Tree cropped

Hanan Adi

Germany

Impressionist.

A word is worth a thousand pictures.

Message to Readers

This prompt is perfectly timed. On the very morning it appeared on my dashboard, a giant student rally had been planned in Berlin. I am proud to be among the ten thousand who participated. I only wish I could honour the occasion with something more beautifully written than this, but this is all my short creativity can string together.
I have decided to keep most of the German phrases in their original wording, in order to preserve the authenticity of the event in my account. Translations are provided in the footnotes. Note that it is trending now in Berlin to speak English, so some of the phrases which I have written in English were originally so.
I can never forget this day. I am happy to be able to share it here with all of those who unfortunately were not able to be there. And even if the world does forget this one particular march, I hope the change it ushers, together with all our other efforts, will still be unforgettable.

We Are Fighting for Our Future

January 26, 2019

PROMPT: Strike

2
Friday, the 25th of January.
Here in Berlin, I am not going to school.
Today I have got something more important to do.
It is time to save the world.
 
6:06 A.M.
I drift out of nightmares of being locked up in my house and not being allowed outside. Or of wandering outside and freezing to death. Of snow choking the world in an inescapable white cage.
     I slip out of bed and wash up. Rinse my face, over and over, as if I could wash out those gruesome sights from my eyes, cleanse those grisly thoughts from my head.
     It’ll be okay, I tell myself. This is not the first time. You’ve done this. You can do this.
     Come on. Let’s be brave.
 
6:32 A.M.
Nerves always push me to the verge of vomiting.
 
6:41 A.M.
I finally manage to stomach breakfast. Fruit salad. Heavy breakfasts have never sat well with me. On a day like this, I am only grateful for that.
 
7:00 A.M.
Five hours left.
     I work on a story in the meantime. It eases my mind. It is a humourous story. I smile to myself. Distraction successful. If only I could think of a title for it, now…
 
7:56 A.M.
I have finished revising the short story. Time to return to work on that “School Manifesto” I mean to publish on Write the World. I like writing in the morning, when my mind is at its freshest.
     And now, tiptoeing on the brink of a great Event, my mind is on fire.
     I will work on this for an hour.
 
8:34 A.M.
I cannot push myself to work on the “School Manifesto” past this point. My heart is thumping again and the nausea is returning. I take a break from my laptop and sit in front of the window.
     The world is dusted with a fine snow that neither rises nor falls, but floats on the slightest whim of the wind. Does the city know, with what thunder its streets will tremble, in four hours’ time?
     The old stone building opposite ours looks majestically Victorian in its coat of icing-sugar.
     It is going to be Cold.
 
9:20 A.M.
I have finished working on the “School Manifesto” for today. My sister is home and I chat with her. Anything to take my mind off what is to come.
 
9:41 A.M.
Still can’t sit down. I wash the dishes.
 
10:18 A.M.
Dishes washed. I’m a little calmer now. It has also stopped snowing. I sit down at the dining-cum-work table, take out my large spiral-bound notebook, and begin jotting notes for my speech on Monday—I will be presenting before the class the issue of the lack of representation of youth in our democracies. What a fitting day to draft this.
 
10:26 A.M.
Again, I cannot work further. The Hour approaches and my wits are scattering like frightened rabbits. I pull on my ballet slippers and go through a routine.
     Have you ever realized how similar fighting is to dancing? In their very cores, karate and ballet are kin. There is the same focus, the same strength, the same balance, the same precision of movement. And the same fluid elegance that binds all movements together in one deadly or dazzling spectacle.
     Usually I find routines dull. But, today, the counting, deep breathing, concentration, and repetition, together are able restore the balance to my body and the sanity to my spirit.
 
11:38 A.M.
The German word for “sign,” as in a signpost, is Schild. The other meaning for Schild is “shield.” Today, many of us—who knows if dozens, hundreds, or thousands?—will be carrying a Schild. In defense of their future, and of humanity to come.
     My coat-of-arms is a pale-peach colour, and reads:
     MORGEN IST ES SCHON ZU SPÄT
 
12:00 P.M.
The Hour has come at last.
     I march out, in my white school shirt, immaculately ironed, collar trimly folded. Armoured in a giant winter coat, red scarf, uschanka, waterproof gloves. Armed with a shield, and my voice.
 
Just before 1:00 P.M.
The gathering in front of the Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie murmurs and fidgets, itching for action.
     Inside the Ministry, the Coal Commission is holding a meeting to settle a date for the dismantling of the nation’s coal plants and its transition to clean energy. We are here to make sure they make the right decision.
     Who are We?
     Mere students from all over Germany, who have collectively acknowledged that we are the last generation endowed with the power to halt climate change and save the earth, who have sworn to protest until the government accepts responsibility and takes the right steps to secure a viable future for us and for mankind to come.
     We march under the invisible banner, #FridaysForFuture.
     How many of us?
     Hundreds, wherever I glance.
     The crowd heaves at last and pushes forward. We march before the Ministry on Invalidenstraße, before turning onto Luisenstraße, tailed by police. I am somewhere at the back of the flood of students and can see it stretching ahead as far as the street goes.
 
1:07 P.M.
Something strikes me in this moment. In every other demonstration I have witnessed or participated in, great organizations have always been present. You would see the bright sunflower of the Green Party sailing on the wind; you would see emblazoned on backpacks the little black hands of the Friends of the Earth curled protectively over a piece of nature; you would see the Panda of the WWF and its Youth Division crawling on balloons and people’s shoulders and painted cheeks. Members would wear the banners of their organizations like capes, would paste their logos on their breasts like medals.
     But there is no sign of party or organization here. I see mass after mass of teenagers, carrying signs they made themselves, just like mine. Most of the signs do not have a proper handle to hold them up by; the students have brought bits of string and salvaged sticks from the ground for that purpose. A few of the signs have even been scribbled on scrap paper at the last minute, with half-numbed bare hands and a lipstick.
     The spontaneity of it all is beautiful as it is marvellous.
 
c. 1:15 P.M.
Our rally slices through Luisenstraße, flanked by various government buildings.
     We are not alone. Adults in the buildings above us have flung their windows wide open, in the freezing cold, to cheer us on.
     Further up, there is a row of three windows, with one grownup peering out of each and holding out a sheet. Together the three sheets read:
     IHR. SEID. SPITZE.
 
c. 1:20 P.M.
The striking students proceed down Luisenstraße onto the Marschallbrücke. A sudden laugh goes up through the crowd. When my row of students arrives at the scene, we discover the unmistakable black BMW that is the mark of a politician. The gentleman himself is in the driver’s seat, looking depressed and slightly sheepish to find his sleek machine rendered immobile in a flood of kids. Some of the little students tap at his window and wave to him.
     No, Sir, I will not forget this day, either.
 
c. 1:30 P.M.
Beyond the Marschallbrücke, Luisenstraße is called Wilhelmstraße. Along this street the government buildings are newer and their sides are made of glass.
     The chant goes up:
     “Wir sind hier, wir sind laut, weil ihr uns die Zukunft klaut!”
     The modern, shiny, black buildings—like the politicians’ BMWs—loom around us. Even in midday, the street is dark.
     But look closely, and you will not be fooled. The beaurocrats are not sitting down. They are not working. They have lined up in front of the windows, and are watching us.
     From this distance I cannot see their expressions. But it does not matter. They are watching. They are listening. That is what matters.
 
1:45 P.M.
After skirting around the Parliament Building, which has been fenced off in anticipation of this march, we stop at the Kanzleramt (Office of the Chancellor, the leader of Germany). It has been snowing lightly until now, but now the snow gets heavier. The frost slithers through our jackets.
     We picket here for some half-hour.
     Somebody cries out, “What do we want?”
     “Climate justice!” we shout in answer.
     “When do we want it?”
     “NOW.”
     “What do we want!
     “Climate justice!”
     “When do we want it?
     A laugh erupts through the throng surrounding him. For in the middle of his shout his voice had cracked!
     It is such a humanizing moment, when all of a sudden we remember, how young we are.
     And an inspiring one, when we are reminded that, despite our youth, we do not shy from this responsibility.
 
c. 1:50 P.M.
An estimation of our numbers is announced.
     Ten thousand students marching in Berlin alone.
     The crowd lifts up with a cheer. We hug each other. One girl cries and is taken in the arms by her boyfriend. Three boys start dancing for joy. Two young men clamber up into a skinny tree that shudders beneath their weight, keeping their balance with their legs alone as they hold up their signs as high as they possibly can before the towering Kanzleramt.
     What odd-looking birds! It seems a climate crisis does not only destroy species…
     I want to take pictures of everything, of all of us, of our shields and our numbers and our bravery. But my hands have lost all feeling. The picture lingers in my mind alone. But it is a more vivid picture than any camera could take anyway. No camera could ever capture the elated beating of my heart in that moment.
     And for half an hour we stand there and we freeze.
 
Some time after 2 P.M.
We are done picketing. The crowd heaves forward once more. Somebody tries to play an inspirational song, but his radio keeps getting cut off, and the result is most comical. But everyone knows the song, and it rings out through the crowd anyway. Gradually, life returns to our benumbed limbs, as our feet and our voices get moving again.
     We head up Konrad-Adenauer-Straße, over the bridge to Reinhardtstraße. The grownups by this time have been piling on the roofs of the buildings, filming us with their phones. Some of them are even equipped with massive cameras aimed at us.
     Back up Luisenstraße, a man with his sleeves rolled up leans out of an upper window with a kitchen pot in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, bashing out his support for us. We salute him and clap to his beat. Shortly afterwards we pass beneath the IHR. SEID. SPITZE. three, who are still leaning out there in the cold, smiling and giving us so many enthusiastic thumbs-up.
     Then a jolt passes through the crowd, and we are suddenly packed together, driven onto the sidewalk, forced against the buildings. A man in a yellow vest passes between the parted waters, waving his arms and calling, “Krankenwagen!”
 
A little later
We pass under Charité, where the doctors, who are usually to be seen wheeling patients around, have lined up against the glass walls to watch us. We pass by the nearby buildings under construction, on whose roofs the workmen have gathered, dropping their labour for the time being, to wave to us. And as we turn back onto Invalidenstraße, the Green Party files out of its offices to greet us.
     Whether I see them there or not, I feel somehow that the whole world is watching us in this moment. And soon, when the videos of this day are published, the whole world will be.
 
c. 3:00 P.M.
We stand once more before the Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie, where the meeting of the Coal Commission proceeds. Seized with impatience, many young people turn towards the the building to boo and wave their middle fingers.
     The girl next to me looks ready to collapse. She is shivering and can barely stand up. I am about to offer her a hug when our spokeswoman for the day asks us through the loudspeaker:
     “Ist Euch zu kalt?”
     “NEIN,” is our unanimous answer.
     Our spokeswoman then introduces a handful of guests who will be addressing us today. Our bodies fall still once more, but the speeches that ensue stir our hearts with messages of solidarity and confidence.
     And the chant thunders through the crowd: “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!”
 
3:51 P.M.
The farewell speech is made, wrapping up the day. The spokeswoman thanks those who organized the event, thanks those who provided the little stage and the loudspeakers, and thanks all those determined students who despite all odds made it a point to be here today. As soon as the loudspeaker turns off it is as though the ground has been swept from under our feet. With a single mind, yet imbued with the joy of ten thousand young hearts at once, we whoop and jump up and dance.
     And as soon as we can feel our feet again, we march home.
 
4:00 P.M.
The march home is completely unlike the march we have just taken. Our once tall, straight shoulders stoop with aches; our once proudly-brandished shields drag in the snow. We have put forth all our fire, and at last we are tired, cold, and hungry.
     Nobody speaks. Nobody has the strength. And we have said already, what had to be said, when it had to be said. There is nothing more to say.
     Until the time comes again, when the world begs our voices to speak once more.
     Evening has fallen. It is growing dark. The snow tickles our eyes and noses. Most of us have come here by train, but I live here in the city centre. My fellows stop at the Hauptbahnhof and separate towards the various platforms.
     I walk past the station, alone.
     The streets are hushed and empty. In the spaces of my mind that are not taken up by the desire to eat and to rest my aching feet, I wonder what will become of what we have done today. Has this been a victory, or only a step in the right direction?
     Maybe sometimes they are the same thing.
     But suddenly stripped of my companions, exposed in the open space, I am overtaken by sense of insignificance and vulnerability. My boots seem to leave a very small trail in the snow behind me, and the way before me, yet unmarked by print of man, stretches cold and lonesome into the distance ahead.
     With quiet determination, I put one foot in front of another, and bring myself step by step closer to shelter, to a meal, and to a warm bed.
     It is dark when I reach the house. My head is swimming with thoughts, no two of which fit together. My mouth can form no words.
     Tomorrow may be a day to reflect and to speak of what we have done. And to get up and fight again, if we must. All I need right now is a good rest.




 
. The title is inspired by one sign that a student carried throughout the march, which read: "Wir schwänzen nicht, wir KÄMPFEN!" ("We're not playing truant, we're FIGHTING!")
. #FridaysForFuture is an international campaign inspired by sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden, who since August 2018 has refused to go to school until the governments of Europe and around the world accept that our climate is in crisis and take the necessary actions to restore the earth to a sustainable temperature. In Greta’s words, “People tell me I should go to school and study—but why should I study for a future that soon shall be no more? Now is not a time for mere hope. Now is a time for action.” TEDxStockholm
. For more information on school strikes for the climate, look up “Fridays for Future” in your country. For schools strikes in Germany, the website is fridaysforfuture.de.
. Here is a map of Berlin if you want a better picture of the route we demonstrators took.
. All words ending in Straße are the names of streets.
. MORGEN IST ES SCHON ZU SPÄT. Tomorrow will be too late.
. Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi). National Ministry of Economy and Energy Technology.
. Charité Universitätsmedizin is Europe’s largest university-hospital, located in the heart of Berlin, straddling Luisentraße. Its campus to the west of the street is a cluster of centuries-old red brick buildings with iron gates and black roofs. The campus to the east towers with shiny buildings and modern architecture. There is an overhead bridge built of glass which connects the two halves of the campus and through which one can often see patients being wheeled to and fro, or doctors discussing something closely together. I have always loved this aesthetic and symbolic juxtaposition of the old and the new.
. Ihr seid spitze. You guys are the best.
. “Wir sind hier, wir sind laut…” “We are here and we are speaking out, because you are stealing our future.”
. Krankenwagen. Ambulance. We were near the hospital (Charité) at that point in the march.
. “Ist Euch zu kalt?” “NEIN.” “Is it too cold for you all? “NO.”
. Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Berlin Central Station. Incidentally also the largest multi-storey train station in Europe.

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