A ride through the G20 in Hamburg

I am sitting on the little balcony with my grandpa and all we talk about --  all everyone talks about --  is the G20 Summit, big and controversial gathering of the 20 biggest economic powers of the world. The city is preparing for the arrival of Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, America’s Trump, China’s Xi and more than 15 additional VIPs (Very important Politicians); and let me tell you: it is a quite a spectacle. It reminds me of the way Washington D.C. prepares for snow blizzards. Stores close, streets close, police is stationed everywhere, and all the media is talking about is the upcoming historic event.

And today, while almost everyone in Hamburg has stayed at home or left the city for the weekend, I decide to hop on my bike and explore the city in the craziness of the G20. It is 10:15 on July 5th 2017, two days before the official start of the summit. I am starting my tour in Barmbek, a quiet multicultural lower middle class suburb of Hamburg.

My first stop is the Alster, the river that flows through the center of the city. On my way there I notice that the streets are near empty. Not a single car has passed me since I started my ride. And then I see why: the police is blocking all the big streets, with not one, not two, but 5 cars! I ask the officer if I can pass. “Sure!” And so I enjoy the liberty of riding in the middle of an empty four lane street. As I get closer to the city center, it gets more and more desolate. Finally, I reach the Alster, the most visited spot in all of Hamburg, especially on a sunny day like this, but besides the numerous police officers in black, bulletproof vests, I am the only one there. Only a day before, on Wednesday evening, the riverbank was filled with protesters disguised as Zombies to symbolize the helplessness of humanity, but today it’s all quiet.

I keep riding along the river. I pass the famous Hotel Atlantic where Angela Merkel will stay, and continue towards the Four Seasons where the Saudi Flag and rows of black Mercedes anticipate the arrival of their important weekend guests. I ride through the city center to my next destination: the Schanze also referred to as  the “leftist alternative neighborhood,” where most protesters have set up camp, prepared to block and protest the conference as much as possible. Glancing left and right, I see poster plastered everywhere accompanied by flashing slogans. “We don’t want your wars”; “To hell with G20”; “We don’t Welcome Fascists”; and “Ferries instead of Frontiers” line the streets.

As the posters show, protesters are against the G20 Summit for various reasons. Some simply critique the vast amount of money spent on the event including security, others despise the policies of some of the politicians invited (including Erdogan’s human rights record and Trumps border wall), and others call for more participation of smaller and developing countries. Whatever it is, protests are peaceful and quite creative -- so far.

I make my way back to the Alster and pass the Convention Center on the way. This is where the big conferences will take place. Surprisingly, this is the least exciting stop on my ride through Hamburg. There is nothing to see except barricades, police, and big security trucks.


My trip is almost finished and I look forward to a relaxed ride home, but when I take a turn, I find the absent chaos. I am at a knot point, where the police has blocked an entire intersection. The frozen backlog reaches farther than I can see. People have gotten out of their cars and are yelling at officers. Journalists, store owners, and inhabitants also join. Fortunately, I am a privileged biker and can pass through the traffic. Finally home, I collapse on the sofa and check my phone. The notification on it reads “Donald Trump’s Air Force One has safely landed in Hamburg”. Now the show can start. Fortunately, I get to leave for Vienna in the morning to dodge the chaos.

by Pauline Fritz