One night in Sternschanze

Most millennials have holidays they look back on fondly, such as Malia '15 or Napa '16; I never went on one of those. This, however, is the story of the G20 Gipfel '17 - our Malia '15.

"I think I have PTSD in reverse" said one friend, added with "Not a day has gone by where I haven't looked at Hamburg and thought what great craic that was despite the stress." 

It's very hard to describe the whole journey in one post, I'll leave the Kafkaesque nightmare of getting there to another day but this post is about day 2 of 3, mainly the night. But I'll start with running you through the day.

The day started at 04:30, I slept through two alarms and my friend who travelled from Paris woke me up by repeatedly calling me knowing how awful I was at keeping time. A quick shower and I was off to the S-bahn Berliner Tor where an anticapitalist march titled 'Colour The Red Zone' was set for 05:30 (I know, right!?). 

Police car carrying delegates to the G20 is blocked by protesters

A bit of handbags with Polizei, then streetwalking and we were there: outside the cordon where we were met with pepperspray and the watercannon. Some more running around, the crowds got split and then we all broke for a spot of lunch. 

Whilst waiting for my colleagues to return from similar events across the city, I met at their hostel in what was to become one of the stranger moments in that journey: the whole hospitality industry had let customers know that this was going to happen, most heeded the warning and avoided except for a disproportionate number of British holiday makers, some of which checked in alongside a blow-up doll.

It was time for our third rally of the day: 'Storm The Port'. As we made our way from Millintorplatz, where one camera would meet an untimely end at the hand of a cop's baton, we ended up at the port. Hundreds of masked anarchists were clashing with police; the water canons had now been equipped to add tear-gas emulating chemicals for that extra kick.


Bricks and bottles were the order of the day there. Clashes ran for over an hour and then the police stormed the port, a phalanx of shields made their way down as police gave warnings from the helicopter threatening mass arrests.

 07/Jul/2017. Hamburg, Germany. Police clash with protesters in Hamburg during the G20.

The crowds were dispersed, we headed to the hostel, had a drink, and waited for all this to blow over. 18:00 came and the 4th and final demo, or what we thought was, was upon us. The Reeperbahn, known for its brothels and the faint smell of drugs, was the setting for the march. I thought it would be an early one but little did we know how bad it was to be. 

The demo itself was poor. No real dramas, a bit of heckling and that was that. As I peeled off to a local kebab place to test my German: "ein Döner bitte", I was told of a situation unfolding in the Sternschanze area; I figured Uber wouldn't work here so ran the 1.5km distance.

Two cameras, one with a 70-200mm f2.8, a helmet and gasmask all swinging around whilst trying not to drop the only bit of food you've eaten all day is not an easy task; I made it with only the minimal wastage of food.

The scene that greeted me was on of utter chaos: the street had been destroyed. Over a thousand black block had to be there. They were from all parts of the world: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Russia and America. You name it, they had people there. 

The French and the Greeks lead the violence and the Russians had brought communication systems with them and were using them to advise those on the ground what the movements of the police were. 

 Police stand in the Sterncschanze district after a night of rioting.

Police stand in the Sterncschanze district after a night of rioting.

I saw numerous Molotov Cocktails thrown. They had erected a sling, 10m long, where they would ping objects and missiles down the road at great distance. As the evening wore on, the clashes intensified, footage online allegedly showed a police officer firing two live rounds (although police dispute this).

By 02:00 the violence had peaked, and police deployed teargas for the first time in a years and also the SEK (Spezialeinsatzkommandobeen deployed to storm buildings occupied by anarchists and arrest them. 

At this point there was no difference between press and protester, we were all treated as one and then came the decision to withdraw. My escape was rough, the local S-bahn had been blocked so the U-Bahn it was; as I entered, three shielded officers demanded I dropped my bag as I clocked one with his hand on his gun, the shield was shoved in my face and sandwiched me between the wall and the officer. They went through everything, with no regards to property.

After throwing around my equipment they let me go. Colleagues told me how they ran past burning cars and through peoples gardens to escape. Locals were dropping water from their apartments to try and help those injured in the clashes.

It was one of the longest continuously worked days I've ever had and also one of the best experiences. For normal people with normal lives that's hard to understand, I can't tell you why we all thrived off those three days but we did. There's no logic, there's no reason. It's journalism, some days are harrowing and you never want to see them again, others will have you talking about it for years: this one was the latter.