Caring, attentive and intimate. Those are usually not the words you use to describe the contact between activists and the police. Yet it is exactly those three words that come to mind when looking at this photo by German freelance photographer Christian Mang. He made it this week during an Extinction Rebellion climate protest in Berlin. There were four days of protests in various parts of the city against the German government’s decision to keep coal-fired power stations open longer, pipelines, and a terminal for liquefied gas, albeit forced by the war in Ukraine. And that while the use of fossil energy should be accelerated, according to the action group.
On Monday 19 September, some fifty activists gathered on Unter den Linden, one of the most famous avenues in Berlin, to do what Extinction Rebellion often does: disrupt public life by sitting on the street. In this way they demand attention for their message, from politics and the public.
They increasingly use glue in their actions. Just look at what is written on this hand: ‘Angeklebt, vorsicht’. It is a warning for the police, who will soon be clearing the street: be a little careful with me, I’m stuck to the road surface with superglue.
That message seems to have been understood. With the precision of an archaeologist freeing an ancient artifact from the ground, the activist’s hand is loosened here. That stain on the asphalt, that’s sunflower oil. Has the Berlin police standard with them for this kind of action. Just like a brush, chisel and hammer. The last two are needed if cement has been stirred through the glue. It will take you a few hours to get that off.
It is that delay that the activists are after. Stop time for a while. Longer disruption means paying more attention to your business.
Christian Mang did take a photo of that Monday, as can be concluded from the series he shot for Reuters. On Potsdamer Platz, he captured activists climbing a homemade pink mini-drilling tower. How then three officers dragged an activist, the middle officer grabbed him right in the face while the other two each held an arm.
These are images that we have seen more often in climate action.
Yet Mang calls the atmosphere at Potsdamer Platz and Unter den Linden pleasant. More relaxed than during other demonstrations where he was present as a photographer. On Unter den Linden he took pictures of dancing and singing activists with jerry cans on their heads, the things you use for a stock of petrol if you run out on the road. He took pictures of people holding a banner that read: ‘System change now!’, and of an elderly woman being carried away by the police.
So here too: business as usual. Difficult for a photographer to come up with a new, surprising angle for this kind of campaign. You prefer to come home with one image that makes all the others superfluous.
The scene that Mang saw almost towards the end of the demonstration is a present from that point of view. He had hoped; on a previous occasion he had been late, the police had already relieved the protester and could only photograph a print of a hand. Here he is standing on top of it with his lens. He has left out of the picture everything that causes distraction: who is holding those hands, what else is happening around them.
Why? Because two hands were enough for him to visualize the two parties that ended up in a kind of ritual dance during demonstrations: the activists who want to disrupt as long as possible, the police who have the task to put an end to this as soon as possible. to make.
It took five minutes for the glue to come off. A delay of nothing, really. But Christian Mang saw it, and recorded it. In this way, the activist trumps the police.