‘It’s really a good idea to live in houses and with furniture that are at least a hundred and twenty years old,’ Bertolt Brecht wrote to his publisher in 1953, after he and Helene Weigel had moved into their apartment on Chausseestraße, in the north-west corner of central East Berlin. ‘Let’s say, in early capitalist surroundings until later socialist surroundings are available.’
I became a Manchester City fan out of principle, or contrariness. Most of the other boys at my infant school were United fans. ‘City are rubbish,’ they said. ‘No one likes City.’ After a couple of years I managed to persuade my dad – a South African with no interest in English football – to take me to a match. It was 12 December 1994 and we lost 2-1 to Arsenal. I don’t remember much about the football. I noticed the parking signs on the lampposts with distinct rules for ‘First Team Match Days’. Men were shouting and singing in the street. Football meant that the normal rules and habits of behaviour didn’t apply.
On 11 March, the Department for Culture and Europe of the Berlin senate announced a pilot project for ‘the opening of cultural and economic events for a tested audience’. It was conceived in a more hopeful moment than the one we are in now. A few weeks ago my amateur football team’s WhatsApp group was buzzing at the prospect of being able to play full-contact football again from as early as 5 April, if the seven-day incidence remained below 100 cases per 100,000 people. It was about 60 at the beginning of March. It’s now approaching 150.
The common law doctrine of joint enterprise allows for the conviction of ‘secondary parties’ to a crime committed by another, ‘principal’ offender. It can afford the courts a proper degree of subtlety: the getaway driver can be answerable for the bank robbery, not just a parking ticket. It’s a blunter instrument when the collective nature of the offence is less clear. Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University recently published a report into the criminalisation of women convicted under joint enterprise.
I moved to the Afrikanisches Viertel, in Wedding, about a month after I arrived in Berlin. Most of the streets are named for places in Africa – Togostraße, Windhukerstraße – but Nachtigalplatz commemorates Gustav Nachtigal, Bismarck’s Reichskommissar for West Africa, and Lüderitzstraße is named for the founder of German South West Africa. Only one of these colonial names has been changed – sort of. In 1986, the city announced that Petersallee now referred to Hans Peters, a co-founder of the CDU and a member of the Kreisau Circle of wartime resisters. Small panels were attached to the street signs giving his name and dates. But the street was originally named for Carl Peters, an imperial high commissioner of northern Tanganyika in the 1890s and a notoriously brutal, violent racist, condemned even in his own time.
Eighteen people were killed when soldiers charged the meeting at Saint Peter’s Fields, Manchester, on 16 August 1819. Elizabeth Gaunt tried to hide in a hackney coach. She was grabbed by special constables who beat her with their truncheons. Covered with blood, she was dragged to a house nearby and flung before the magistrates. She spent a day and a half in jail without food, before being remanded on a charge of high treason. She was eventually released without charge after eleven days, during which time she had miscarried.
When I began working at the Freie Universität Berlin last September, I put up on the door of my office a photo of Bernhard Trautmann, captioned with Lev Yashin’s remark: ‘There have only been two world-class goalkeepers. One was Lev Yashin, the other was the German boy who played in Manchester, Trautmann.’
Rough sleeping is up 169 per cent across the country since 2010, along with every other form of homelessness. The rate in Manchester is more than twice the national average. Among major English cities, it’s higher only in London and Bristol. The numbers of homeless people referred to temporary accommodation in Manchester rose 319 per cent between 2010 and 2017. It’s bizarre in these circumstances for Greater Manchester Police to downplay the crisis of homelessness by claiming that the genuinely homeless receive help, and those visible on the street are not really in need. ‘There is plenty of help for those willing to accept it,’ they say.
On the second Sunday in January every year there is a march to the Friedrichsfelde Cemetery in Berlin to commemorate Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
The last time I was in South Africa, in 2015, I met with members of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), an organisation of informally housed people, based mainly in Durban and the surrounding KwaZulu-Natal region. The group’s name means ‘Shack Dwellers’. I was added to their mailing list. In the last few months the tone of AbM’s updates has become increasingly urgent, as the violence of the state’s response to the movement seems to have intensified.