Silvester in Berlin: New Year Begins with Racist State Violence

We are told that Berlin’s New Year Celebrations were peaceful. But 390 arrests and police checkpoints are examples of racist state violence


Order Reigns in Berlin! As the sun came up on January 1, every bourgeois newspaper published some variation of this headline. Politicians declared victory against violent hordes of Ausländer*innen – the fire department said that it had been a »normal New Year’s«.

A normal New Year’s is not peaceful, though. At 7am, the Unfallkrankenhaus, an emergency hospital in Marzahn, reported that they had treated 27 people with serious injuries. Fingers had been severed, eyes destroyed, and entire hands ripped off.

This is the eternal strangeness of Silvester, German New Year’s Eve. 364 days a year, the state regulates our lives down to the smallest detail. On December 31, it lets us compensate for this paternalism by handing out kilotons of explosives.

In Texas, where I come from, you can walk into a store and buy an AR-15 with no questions asked. But the authorities won’t let you buy explosives, much less set them off in residential areas – that’s too dangerous!

One year ago, all of Germany was discussing the Silvester riots in Berlin’s migrant neighborhoods, particularly in Neukölln. There had supposedly been a »new dimension of violence«. Over the following week, however, the statistics had to be revised downwards. Now, Berlin police chief Barbara Slowik admitts that there had not been more attacks against police in 2022 than in the years before the pandemic: »There had been similar numbers of attacks in the past.«

But the right-wing discourse about »people refusing to integrate« took on a life of its own, propelling the nonchalant demagogue Kai Wegner into Berlin’s Red City Hall. This manufactured racist moral panic had served its purpose, and continues to reverberate. This year, Berlin’s police reported on fireworks-related crimes in Neukölln – and 7 of the 9 incidents they listed were in totally different neighborhoods.

The irony is that immigrants who set off fireworks are integrating perfectly into Germany’s bizarrely destructive Leitkultur.

When politicians condemn Gewalt (violence), they are only referring to very specific forms of violence. A headline might say that there was »less violence« but »more arrests« this year. 390 arrests means that 390 people were assaulted, with many thrown to the ground and injured by heavily armed, black-clad officers, many of whom hold barely concealed right-wing views.

There were 4.500 police on Berlin’s streets on New Year’s. Parts of Sonnenallee were blocked off with checkpoints, and residents were stopped and frisked before they could reach their homes. By some alchemy of bourgeois ideology, this orgy of violence somehow doesn’t count.

In 2023, Neukölln passed drastic budget cuts in schools and youth centers. Money is never lacking for police who terrorize non-German populations. The people of Neukölln are subject to all kinds of systematic violence – like when a poor family is forced out of their home with the help of the police because they can no longer afford the rent.

For bourgeois politicians, »order« is when their violence against poor people goes unchallenged – and »violence« is when poor people no longer tolerate their oppression in an orderly way.

Silvester in Berlin saw a ton of violence – but it was mostly violence by the cops. In this sense, yes, order did prevail in Berlin on New Year’s. But as Rosa Luxemburg liked to remind the ruling class, »your ›order‹ is built on sand!«

This is a mirror of Nathaniel’s Red Flag column which appears every fortnight