What Happened to the German Occupy Movement?

Mask of Guy Fawkes on red
The Mask is a symbol of the occupy movement. artpartner-images-Photographer'sChoice@gettyimages.de

When a couple of Canadians called on people to occupy Wall Street in September 2011, just as Egyptian protesters had occupied the Tahir Square, many heeded that call. And something even more remarkable happened: The Occupy Movement caught on like a wildfire and quickly spread into 81 countries throughout the world. The impact of the world economic crisis of 2008-2011 was still felt heavily in many places, surging protests, demonstrations, and calls for a stronger regulation of the banking systems.

Germany was no exception. Protesters occupied the financial district of Frankfurt, home of the ECB Headquarter (European Central Bank). At the same time, the protesters’ actions moved to further cities, such as Berlin and Hamburg, constituting Occupy Germany -- a short-lived flame in the struggle for stronger banking laws.  

A New Priority - a New Beginning?

The global Occupy Movement had miraculously managed to make the critique of the international financial system the priority topic western media, crossing borders and cultures alike. An instrument that was used to achieve this level of awareness was the international action day -- October 15, 2011. The German Occupy chapter, groups in more than 20 different cities all over the country, focused their efforts on that day, as did their counterparts in other countries. It was supposed to be a new beginning for the world economy and in some ways, change was achieved.

Occupy Germany followed the example of the American movement, in that they explicitly did not choose a judicial form, but instead tried a basic democratic approach. The members of the movement mostly communicated via the Internet, making good use of social media. When October 15 came, Occupy Germany had organized demonstrations in more than 50 cities, though most of them were quite small. The largest assemblies took place in Berlin (with roughly 10.000 people), Frankfurt (5.000) and Hamburg (5.000).

Despite the enormous media hype all over the western world, only a total of 40.000 people demonstrated in Germany. While representatives claimed that Occupy made a successful move into Europe and Germany, critical voices stated that 40.000 protesters hardly represent the German population, let alone the “99%.”

A Closer Look: Occupy Frankfurt

The Frankfurt protests were by far the most intense within Germany. The country’s banking capital is home to Germany’s largest stock exchange as well as the ECB. The Frankfurt group was very well organized. In spite of the short preparation time, the planning was meticulous. The camp that was founded on October 15 had a field kitchen, its own web page, and even an Internet-Radio Station. Just as in the camp in New York’s Zuccotti-Park, Occupy Frankfurt strongly emphasized everyone’s right to communicate at its assemblies. The group wanted to be most including and thus enforced a high standard of consensus. It aimed not to be seen as extreme in any way or simply to be shrugged off as a youth movement. In order to be taken seriously, Occupy Frankfurt remained relatively calm and in no way acted radically. But it seems that this lack of radical protest behavior in itself was a reason that bankers didn’t exactly view the campers as a threat to the system.

The Frankfurt and Berlin groups seemed so self-involved, so caught up in their internal struggles to find a single voice, that their outreach was rather limited. Another problem of the Frankfurt Occupy camp could also be witnessed in New York. Some of the involved protesters displayed obvious anti-Semitic tendencies. It seems that the challenge of taking on a large and rather ominous (and hard to grasp) system, such as the financial sector, can spawn the desire to look for easily identifiable villains. In this case, a significant number of people chose to return to the ancient superstition of blaming the stereotypical Jewish banker or moneylender. 

The Occupy Frankfurt camp housed about 100 tents and roughly 45 regular protesters in the first few weeks of its existence. While the second organized weekly demonstration drew about 6.000 people, the numbers rapidly declined after that. A few weeks later the number of protesters was down to circa 1.500. The carnival in November created a second euphoria with larger demonstrations, but soon after, the numbers dwindled again.

The German Occupy movement slowly faded from public awareness. The longest remaining camp, in Hamburg, was dissolved in January 2014.