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Attacked with petrol cocktails, bags of paint, bricks

The reason was actually irrelevant.

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Attacked with petrol cocktails, bags of paint, bricks

The reason was actually irrelevant. On Monday, November 4, 1968, Horst Mahler, the radical left-wing West Berlin lawyer, was due to appear before his colleagues' court of honor, which was sitting in the regional court on Tegeler Weg. He was accused of having acted as the ringleader of several hundred violent criminals from the left-wing extremist milieu at the demonstration against the Axel Springer publishing house on the evening of April 11, 1968.

Since the civil process that was actually decisive was still outstanding, it was unlikely from the outset that the court of honor proceedings would have any significant results – in the worst case, a temporary suspension of Mahler was conceivable. Even so, the radicals in the divided city were agitated.

"It was about storming the district court and freeing comrade Mahler," recalled the then 24-year-old actor and student Jens Johler. On November 1, he and a friend went to a “teach-in” at the Technical University of Berlin, where the procedure was discussed. Johler published his memories of the first days of November 1968 a quarter of a century later, in 1994, in his novel The Wrong One. The passage is a highly interesting testimony because it documents the radicalization of violent demonstrators to open terrorism.

The perpetrators wanted the dissolution of boundaries: “Equipped with construction worker helmets (against rubber truncheon blows), lemon halves (against tear gas), rainproof clothing (against water cannons) and paint eggs (for throwing) we drove to Mierendorffplatz on the morning of November 4th, where the masses were gathering should,” reported Johler. However, no “crowds” came. In fact, at most a thousand young people turned up – a small minority even of the almost 30,000 students who were enrolled in West Berlin in the winter semester of 1968/69.

At first, nothing happened. "For an eternity we stood facing each other almost immobile like two sumo wrestlers," Johler recalled. The escalation then had a cause that was never clarified: suddenly a truck with stones on the loading area rolled up to the demonstrators from behind. Where it came from, whether it was directed here consciously or by accident – ​​all of this remained unknown.

In any case, a bombardment of stones began to fall on the officials, who wore only their traditional cardboard tin helmets (the "shakos") and raincoats. The West Berlin police did not yet have protective equipment, although in the past year and a half supporters of the "Apo" (the self-proclaimed "extra-parliamentary opposition") and the radically left-leaning Socialist German Student Union (SDS) have repeatedly demonstrated at demonstrations with stones and had thrown at others.

"I reprimanded myself and threw a paint egg," Johler recalled. "It burst on a young police officer's shako and the thin gray oil paint dripped down his face. I felt like a hero, but regretted that I didn't fill the hollow egg with red or yellow paint.” A police water cannon went into action, at the same time tear gas cartridges were fired into the air over the rioters. "I put lemon juice in my eyes and fled in the direction of Mierendorffplatz. But the brave stopped and took up the fight again, so that gradually the less brave returned and sometimes participated more, sometimes less.”

There were now heaps of gray stones in the square; Demonstrators had torn them out of the pavement. Johler wrote: "They called the stones 'arguments'" because the opponents of the SDS and Apo, but also moderate leftists, kept repeating that stones were "not arguments." “. The extremists bluntly refuted this mantra.

"After I threw my second egg, I also picked up a stone, although I wasn't particularly good at throwing it," Johler continued: "As a target I chose a rider in uniform who was swinging his baton and a comrade pursued. Now, I thought, now. The throw wasn't that bad. The stone missed the policeman's head by a hair's breadth.”

This officer was lucky, but about 130 others were not. The West Berlin police counted at least that many injured among their own people after the "Battle on Tegeler Weg", ten of them seriously, some with skull fractures. The demonstrators injured 30, none of them seriously. "More endangered than the brutal rioters were the Berlin police officers in the vicinity of the district court on Tegeler Weg," reported WELT: "They were pelted with petrol cocktails, bags of paint, but above all with bricks. The number of rioters injured in this street battle is small, the number of police officers who fell down covered in blood is large.”

Incidentally, the reason for the explosion of violence had meanwhile passed, because just as the brutality on the streets around the district court on Tegeler Weg escalated to an unimagined degree, the court of honor of the bar association in the building rejected the public prosecutor's application to revoke Mahler's license. "The violent provocateurs would have to say, if they thought it was fair and political, that this is proof of the tolerance of the legal institutions," commented WELT and concluded in bewilderment: "But they don't ask about the law."

Although 49 violent demonstrators were arrested, the Berlin public prosecutor's office applied for an arrest warrant against only one of them. The 19-year-old was accused of serious breach of the peace; several witnesses had observed him throwing stones. The rest of those arrested were released.

The official statement of the SPD-led West Berlin Senate stood in strange contradiction to this. Because the state government of the divided city appealed “to those parts of the young generation who are concerned with reforms in society” to “clearly reject terror and terrorists”. Clear words that were not followed by deeds.

The demonstrators felt empowered. Jens Johler reported on a meeting shortly after the escalation of violence back in the Audimax of the TU Berlin: “Instead of self-contrition, the loudspeakers in the Audimax erupted in jubilation, enthusiasm and euphoria. 'As of today the movement has reached a new quality,' shouted a comrade: 'We have shown that we are no longer defenseless victims of fascist state violence. We showed we can fight.'"

It was the prelude to the extreme radicalization of a tiny but murderous minority in the 1970s, represented by names such as Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof and, of course, Horst Mahler. On the rampage of the RAF against the rule of law. Sometimes the truth is quite simple: left-wing terrorism in Germany began with the stones thrown by the demonstrators on Tegeler Weg.

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