Mapping #NoG20, subproject: Firsthand Accounts

Start of project: February 2018

The Firsthand Accounts subproject comprises two independent processes:

1. Data collection for the Mapping #NoG20 project
2. Evaluation of historical holdings in the HIS Archives

1. Data Collection

The aim of the project is to collect written reports in which demonstrators, residents, journalists, rescue staff, and others give firsthand accounts of their impressions of the days of protest. A flyer provides potential contributors with information on the conceptual framework, research question, objectives of the Mapping #NoG20 project, and points to consider when writing the reports. Information on data privacy and a declaration of consent under data protection law can be downloaded from the website; participants should attach a signed declaration to their reports.

Persons interested in participating are asked to describe the events as accurately as possible with respect to space and time and to portray the movement of actors within this space. Who stood where, and when, and how did actors move during the course of events? City maps can be downloaded from the Mapping #NoG20 website to serve as a guide; people writing reports can sketch sequences of events and movements into these maps.

Moreover, the firsthand accounts offer an opportunity for people to describe their personal experiences during the days of protest. How did they perceive a situation, and what were their moods and expectations when they observed it or joined in? Did their subjective attitudes change in the course of the protest period? Reports on social encounters and the everyday dimensions of the protest activities (provision of food and medical services, accommodations, life “between the actions”) would also enhance our research and provide a fuller picture of this period that we can pass on to future generations.

The data collected in the context of the project will be evaluated—after being further anonymized as needed to prepare the Mapping #NoG20 project report—and stored in the Archives of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research., Anonymized data will also be made available for future research work.

2. Evaluation of historical holdings in the Archives of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research (HIS)

The source material collected within the scope of the Mapping #NoG20 project will constitute part of the special collection on protest movements held in the Archives of the HIS. This collection contains, among other sources, documents from the history of Germany’s APO [extra-parliamentary opposition] and student movements, Germany’s Red Army Faction, and the Socialist Lawyers’ Collective.

The collection also includes files from the 2 June 1967 Committee of Inquiry established by the AStA [students’ union] at the Free University of Berlin to investigate the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg during a demonstration held on 2 June 1967 in opposition to a state visit by the Shah of Iran. This was the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany that a non-state body attempted to examine and document a violent protest event. Activists in the student movement launched their own investigation because they did not believe that the police or public prosecutors would conduct an impartial and comprehensive inquiry. They collected the testimony of witnesses and documented injuries and arrests. By posting photos in public places, they attempted to identify police officers who, in the context of police operations, were observed and/or photographed while perpetrating violent attacks on demonstrators. The 2 June 1967 Committee of Inquiry saw itself as an act of collective resistance against state repression and public defamation of the student movement.

Similar committees of inquiry were formed in the years that followed when other violent confrontations took place between students and police, for example following the “Easter unrest” protests in 1968 that broke out after the attempt to assassinate Rudi Dutschke and after the Battle of Tegeler Weg on 4 November 1968. Emerging from the social sphere around these committees of inquiry, the Socialist Lawyers’ Collective (Klaus Eschen, Horst Mahler, Hans-Christian Ströble, and Ulrich K. Preuß) was founded on 1 May 1969. Its members defended activists in the student movement, relying in part on findings from the committees of inquiry and other sources.

Inspired by the 2 June 1967 Committee of Inquiry and frequently linked to local student unions or Republican Clubs, groups emerged in several cities that monitored trials against activists from a critical perspective or quite fundamentally called the judiciary into question. Nationwide they joined forces in a “judiciary campaign”. In part due to these activities, a general amnesty was granted to all activists convicted in these trials (law on impunity passed on 20 May 1970).

Within the few years between 1967 and 1970, the basic concepts and structures behind left-wing anti-repression work emerged which accompany every larger protest event up to the present. Aiming to reconstruct this constitutive phase of anti-repression work, the project will look at structures, actors, forms of organization and action, and processes of institutionalization in anti-repression work.

A second step will involve a diachronic comparison of various non-state committees of inquiry and documentation projects (such as the Reading the Riots study on civil unrest in London in 2011). The project will conduct research on the actors involved, their objectives, and their self-image, as well as explore institutionalization processes. This promises to shed light on the understanding of the (constitutional) state and democracy as manifested in such committees and projects, and on practices of civil society activism.

The diachronic comparison will cover the period up to the present day in order to situate source materials from the Mapping #NoG20 project within the general holdings of the HIS Archives and relate them to the historical context.