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'Blockupy' protesters descend on Berlin

Elizabeth SchumacherSeptember 2, 2016

"Blockupy" is back, demonstrating against austerity, consumerism, and the plight of refugees in Germany. Supporters could be seen all over Berlin demanding a more egalitarian approach to integration and economic policy.

Berlin Blockupy Demonstration
Image: Reuters/S. Loos

Anti-capitalism protesters of the "Blockupy" movement took to the streets of Berlin on Friday to protest the policies of the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Although there were 50 arrests and a brief scuffle in which some demonstrators threw rocks at officers, authorities categorized the atmosphere as largely calm.

"It is more peaceful that not," said a police spokesman, although they did have to employ pepper spray when some protesters attempted to break through a barricade.

There were around 1,200 officers on duty in the German capital as demonstrators gathered in groups to block different parts of downtown: the main train station, a shopping mall, busy intersections, the entrance to the Labor Ministry.

Some agile Blockupy members were able to scale the station's towering windows to hang a banner condemning the government's austerity and integration laws, which they believe promote exploitation and social fragmentation.

The collective has its origins in Frankfurt in 2012, where protesters began to gather regularly outside the European Central Bank (ECB) and takes its name from the Occupy movement that took place on New York City's Wall Street.

One of their largest demonstrationscame in March 2015, which saw some 20,000 people from Germany and across Europe protest the opening day of the ECB. Many prominent politicians, including the writer Naomi Klein and Sahra Wagenknecht of the Left Party, gave speeches. A day of peaceful protest, however, was marred by some random acts of violence and vandalism - condemned by organizers - that nevertheless resulted in about 50,000 euros ($56,000) worth of damage.

The activities on Friday drew a far less impressive crowd, with police reporting about 1,000 demonstrators in attendance despite a online sign-up list that had some 10,000 names. The apparent low turnout could also be the result of the scattered nature of the protest, however, as the Blockupy supporters concentrated themselves around different areas of Berlin.

By the early afternoon, the event had grown to include groups of protesters in front of the headquarters of the Social Democrats (SPD), the party of Social and Labor Affairs Minister Andrea Nahles, as well as Berlin's famous Tiergarten park.