Activists tape themselves to A100
“We want the greatest possible disruption”
From Sarah Platz
2/12/2022, 8:49 am
Day after day, climate activists block the city highway in Berlin. For the attention of politics and society, they glue themselves to the asphalt and put up with nights in custody. You have already achieved something with this campaign.
“Behave inconspicuously,” warns climate activist Carla Hinrichs via SMS just before the start. “Otherwise you endanger the action.” On a Wednesday morning, around a dozen activists are spread out as far as possible on the platform of an S-Bahn station in western Berlin. Like the days before, they want to occupy a freeway exit to protest against climate policy. They make eye contact to understand: not here, because the police are already stationed. Now it’s time to wait without attracting the attention of the officials. The situation is reminiscent of a spy film – only with colorful backpacks, hiking boots and woolen socks. When other group members have finally found free access to the A100, things have to be done quickly: within minutes, eight young men and women are sitting on the asphalt of the city motorway – and the first cars are rolling towards them.
They hold up a banner with the inscription “Save food, save lives” to the drivers. The activists are calling for a law against food waste as a first step to save CO2 and fight famine. Supermarkets should be obliged to donate untainted food. The group describes itself as the “rebellion of the last generation” and says it has around 50 members in the capital – from students to church musicians, bank employees and pensioners. Their goal is to avert the climate catastrophe. In return, they want to “disturb until the government does its job.” For two and a half weeks, the A100 in Berlin, Germany’s busiest autobahn, has been her central location for this.
“Why the Autobahn? Simply because we want the greatest possible disruption,” says Carla Hinrichs, spokeswoman for the group on the side of the road. The 25-year-old is actually studying law in Bremen. But she has been living in Berlin for two years now because “I can’t imagine continuing to study the system that is pushing us towards collapse.” Actions like the road blockades are necessary to appeal to the government. “We’ve sat in front of the ministries, we’ve been to Fridays For Future and we’ve saved food from rubbish bins,” says Carla, her eyebrows furrowing. “But it didn’t do anything.” She feels sorry for the drivers who are now involuntarily part of the campaign, she says. Still, it feels right. “We just have to disrupt it so massively that we can no longer be ignored.”
“My knees tremble every time”
The drivers, who are neither going forward nor back on the A100, let them know that they are a nuisance. A concert of horns sounded the departure, some call to the activists “Piss off”. The driver of a silver Citroën is one of the few who isn’t angry. He even hopes “that the action will bring something”. Nevertheless, he has an appointment “around the corner”. He could “forget it now.” Another driver is less patient. He rolls his white van with Mannheim license plates a little closer to the activists – he comes to a stop just half a meter in front of them.
“It’s really scary,” says Raúl Semmler. The 37-year-old is an actor and screenwriter in Mannheim and has already acted in a number of ZDF series and plays. Instead of standing on the stage, he now sits cross-legged on the A100. His voice is almost drowned out by the horn concerto. “My knees tremble every time I go out on the street.” The police have taken him into custody a few times. “It’s bad. You’re locked in, you always have to ask if you want to go to the toilet or eat something,” he describes the situation. That’s why he has a lot of understanding for the anger of the drivers who “are now tied to this place for one to two hours”.
However, there is no other way. Raúl’s previously calm demeanor changes, he leans forward and widens his eyes: “We still have a year or two,” the activist quotes the chemist and adviser to the British government, Sir David King, as saying. “Then we are heading for a 1.5 to 2 or 3 degree hot world with climate tipping points and famine.” He wouldn’t describe the road blockade as radical, even though he glued his hands to the asphalt – “with normal superglue”. Signs reading “Stop, glued” reveal that several of the activists “attached” themselves to the street in this way.
Intermediate goal achieved?
According to the police, there have been around 30 blockades in the capital since January 24, they have dragged people from the motorway exits more than 150 times, and more than 200 ads have been recorded. Nevertheless, “the uprising of the last generation” wants to come back. Day after day, “until the government passes the Save Food Act or until we’re all in custody or locked away for a long time,” spokeswoman Carla said.
The group has already achieved one thing: it is getting attention – both from the press and from politicians. Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke initially expressed understanding for the activists’ approach at the European conference of Handelsblatt, “Tagesspiegel”, “Wirtschaftswoche” and “Zeit”. A few days later, however, she withdraws this: “To be clear: I think these freeway blockades are wrong,” she told the Neue Berliner Redaktionsgesellschaft. Green Party leader Ricarda Lang also initially expressed understanding for the group in the “Tagesspiegel”, but revised her position on “Markus Lanz”.
The blockers reap significant criticism by Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann. Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir agrees: “I believe that road blockades harm our common goal.”
Routine on the asphalt
What’s next in Berlin after the activists have stuck? “The police will remove my hand from the asphalt, then I will be taken into custody, probably until 10:30 p.m. tomorrow.” A grin crosses the lips of the activist on the A100. It seems as if something like routine had set in even in this situation.
The same applies to the Berlin police. It takes less than ten minutes until the seven emergency vehicles are at the motorway exit. An officer announces via loudspeaker that the meeting is to be cleared due to coercion in road traffic and violation of the right to meet. Pure formality, because none of the glued activists intends to move. An officer is already standing by with a spatula, brush and solvent.
“We already know them from the last few days,” grins an activist. While two police officers kneel on woolen blankets in front of a young man with a colorful pointed cap and try to free his hands, there is an unusual calm. It seems that the assembled press representatives are the ones who cause the officers the most trouble because they have to be transported from the freeway to the sidewalk again and again.
Finally, the hands of the blocker are exposed, the officers silently carry the young man into the emergency vehicle, where a few minutes later – as already announced – Raúl also lands. After a good hour, the white van from Mannheim is the first to race across the free exit of the A100. A young activist sums up what happened: “It’s getting better and better.” What that means? “The hands don’t bleed and there were no painful holds.”