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Thoughts Are Free by Max Hertzberg

Thoughts Are Free by Max Hertzberg

Thoughts are Free,  Book 2 of the East Berlin Series  Max Hertzberg Life isn't easy in the GDR

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"Windows and doors were shut. Shops darkened, shutters rolled down. The only movement was the slow, snaking column of the demonstrators; the only sound was the chanting: Foreigners go home! German jobs for Germans!Tear down the Wall!

The skinheads marched at the head of the demonstration, a waddle of goose-steppers leading the pack. Shaven heads, faces contorted with hate, bomber jackets, paraboots with white laces. Behind them bullish men in ill-fitting suits. At the back, a few dozen people, normal people—the kind you could meet on the street, at work or in the queue at the tram stop—shepherded along by a fistful of skins carrying black-red-gold placards: Germany: one Fatherland.

How could anyone take them seriously—their self-importance, their stilted arguments? But they’d managed to tap into the fears of our time, they were gaining in strength and numbers. Many people in the GDR were unsettled by current immigration levels—higher than at any time since the end of the war: Russian Jews fleeing persecution, the Vietnamese and the Algerian contract workers stranded by the shipwreck of the Communist regime, the refugees from the Balkan wars, the idealists arriving from other countries, eager to support our cause. And we needed them all; without their support the labour shortage would bankrupt the country within days.

And a bankrupt GDR would suit the fascists just fine.

Behind the marchers came half a dozen cops, shields dangling from left hands, helmets clipped to their belts.

In the wake of them all came the police lorries. I stood next to the operational commander and his lieutenant on the back of a W50 truck, the tarp pulled back to give us a clear view of the demonstration. A police radio dragged at my shoulder, the earpiece keeping me abreast of the reports being made and the orders being issued.

Concentration anti-fascist repeat anti-fascist demon­strators Jessnerstrasse, crackled the radio. Concentration Antifa repeat anti-fascist Pettenkoferstrasse.

“Numbers?” demanded the police lieutenant next to me.

The static stirred, snapping and whistling. We were following the march down Frankfurter Allee and the wide railway bridges over the road ahead of us interfered with radio reception.

“Say again! Say again!” The lieutenant shouted into the microphone, but there was no need. We could see over the heads of the marchers—a black-clad knot of Antifa had run out of a side street on the right. About a dozen of them were wearing motorcycle helmets.

The march in front of us disintegrated. The skins from the back were moving up through the ranks of the followers who cast about themselves, unsure what to do, where to go. A few looked back at the police lines behind, as if seeking advice.

“Squad C into position,” sighed the captain behind us. Without hesitation the lieutenant repeated the order into the radio mike, looking over his shoulder to watch the riot cops jump down from their transports.

In front of us a second group of Antifa emerged from a street on the left, running across the central reservation, spearing into the demonstrators, isolating the skins from the other marchers scattered along the roadway. The cops headed towards the skins who were already encircled by punks and squatters.

There was a moment of sudden stillness—the skins stood in the roadway, facing outwards in a ragged square, placards ripped off poles to make wooden staves. Around them the anti-fascists, just out of reach. A loose ring of police kettled both groups.

With a shout the action started. The Antifa clumped together and pushed against the skins, who hit back with fists and poles. The police used their truncheons, lashing out without discrimination.

“Disperse them,” murmured the captain. He had turned away and was watching the group of fellow travellers being directed by the couple of cops left near the trucks. A few wanted to stay and watch but most seemed relieved, almost happy to be sent home.

“Disperse, disperse!” shouted the lieutenant into the radio microphone, but there was no-one to hear him. The cops in the mêlée didn’t have radios. There weren’t enough of them and they had no plan. They were pumped up on adrenaline and were reacting only to what was happening around them.

It was a mess."