The German Resistance Memorial Centre, Berlin

IMG_5538

The German Resistance Memorial Centre (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Most cities have moments in their history that remind us of the extent of humanity’s capacity for cruelty. Arguably, Berlin has witnessed more of it’s fair share of these moments. They are events that it would be easier and more comfortable to forget, but that is exactly why we must remember them. Memorials serve as physical reminders of our past, commemorating people and events that are triumphant and inspiring as well as dark and shameful. There are numerous memorials in Berlin that mark events that should never be allowed to be repeated. On a recent visit to the city, I visited many of these memorials, including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, the Topography of Terror, and the Berlin Wall Memorial. The memorial that most resonated with my research interests, however, is the German Resistance Memorial Centre, which commemorates all those who stood up to the Nazi regime in various ways. It is housed in the Bendler Block, which was used by the military during the Nazi regime and was the centre of an attempted military coup on 20th July 1944.

Like other large memorials in Berlin, there are two key elements to the German Resistance Memorial Centre. The commemorative courtyard is the site where several of the officers involved in the failed uprising were executed on 20th July 1944. There is a statue and two plaques. The second element is a memorial and education centre, on the first and second floors of the building. It is designed to inform people about the motives, aims, and forms of resistance against the Nazi state. The Bendler Block also houses the Silent Heroes Memorial Centre, which commemorates people who helped Jewish people facing persecution during Nazi rule.

IMG_5539

The commemorative courtyard in the Bendler Block. This statue, unveiled in 1953, was designed by Professor Richard Scheibe. The text was written by Professor Edwin Redslop, and translates as: “You did not bear the shame. You fought back. You gave the great, Forever tireless Sign of change, Sacrificing your glowing life For freedom, Justice, and honor.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The commemorative courtyard is a fairly typical memorial space, calm and reflective, with a sculptor inspired by what happened there. The memorial and education centre feels more like a museum, although it displays very few objects. Instead, it uses text, images, and copies of documents to tell the stories of hundreds of individuals who used a whole range of tactics to resist Nazi rule. The Nazi state used a thorough process of dehumanisation to rationalise and justify their systematic persecution and murder of minority groups. Berlin’s memorials are highly effective at ‘re-humanising’ what happened, highlighting the stories of individuals, and putting faces to tragedies which are often difficult to comprehend because of their sheer scale.

IMG_5573

One of the displays in the German Resistance Memorial Centre (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In Britain, if we hear anything at all about German people living under the National Socialist regime, its that they quietly accepted the cruelty and violence. They were all too scared to speak up, or were perhaps willing to accept the excesses of the Nazi government as long as the economy continued to prosper. The German Resistance Memorial Centre completely turns that narrative on its head. It tells the story of hundreds of people who resisted the Nazi regime for religious, political, or moral reasons, or even just because they wanted to listen to genres of music that the Nazis frowned upon (Swing Kids, for example, liked to listen to jazz music, which the Nazis classified as “cultural degeneracy”). Resistance ranged from listening to foreign radio stations and printing and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets to attempts to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the entire government. The Silent Heroes Memorial Centre tells the stories of Germans who hid Jews from Nazi soldiers, classified their Jewish employees as essential workers to prevent their deportation, and forged passports to enable Jewish people to escape Nazi-controlled territory. When even the most basic act of resistance carried the potential for severe punishment, or even death, I am amazed at how many people were willing to take action. I left the exhibition with more faith in the bravery and integrity of humanity than I had when I arrived, which is always a nice feeling.

IMG_5577

The Silent Heroes Memorial Centre (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The German Resistance Memorial Centre is not one of the best-known tourist attractions in Berlin. It is even not one of the city’s best known memorials. However, a visit there is not only educational and moving, but also unexpectedly uplifting. I highly recommend checking it out if you ever visit Berlin.

Turning the Tide: The 1968 Trawler Tragedy and the Wives’ Campaign for Safety

dav

A mural celebrating the achievements of the Headscarf Revolutionaries off Anlaby Road in central Hull (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

As part of the University of Hull’s series of events to mark International Women’s Day in 2019, there was a special performance of Turning the Tide: The 1968 Trawler Tragedy and the Wives’ Campaign for Safety, a multimedia production about some of Hull’s most inspirational women. Since moving to Hull at the end of 2018 I have seen, heard, and read, quite a lot about the Triple Trawler Tragedy and the women who fought for better safety conditions on the trawlers (frequently known as the Headscarf Revolutionaries). It is a story I will never get tired of hearing, and Turning the Tide was a fantastic way of telling it.

Using a combination of storytelling, recorded interviews, film, images, and folk songs, Turning the Tide paints an evocative picture of the close-knit Hessle Road fishing community in the late 1960s, the dangerous conditions in which the fishermen worked, the restrictive gender roles forced upon women, the loss of the three trawlers, and the women’s campaign to improve safety standards and prevent further tragedy. Turning the Tide, devised and directed by Rupert Creed, is the result of the efforts of several groups, including the Hull Truck Theatre and the Centre for Contemporary Storytelling. The storytellers were Joan Venus-Evans, Mike Emberton and Rupert Creed, with songs performed by Hissyfit (a.k.a. Linda Kelly and Hazel Richings). I think that performances such as this are an excellent way of communicating history, they strike an excellent balance of entertaining and informative (I reviewed a similar performance by folk band the Young’uns recently, which you can see here). The performance was followed by a panel discussion featuring Jean Shakesby (a Hessle Roader who lost her father at sea, and who took part in the safety campaign), Lorna Denness (daughter of campaigner Mary Denness), Natalie Taylor (campaigner and member of the Strong Women of Hessle Road group) and Emma Hardy MP.

ttt7

The Turning the Tide panel. Left to right: Jean Shakesby, Lorna Denness, Emma Hardy MP, Natalie Taylor and Rupert Creed (Photo: Jason Addison).

The performance and the panel discussion really brought to life several key issues related to International Women’s Day for me. The first is the strikingly sharp gender roles that were an unquestioned feature of the Hessle Road fishing community before 1968. Women were involved in the industry, many of them worked cleaning and processing the fish, and they kept their families going whilst the men were away for three weeks at a time. However, women were completely segregated from the fishing itself, to the extent that it was considered bad luck for a woman to go down to the docks to wave a ship off. Many of the women involved in the safety campaign faced verbal abuse, harassment, death threats, and even physical violence for daring to interfere in the men’s business.

Turning the Tide also highlighted the opportunity that protest campaigns and similar events can be for women to dramatically alter their life path. The women who took part in the safety campaign were not hardened activists, they were housewives and working mothers, many of whom had never spoken in public before. Through the campaign, they developed new skills, and learnt that their lives could be very different. After the campaign, Mary Denness got divorced and became a school nurse, going on to become a matron at Eton College. Christine Jensen [neé Gay and formerly Smallbone] continued to campaign, serving on the committee of the British Fishermen’s Association and founding a fishing heritage organisation called Stand. She was awarded an MBE in 2000. There are multiple examples like this in recent history, where women rejected a situation which they could no longer accept, and gained a new awareness of their potential in the process. Activism can empower women far beyond the initial protest or campaign they took part in.

mde

The performers of Turning the Tide take a bow (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Moments like International Women’s Day are an opportunity to use to past to reflect on the present. In many ways women’s rights have come a long way since the days of the Headscarf Revolutionaries. For centuries, women have been taking opportunities like the Trawler Safety Campaign to broaden their horizons, develop their skills and demonstrate their abilities. The rigid gender roles of the Hessle Road fishing community in the late 1960s are not nearly as common in the UK as they used to be. But in other ways, there is still a long way to go. Wonderful stories like the the Trawler Safety Campaign have the power to make you feel inspired and confident about the struggles that are still to be won. Events like Turning the Tide celebrate these stories and ensure they don’t get forgotten.

London’s Protest Stickers: Anti-Police 2

sdr

The Metropolitan Police have an uneasy relationship with Londoners, going right back to its foundation in 1829 (Photo: Hannah Awcock, South Bank, 09/10/16).

The relationship between a city and its police force is not often an easy one. London’s Metropolitan Police is the oldest civilian force in the world, and people have been opposed to it since before its foundation in 1829. The Metropolitan Police has been involved in a number of controversies in recent decades, particularly in relation to their treatment of ethnic minorities. In 1999, the Macpherson Report found that the Met was institutionally racist following incidents such as the poor handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. More recently, they have been under scrutiny for the manipulative and unethical behaviour of undercover officers investigating protest movements, some of whom started relationships and even had children with the women they were investigating.

I have written about anti-police protest stickers before, but London’s landscape of protest stickers continues to evolve, and new stickers continue to appear.

As ever, you can see where I found all these stickers on the Turbulent London Map.

dav

ACAB is a anti-police acronym that is used all over the world. It stands for All Cops Are Bastards. It is possible that this is just an innocent sticker with a picture of a taxi, but I highly doubt it (Photo: Hannah Awcock, King’s Cross Station, 27/02/16).

11-12-18 malet street5

This sticker also uses the ACAB acronym. The #CopsoffCampus hashtag refers to the tendency of universities to call in the police to deal with student protests on campus and in university buildings. Some student activists argue that universities should be police-free spaces. I found this sticker on Malet street, which is lined with buildings belonging to the University of London. There is a high concentration of students in the area, so this reference to student politics here is unsurprising (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 11/12/18).

dav

I took this photo outside Southwark Police Station on Borough High Street. Spaces of authority such as police stations often become spaces of resistance because of their association with power. These protest stickers are a small example of that process (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Borough High Street, 15/07/16).

dav

This sticker has faded, but most of the text is still visible. The faint image in the bottom right corner is a stereotypical police helmet in a red circle with a diagonal line through it (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 03/05/16).

dav

This sticker, and the one below, was produced by Netpol, the Network for Police Monitoring. Netpol monitors public order, protest, and street policing and challenges policing that is excessive of discriminatory. Police Liason Officers (PLOs) have become a common sight at protests over the last 5-10 years. They are approachable and chatty, and ostensibly concerned with the welfare of protesters. Another goal of theirs is intelligence gathering, and their friendly manner is meant to encourage protesters to tell them things that they wouldn’t tell ordinary police officers. This sticker is informing people about this covert goal, and encouraging them not to engage with PLOs (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Tottenham Court Road, 10/01/17).

dav

This sticker is also designed to inform people, this time about their rights when stopped and searched or kettled in a protest. You do not have to give any personal information in these circumstances, but most people don’t know this (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 24/01/17).

dav

Netpol is also involved in the Together Against Prevent campaign, which calls for the end of the Prevent programme. Launched in 2006, Prevent is designed to stop people becoming terrorists, but its critics have accused it of being ineffective at best, and stigmatising and divisive at worst (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Guildford Street, 10/01/17).

dav

A few years ago, a series of protest stickers and advertising posters for bus stops were produced that mimicked the Metropolitan Police’s own style of publicity materials. At first glace, they looked like adverts for the Met, but if you take a second look, their critical stance becomes clear. This sticker is criticising the amount of money spent by the Metropolitan Police on advertising in 2013. Not only that, but it is arguing that the police force is spending that money covering up some of its most systematic problems (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Elephant and Castle, 13/04/15).

dav

Operation Tiberius was an internal investigation into police corruption commissioned by the Metropolitan Police in 2001. Its results were leaked to The Independent in 2014. 42 then serving officers and 19 former officers were investigated for alleged corruption, but the small number of convictions has led some to say that the issue has not been properly dealt with (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 09/02/15).

racist met stickers

I didn’t manage to find a complete version of this sticker, but it is referring to the fact that black people are much more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. In 2017/8, black people were 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, an increase from 4 times more likely in 2014/15 (Photos: Hannah Awcock, Elephant and Castle, 15/07/16).

Book Review: Radical London in the 1950s

Radical London in the 1950s

Radical London in the 1950s by David Mathieson.

David Mathieson. Radical London in the 1950s. The Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley, 2016. RRP £14.99 paperback.

I have been studying the history of protest in London for more than five years now, so it’s relatively unusual for me to come across a book on this subject that I haven’t seen before. So when I found Radical London in the 1950s, I was pretty excited. The book tells the story of a decade of radicalism in St. Pancras and Holborn, now within the London borough of Camden.

The subject of Radical London in the 1950s is a little more specific than the title lets on. It actually deals with a decade of radicalism in Holborn and St. Pancras to the north-west of central London that culminated with the St. Pancras rent strikes and riots in 1960. In 1956 the St. Pancras Council swung dramatically to the left when John Lawrence, socialist and former member of the Communist Party, was elected as council leader. He ushered in an era of radicalism which saw the launch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in February 1958, the red flag flying over St. Pancras Town Hall to celebrate May Day in 1958, and civil defence and social housing policies that defied the Conservative national government.

The key issue addressed in the book is housing. After World War Two, there was a desperate shortage of affordable, decent housing in London. For a time, the post-war Labour government invested heavily in building affordable homes. However, in 1951 the Conservatives took power and house-building was left to the market. As the value of land in London rose, many developers chose to build office blocks rather than the homes Londoners so desperately needed. Rents for those who had homes also increased. St. Pancras council resisted these trends for several years, attempting both to build affordable housing and keep the rents of council tenants low. This was an unsustainable position without the support of national government, however, and the council was eventually forced to back down. This led to a rent strike that lasted almost a year, and two days of rioting when two striking tenants were evicted from their council homes in September 1960.

The most striking thing about Radical London in the 1950s is the obvious similarities that can be drawn with modern London, and the current state of the Labour Party. The housing crisis that is ongoing across the UK is felt most acutely in London, where rents are astronomical, and luxury housing is being as an investment rather than to provide much-needed homes. The other issue which Mathieson discusses that feels remarkably familiar is divisions and conflicts within the Labour Party. The St. Pancras Labour council was rebellious, and often diverged from the policies of the main party. There were also divisions within the local Labour Party, leading to further conflict. It is hard not to be reminded of the current divisions between pro- and anti-Corbyn factions. In both cases, significant energy has been wasted fighting each other, when it would have been better spent fighting the opposition. I find it incredibly frustrating that obvious lessons from this episode were not learnt, or were quickly forgotten.

Radical London in the 1950s is easy to read, and well-paced. It includes a timeline of key events, and a list of the key individuals with brief biographies, which is very helpful. It also sheds light on the interaction between local and national government, which is an interesting topic that I haven’t read much about before. I do have some criticisms however, although they are quite minor. I would have appreciated a map of the area in question. St. Pancras and Holborn are now within the modern-day London Borough of Camden, so I would have appreciated some help identifying the precise area that the book relates too. Also, there are multiple typos, much more than you would normally expect to find in a published book. If David Mathieson were a student, I would advise him to proofread his work out loud, as this is a helpful way of identifying typos that have previously been overlooked.

I always welcome a book about protest history in London that I haven’t read before, and Radical London in the 1950s is an interesting read. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in London, politics, or housing.