing were actually vegetables and water balloons. The police officers were just people dressed up like police officers and no one appeared to be actually fighting one another. Embarrassed, I realized that I was the weirdo and later I would discover that what I witnessed was the annual water battle between Kreuzberg and Fredrichain residents. It was a joke! Only this time the joke was on me.
Sometimes people take politics too seriously. That is why I’m glad that the Uber Partei and Berlin, for that matter, exists. After being in Cairo for a year, politics began hurting my brain. Now that I’m calmer and finally creating art, I can honestly say that the only politics that make sense to me right now are the non-serious kind. I can’t say that I much understand the politics in Berlin, or art for that matter. I do know that oftentimes my writing accidentally becomes about politics, much like my life. I’m just now learning to appreciate this convergence.