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Protest March in Bonn (October 12, 1981)

Between 250,000 and 300,000 demonstrators gathered in Bonn on October 10, 1981, to protest NATO 's Dual-Track Decision, thereby forming the largest rally in West German history to date. Despite the differing political platforms of the various groups participating in the rally, the demonstrators exhibited a surprising degree of solidarity and were determined to conduct a peaceful march.

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Bonn: Half Fortress, Half Festival
Observations on the March of 250,000 in the Hofgarten*

Some have already spent the night on Poppelsdorfer Allee. It’s cold and rainy. At 5:26am, the first chartered train arrives at the main train station. The residents of Bonn have parked their cars on side streets. The police are standing by: white helmets, pistols, but no rubber clubs. Three thousand civilian marshals. As the hours go by, the city is transformed into a combination of fortress and festival.

Five columns of marchers form and set off toward the Hofgarten. Only a quarter of the 250,000 protesters (or 300,000? Or even more?) find space there. The rest of them spread out all over. Bonn has 285,000 residents. You can see them – provided that they themselves are not outside on the streets – behind their curtains; some wave happily, others look doubtful and frightened. What will this day bring?

On the streets, the first information booths start springing up. Two young people are schlepping a two-meter-long, papier-mâché bomb on a moped. It reads, “This is the cross of our time.” The people from the Committee for Peace and Disarmament have painted skeletons on their white tunics. Mothers are carrying infants in their arms. Even some dogs, well-behaved on leashes, are wearing signs. For example: “I sh** on the neutron bomb.”

People are laughing a lot. Total strangers link arms. White flags and banners outnumber red ones. Even the DKP [German Communist Party] refrained from using its color [red] here and there: little white doves flutter on the background of its flag. The lettering is green.

Pre-march rallies are taking place all over. Helmut Gollwitzer’s** voice comes through the loudspeaker, loud and full of emotion: “Helmut, we’re coming. Helmut, we’re coming.”*** He makes reference to the Easter March movement. “Resist!” he calls out. You can hear words like “people’s struggle” and “revolt of the masses” being shouted out.

[ . . . ]

* A park in Bonn’s city center – trans.
** Lutheran theologian and pastor, and critic of the Vietnam war and the arms race – trans.
*** Gollwitzer’s forewarning is to Chancellor Helmut Schmidt – trans.

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