Kettling 2: The Hamburg Kettle

Hamburg, Germany, June 1986:

On June 8, 1986, in the Heiligengeistfeld in Hamburg, in northwestern Germany, police “kettled” — surrounded and immobilized — more than 800 demonstrators. No one got out of the kettle for five hours, and many had to wait for twelve hours or more before being taken away by the police. This was the first well-documented case of this tactic being used against political protesters.

The demonstrators in the Heiligengeistfeld were anti-nuclear activists — people who were working in various ways to stop the use of nuclear power to generate electricity. Since its beginnings in the 1950s, the worldwide anti-nuclear movement had been particularly strong in Germany, and in June 1986 German activists were more determined than ever to persuade their government to change its energy policies. This was because, a few weeks earlier, on April 26, there had been a disastrous explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. The fires that followed the explosion had spread a cloud of radioactive material over many European countries including Germany. The German public had been alarmed by the accident and their sympathy with the activists had increased.

In May, there had been a demonstration at the site of a planned nuclear-waste reprocessing plant near Wackersdorf in southern Germany. The police had used water cannons against the protesters and dropped tear gas grenades on them from helicopters. The protesters had fought back with gasoline bombs, crowbars, and slingshots. Over 400 people had been injured.[6]

The next move in the campaign was another demonstration at Brokdorf, about sixty kilometers northwest of Hamburg where a new nuclear plant was due to open later in the year. The police tried to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the plant by blocking the main highways; many did manage to get to their destination however, by abandoning their vehicles and walking for up to two hours. The demonstration began peacefully, but moments after it began, the police attacked, spraying the protesters with water cannons and tear gas. In the ensuing battle, there were injuries on both sides, but the police finally drove the protesters away from the plant back into the marshy land that surrounds it. When the protesters finally returned to their cars and busses, they found that their tires had been slashed and their windshields smashed.[2]

The day before the demonstration, the German government had declared it illegal. It seems that most of the people who were planning on attending went anyway, in defiance of the law. However, a large number of activists from Hamburg — perhaps as many as 10,000 — did not manage to get anywhere near Brokdorf; they were prevented by police barricades from ever leaving the city. In their frustration, they quickly planned another demonstration for the next day at the Heiligengeistfeld in the center of the city. This time the target of the protest was not nuclear power but the actions of the police and — and, as the protesters saw it — the government’s use of the police to deprive them of their right to protest. The demonstration was to begin at noon but even before all the protesters had gathered the police suddenly swooped in and kettled them. No one was allowed to leave until 5:00 in the afternoon when the police began putting them into vans a few at a time and taking them to police stations. Some of the protesters were kept inside the kettle for thirteen hours — until 1:00 the next morning.

Moments after the police had kettled the eight hundred or so demonstrators they had found in the field, another large group arrived unexpectedly and marched up behind the cordon. Some of the police momentarily found themselves caught between two groups of protesters and they reacted ferociously. They immediately attacked the new arrivals and attempted to drive them away. Running battles between police and protesters broke out on the streets surrounding the field. Later, the police — and some politicians who defended their behavior — claimed that the demonstrators who marched up behind the kettle were dangerous extremists who planned to push though the police cordons with a “swath of violence,” and so, in attacking them, the police were reacting in a reasonable way to an emergency situation. No evidence backing up these assertions was ever produced.

While these battles were being fought, the cordon around the kettled demonstrators was tightened, increasing further the discomfort of the protesters caught inside. At the same time a police contingent that had taken part in the previous day’s confrontation at Broksdorf was returning to its base in Bremen — about sixty kilometers to the southwest. The Hamburg police command ordered it to turn around and head to Hamburg because of an “emergency” there.

Shortly after the kettle was set up, some of the people inside began talking to the police, trying to get them to agree to allow the protesters to abandon their demonstration and to leave the kettle. The leader of the police operation did finally agree to speak to the kettled demonstrators; he said he was considering the idea of allowing them to leave peaceably. Shortly after his speech, however, the police cordon was thickened and the kettle was again tightened, apparently with the intention of forcing the protesters to stand up. Around the same time, a fully-equipped unit of the federal border police arrived on the scene in large personnel carriers and marched up close to the demonstrators.

The situation remained unchanged until 5:00 in the afternoon. Then the border police put a small group of demonstrators into one of their vans and took them to a police station where they were held. This process continued throughout the evening but only at a very slow pace. Many protesters remained trapped for hours. The last ones were not removed until around 1:00 a.m. During the long hours they spent in the kettle, the protesters were made extremely uncomfortable. Judging from firsthand reports[1], it seems clear that the police were intentionally making them uncomfortable. The protesters were given no access to toilets until 5:00 p.m. Until that time they were forced to relieve themselves in the open or behind coats and jackets held up as a screen by their friends. When they were finally allowed to use toilets, only those who were desperate could do so and only after being searched. No food or water was provided to the kettled protesters by the police; later in the evening they were permitted to receive food and drink from other protesters who had not been kettled, but even that came only after a sympathetic politician had intervened. It was not until 11:00 p.m. that the protesters were allowed to receive warmer clothing and blankets. The police had being refusing to allow this up to that point on the grounds that the kettled protesters could use the clothes and blankets to change their appearance.

The people in the kettle had to put up with not just physical discomfort, but also with numerous taunts from the police — jokes about the “stink” for example, and sarcastic questions when the protesters complained about being hungry as to why they hadn’t brought their own food. Some kettled “prisoners” reported hearing the police warning them that they were “going to see blood” and also explaining that they had been kettled “in revenge for Brokdorf.” One protester told of how, when he was being put into a van, he asked where he was being taken and a police officer replied: “I’d like to see you sent to Dachau.”

This insulting and mildly cruel behavior continued after the protesters had been transferred to police stations. Even after they had been out of contact with friends and family for as much as fifteen hours, they had, at best, very restricted telephone privileges. Some were not allowed to use telephones at all — and even told, falsely, that there had been a “telephone ban.” Some women were strip searched in the police stations and one was beaten badly after she refused to let anyone touch her body. There were also a few minor injuries caused by batons and by the spray, “Mace. ” However, considering the effort the police put into the operation and the violence of the previous day’s battle — around sixty police officers had been injured at Brokdorf — the protesters were subjected to very little physical violence.

Surprisingly, the only real police “brutality” that took place during the Hamburg Kettle was directed not against humans but against taxis. When Hamburg’s taxi drivers heard how slowly demonstrators were being removed from the kettle, they sent a large fleet to the Heiligengeistfeld. Their idea was to help the protesters by offering free transport. The police learned what was happening however, and as soon as the taxis had parked beside the field, they rushed at them smashing their windshields and letting the air out of their tires.

By the next morning all the kettled protesters had been released; apparently no charges were ever laid against any of them. The incident created a political storm. At least one prominent politician who had supported the police was forced to resign. The events were debated in the German parliament in Bonn, the capital. There were many reports in the media concerning the kettling and its aftermath. And within a week 40,000 people — led by a large fleet of taxis — marched through the streets of Hamburg protesting against what the police had done at the Heiligengeistfeld.

In the autumn, a judicial inquiry was held. The police were found to have acted illegally and were reprimanded. Everyone who had been caught inside the kettle was awarded 200 marks in compensation.

• a large, public, open area (about 20 hectares) near the center of Hamburg. Its main use is as the site (or “location”) of a large fair (or “carnival”), the “Hamburger Dom,” which is held three times a year. (“Heiligengeistfeld” is a German “snake word” which can be translated as “Holy Ghost Field” It is made up of the three words, heiligen, Geist and Feld.)

• kettling is the police tactic of controling protesters by surrounding them with a “cordon” of police officers. For more on the meaning of the word and the history of the practice see “Kettling 1.”

• This word means “prevented from moving.” It is the past tense of the verb immobilize. The antonym is “mobilize” which means to give something the ability to move (and, especially, to make an army ready to move). The noun forms are mobility and immobility; the adjective forms are mobile and immobile.

well documented:
• “Well-documented” means backed up (i.e. supported) by reliable records in books, newspapers, magazines, media broadcasts, etc.

• A method of winning or getting the advantage in war, a game, business activity, etc.

political protesters:
• people who march through the streets demanding that the government change its policies, or act or stop acting in some way.

• in this context demonstrator has the same meaning as “protester. ”

anti-nuclear activists:
• An activist is a person with strong political beliefs who actually acts by doing things such as protesting, writing, or organizing rather than just talking and reading. An activist acts, usually in cooperation with other people with similar beliefs, to try to change society. An anti-nuclear activist is someone who acts to try to stop governments from using nuclear power to generate electricity.

nuclear power:
• Nuclear power is the use of the energy released by nuclear fission (the bombarding of radioactive materials with neutrons) to generate electricity. Because exposure to radioactivity can cause cancer in human beings, there has been a great deal of public opposition to nuclear power since it was first used in the 1950s. Many people fear that accidents in nuclear power plants or improper disposal of nuclear wastes will lead to enormous amounts of disease and loss of life. These fears were increased by the disaster at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011. Partly as a result of that accident, the German government decided, in May 2011, to close all nuclear power plants in the country by 2022. (At the beginning of 2011, Germany was generating 23% of its electricity from nuclear power.)

• “Movement” used in this way refers to a large group of people acting together over an extended period of time for some political purpose (to influence the government, to win an election, to take power by overthrowing the government, etc.)

• If someone is determined to do something, they have decided to do it and will continue doing it or trying to do it however difficult it is or however much opposition they face. (“Determined” is a participial adjective, based on the verb “to determine” but its meaning is not closely connected with the meaning of the verb “determine.”)

• If you persuade someone, you get them to believe something they did not previously believe or to do something they were not previously willing to do. Verbs with connected meanings: “to talk [someone] into [something],” “to change [one’s] mind,”.

energy policies:
• A policy is a rule or principle followed by a government, institution, or a person and which guides them in deciding what to do. A government’s energy policies are the principles and rules it applies to decide how energy is to be provided in the country.

nuclear waste reprocessing plant:
• Over time, the fuel that is used in nuclear power plants loses its effectiveness, but it remains radioactive — and dangerous — for for a long time. This used (or “spent”) fuel is nuclear waste. In order to make nuclear waste safe — or at least less dangerous — it is reprocessed in special plant. (“Plant” used in this way refers to an industrial building where something is done, as opposed to a factory where things are made.)

• a large gun used in war, usually on wheels. A water cannon is a “gun” carried by a vehicle of some sort, used to shoot water at protesters.

tear gas:
• a “gas” (actually a very fine powder) used against protesters. It irritates the eyes, nose and throat, and causes, crying, coughing, and pain and, sometimes, temporary blindness. (There is also a multi-word verb, “to tear gas,” which means “to attack with tear gas”; it is usually used in the passive.)

• generally speaking a grenade is a small bomb thrown by hand. However, unlike explosive grenades, gas grenades do not explode when they land, but just open and release their contents. (The word grenade is connected via French to the word pomegranate because of an imagined resemblance between the fruit and the bomb.)

after a period of time has passed (often a longer period than was expected or hoped for)

lose (or be beaten) in a contest of some kind (e.g. a war, a game)

• a weapon made of a branched (forked) piece of wood or metal and a strong elastic band; used for “shooting” rocks etc.

• a planned series of events (speeches, meetings, advertisements, publications, demonstrations etc) by a group of some sort (often a political group or political party). (The word is often used with reference to an election campaign.)

manage to:
• if you manage to do something, you succeed in doing it despite difficulties and obstacles. (When “manage” is used in this way — i.e. when it is followed by a “ to-”infinitive — it is a “catenative verb.” Catenative verbs — other examples are “appear to” and “seem to” — are semantically although not grammatically like modal auxiliaries in the way they complete (or add to) the meaning of the following verb.

• if you abandon something or someone you leave them behind and without any protection.

• “Vehicle” is a general word referring to something — such as a car, a truck, a bus, or a bicycle — that has wheels and is used for moving people or things from one place to another.

• as a noun, “spray” refers to a very small particles of liquid “floating” in the air (e.g. “ocean spray”). As a verb, “spray” refers to the action of directing a spray at something or someone (e.g. spraying fertilizer on a garden).

• the enusuing battle is the following battle, the battle that came afterward. “Ensuing” is a participial adjective based on the verb “ensue,” If something ensues from something else it follows it — and was caused by it. (The participial adjective is more common than the verb.)

drove the protesters away:
• If people or animals are driven away they are forced — by being chased, shot at etc. — to leave where they are and go somewhere else. “Drive away” is a transitive phrasal verb.

• a “marsh” is low-lying land partially or completely covered by shallow water and water-loving plants. “Marshy” land is land that is partly but not completely a marsh.

• to cut something violently and destructively with a knife or other sharp object. “Stab” has a similar meaning to “slash” but there is an important difference: if you stab something with a knife you push the knife into it; if you slash it, you cut it by pulling a knife across its surface.

• the glass window in front of the driver’s seat in a car or other vehicle. (Also called a “windscreen.”)

• “Declare” has a similar meaning to “say” or “state.” As can be seen in this case, it can be complemented by an object and an object complement. (In the sentence, “The government had declared it illegal,” “it” is the object and “illegal” is the object complement.)

in defiance:
• “Defiance” is the noun form of the verb “defy.” If you defy a person, or a law, even though the person or the law “orders” you not to do something, you do it anyway. The meaning is similar to the meaning of “disobey.” “To do in defiance” (using the noun “defiance” instead of the verb, “defy”) has the same meaning as “to defy.” It is a quite common in English to use a noun form in an adverbial prepostional phrase along with a general verb (like “went”) even though a verb (like “defy”) would have the same meaning.

• a temporary fence or similar structure to prevent people from entering or leaving an area.

in their frustration:
Frustration is the negative emotion (the bad feeling) that comes from wanting to do something but being prevented from doing it (or prevented from succeeding at it). It is the noun form of the verb “frustrate.” This is another case (see “in defiance” above) of a noun form of a verb being used in an adverbial prepositional phrase as an alternative to a verb. (“Because they were frustrated, they quickly planned...” has the same meaning.)

• A target is what you aim at when you are shooting (with a gun for example); here it is used metaphorically. The protesters target was: “the actions of the police.”

• If you deprive someone of something you take it away from them. (The noun form is “deprivation.”)

the right to protest:
• To say someone has a right to do something means the law of the country they are a citizen of allows them to do it. (“Human rights” are different, however; they are rights which people have just because they are a human beings and quite independently of whether their country has a law which gives them that right. One important statement of human rights is the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The existence of human rights is controversial, however; some thinkers believe there are no such rights and even say that the concept is dangerous. There is an interesting Wikipedia article on this subject.)

• As used here, it means “to attack suddenly” — and, typically, with the purpose of capturing people or arresting them. It is also commonly used to describe the movement of a bird dropping down quickly to catch a small animal.

• Typically, a van is a small, covered truck used for deliveries or by tradesmen (plumbers, electricians etc). “Police vans” are larger.

marched up:
• “March” means to walk in a “military” way — i.e. the way soldiers walk. “March up” is a phrasal verb meaning “to march to a particular place.” (The ordinary, non-phrasal, verb “march” is commonly used to refer to a “procession” of people moving together in an organized way. The demonstrators in Hamburg wanted to march in protest against the police, but were prevented from doing so. The word is also often used as a noun in this context as when a protester speaks of “going on a march.”)

• for a “moment,” i.e. for a short period of time.

• This is the adverbial form of the adjective “fierce.” A fierce animal is dangerous because it is likely to attack violently causing injury or death.

running battle:
• A “running battle” is a battle (i.e. a fight between two groups of people) which which does not happen in one place but moves around, for example, with the protesters running after (i.e.chasing) the police or vice versa. The phrase is also used, metaphorically, to refer to any sort of disagreement that goes on for a long period of time. (“Harry and Jill have been fighting a running battle about his drinking. ”)

• To say that these politicians defended the police means that they publicly expressed the opinion that the police were doing the right thing. When “defend” is used in this way, it has a similar meaning to “support” (used metaphorically) or, colloquially, “stick up for” and “ be on the side of.”

swath of violence:
• A swath is, literally, a line or strip cut through a field when a crop (wheat, grass etc) is being harvested. Here it refers, metaphorically, to a similar strip which, the police said, they thought the newly arrived demonstrators planned to cut through their cordon.

• according to reason or correct thinking.

backing up:
• “Back up” is a transitive phrasal verb. Evidence which backed up the assertions would be evidence showing them to be true, or likely to be true.

• a line of police, soldiers, security guards, etc. preventing people from entering or leaving an area. A verb, cordon off, is also commonly used for the practice of putting a rope, or yellow tape, around an area to keep people out or in.

• a noun referring to a group of soldiers or police officers sent to join a larger force. (There is no connection with the adjective “contingent” which is used to describe things — jobs, plans etc. — that depend on uncertain events.)

• a confrontation is a meeting of two people or groups of people who are hostile (angry, aggressive, threatening) to each other.

head to:
• “To head [somewhere]” is to go in the direction of that place.

set up:
• A common intransitive phrasal verb. If you set something up, you put all its parts into place so it is ready to work, to be used etc (setting up a chess board, for example). “Set up” can also mean “to plan or arrange [something] in advance” and, colloquially, to “frame” or “entrap” someone (being “set up” by the police, for example). In the first and third of these senses, the noun form “set up,” is also used (with the stress on the first syllable).

got them to agree:
• “Get” here is a “causative verb.” The same meaning could also have been expressed with “persuade.”

the police operation:
• When “operation” is used in this sense, it refers to a group, or series of smaller events that are organized into a large, complex event. (The word is most often used in this way to refer to a military or police operation. (There is no comparable use of the verb operate.)

• without fighting or struggling.

• the adjective “thick” is made into a verb by adding the suffix “-en.” (Compare with “lighten,” “widen,” “tighten.”)

apparently with the intention:
• To say that someone does something apparently in a certain way means that it seems that is how, or why, they are doing it. (“Apparently” is a disjunct, a type of adverbial). More specifically it is a “content disjunct” which expresses doubt about the truth of what the writer is saying. (See A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language," 8.127, p 620.)

a fully-equipped unit:
• In other words, the border police were wearing all their protective clothing and carrying all their weapons.

personnel carriers:
• vehicles used for carrying persons

at a very slow pace:
• If you are walking or running, your pace is the speed you’re moving at.

firsthand reports:
• Reports from people who were there at the time and saw what was happening.

forced to relieve themselves :
• The verb “to relieve oneself” is a polite and convenient way of referring to the “excretory functions” of urination and defecation. It is a way of avoiding using either the difficult, scientific words or theimpolite words, “shitting” and “pissing.”

a sympathetic policeman:
• A policeman who had kindly feelings toward them and did not want them to suffer.

• “To intervene” means “to come between two people or groups of people” to settle a dispute, stop them from fighting etc. The “-ing” participial adjective “intervening” is common; it means “the time coming between” (e.g “during the intervening years”)

change their appearance:
• i.e. change the way they looked so they could not be identified.

not just physical discomfort:
• in other words, it also involved mental discomfort. “Physical” and “mental” are antonyms.

• a remark intended to make fun of someone and hurt them. Taunts are often “sarcastic” (see below). (The same word is also used as a verb.)

• smell very bad. (The verb, “stink” is irregular. Past: “stank;” past participle: “stunk.”)

• sarcastic statements (or questions) are meant to make fun of and hurt the feelings of the people they’re directed toward. They often have a surface meaning which is the opposite of their deeper meaning or which — as in this case — pretends to be ignorant of obvious facts. (The noun form is “sarcasm” which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as follows: “A sharply mocking or contemptuous remark, typically utilizing statements or implications pointedly opposite or irrelevant to the underlying purport.”)

in revenge for Brokdorf:
• an act of revenge is something that is done as a way of harming someone to “pay them back” for something they did to hurt you. (The less common verb form is “avenge.”)

• a concentration camp in southern Germany where Jews and others from more than 30 countries were held by the German government during the Second World War. (Although there was apparently no mass murder in this particular camp, more than 25,000 of the approximately 200,000 prisoners died there through starvation, illness, or murder.)

• To insult someone is to say something negative (i.e. “critical,” or “derogatory”) to them and, as a result, to hurt their feelings or make them angry.

mildly cruel:
• “Mildly” is a subjunct (a type of adverbial.) More specifically, it is a “diminishing downtoner” which indicates that the “force” of the verb or adjective it modifies is only partial (i.e. not complete). (In other words, to say something is “mildly”cruel is to say it is not “completely” cruel, or “absolutely” cruel, or “as cruel as it could be.” Other diminishing downtoners: a bit, a little, partly, quite, slightly somewhat, to some extent. (See A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, 8.111, p 698.)

out of contact:
• To say they were out of contact means that their friends and didn’t know where they were. The antonym is “in contact.” “Out of touch” and “in touch” have the same meanings.

restricted telephone privileges:
• If you have restricted privileges to do something this means that you are allowed to do something but the rules or the people in control prevent you from doing it as much as you’d like.

strip searched:
• If the police strip search someone they take off all their clothes so they can see if they are hiding something such as drugs or a weapon. (The verb “strip” is approximately synonymous with “remove.” A “stripper” is a person who takes off his or her clothes in a bar or “strip-club” to entertain the customers.)

• Someone is subjected to something if it is done to them against their will (i.e. it is an experience or situation that is forced on them). The word has strong negative “connotations.” We often speak of someone being subjected to humiliation, for example. (Compare with “subjugation” the complete control and exploitation of one person or a group of people by another person or group (often as a result of invasion and conquest).

Brutality is cruel and violent treatment of people (typically by those, such as police officers or bosses, who have complete power over them). The meaning (or at least the connotation) of this word is affected by the fact that it is cognate with the word “brute” which is synonymous with “animal.”

directed not against humans:
• the normal word order, of course, would be to place “not” before rather than after “directed.” Here, however, it is given a special position to emphasize the fact that the verb “direct” has “taxis” as well as “humans” as its object. (The whole sentence could be rewritten, more “normally,” and perfectly correctly, but less smoothly (i.e. less elegantly) as follows: “Surprisingly, the only real police brutality that took place during the Hamburg Kettle was not directed against humans but was directed against taxis.”)

a large fleet:
• The word “fleet” usually refers to a large group of ships, typically naval (i.e. military) ships under one commander (i.e. leader). It can also be used, however, to refer to a large, organized group of any sort of vehicle.

• The verb “transport” means “to carry, in a vehicle, a large amount of material or objects (i.e. goods)”. The word is also used, as here, as a noun.

• “Rush” means to move very quickly (and often too quickly) because you you don’t have enough time to do something or get somewhere at a normal speed.

a political storm:
• “storm” is used metaphorically to indicate a period of political life that had “storm-like” characteristics such as passionate disagreement and heated argument.

• famous, well-known, important

• To say that a politician had supported the police is to say that he or she had spoken or acted in a way that would help the police by getting people to believe (trying to persuade them) that the police had acted correctly (reasonably, fairly etc). (Compare with the explanation of “defend” above.)

no charges were ever laid:
• To lay charges against someone is to formally accuse them in court of having committed a crime. “To lay charges against [someone]” is a ditransitive prepositional verb with a “built-in” object. (Compare: “take care of [someone]” and “lose touch with [someone].”) There is also a standard ditransitive prepositional verb with a similar but more precise meaning: “To charge [someone] with [some crime].”

• “To debate” means to discuss something in a formal way, typically in a formal setting such as a legislature. (The word can be used as a noun or a verb; the adjective form is “debatable.”)

found to have acted illegally:
• This is the passive version of: “The court found the police to have acted illegally.” The structure of this sentence is [Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Object Complement]. The passive form is appropriate here because it is not necessary to mention the subject (i.e. the agent). “Find” as it is used here is a complex transitive verb; in other words, it can be used in clauses of the form [Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Object Complement] (see A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, 16.43, page 1195.) The meaning of the complex transitive version is quite different from the meaning of the much more common transitive version (as used for example, in “Harry found his watch.”) (The sentence in the text could be rewritten as: “The court decided that the police had acted illegally.”)

• To reprimand someone is to criticize them severely for something they have done — often in an official context as a form of punishment. (The words “scold” and “rebuke” have similar meanings.)

• To award someone is, generally speaking, to give them something in recognition of some good action, e.g. to award a soldier with a medal. The word is also often used, as here, when someone is awarded money by a court because of (i.e. in compensation for) some harm they have suffered. “Award” can also be used as a noun.

Compensation is benefit (usually money) a person receives in “consideration” of some injury or other harm (as “repayment” for it or to “make up” for it). “Worker’s compensation,” for example, is money a worker receives if he or she cannot work after being injured on the job.