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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A breath of Auschwitz

It was Saturday evening and I was waiting for a train at Berlin’s (in)famous Zoo station. A train came in going the other way, and among the crowds getting off were a lot of helmeted riot police. I vaguely assumed they must be coming away from the Hertha game, though it did seem an unusually heavy police presence – surely a bit over the top for a game against bottom-of the-table Kaiserslautern.

Suddenly I found myself surrounded by young white men wearing black Harrington jackets and jeans and very little in the way of hair. It’s illegal to display any form of Nazi regalia in Germany, but the faces and the body language told me everything I needed to know. These guys had not just been enjoying a football match.

I later discovered they were returning from an attempt to march in Potsdam, which had been frustrated by thousands of counter-demonstrators. There were at least two policemen to each of them, so they weren’t likely to start anything, but I moved away swiftly.

The strength of the impression this made on me doubtless shows what a sheltered life I lead. I got a fat lip courtesy of the Young National Front on my way home from an Anti-Nazi League march circa 1979 (when the Socialist Workers Party used to organize against Nazi-inspired reactionary bigots instead of forming coalitions with them - remember?), but since then things have been pretty quiet. Nevertheless: for a second or two I felt I was breathing the air of Auschwitz. Count me in on the next counter-demo.

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