theatrum posse in Heiligendamm: Rebel Clown Army, Superheroes and the Five-Finger Game

Gini Müller

Translated by Gene Ray

In the way it was first mediated, the militant scenario that opened the theatrum posse in Heiligendamm in 2007 set into stone images of the enemy. However, over the week of actions, protest and resistance became more performatively subversive in the ways the posse put its own body into play. Even if the media coverage momentarily overshadowed the contents and other forms of protest, the “Five-Finger Posse Players” prevailed on the ground. With the successful blockade tactic, which didn’t conform at all to the media hype following the demo in Rostock, the posse put into play its own poses of resistance, in acts of symbolic border crossing that go beyond the war of media images.

In Heiligendamm there was no overlooking the spectrum of carnivalesque, queer, and theatrical practices of resistance. To a greater degree than before, these practices interfered with police rituals of confrontation, but also with the movement’s own rituals of struggle. In each of the three activist camps sited around Heiligendamm, up to 5000 people from diverse countries were gathered. Organized from below into “barrios” (neighborhoods) and assemblies of delegates and groups, they planned actions, did media work and formed brigades to clean up and help with the cooking, before pouring out together for demos and blockades. In the run-up, volunteers built the necessary infrastructure for a week of communal living, and donations financed the Peoples’ Kitchen and the Port-o-potties. Large assemblies mainly took place in circus tents, and volunteer “Rabbits” quickly took care of organizing, mediation, and other camp needs. The diversity of the alter-globalization movement and its concerns was fully visible in the camps: Attac activists pitched their tents here, next to those of autonomists, union members, leftist party members, anti-racist and anti-sexist groupings, and migrants – in addition to the “hedonists,”[1] who immediately on their arrival occupied a large area of a camp and provided cool sounds during and after the activism. In their manifestos, they called the attention of the theatrum posse to the right to combine politics and fun. Out of a barrio calling itself “Queers against G8”[2] came formations of “pink” activists, samba bands and clowns. There, as well as in the “Women, Lesbian, Transgender Barrio,” interventionist forms of performance were rehearsed. In the camps themselves an offensive was launched to discuss gender themes and come to grips with sexist behavior. In addition to the camps, various “Another World Is Possible” action groups organized themselves in schools and areas provided by the city of Rostock. NGOs like Greenpeace and Doctors Without Borders had installed themselves on boats in the harbor, where the concert and party-boat Stubnitz was also welcoming activists on board. Activists from Greenpeace attempted to breach the security zone with boats and a hot air balloon, resulting in a spectacular chase on sea and air. For their “Art Goes to Heiligendamm” project, some artists and activists made an installation at a site on the harbor; the so-called “Silver Pearl” accommodated lots of creative and political people who set up places for discussion, performative practices and media work,[3] but thereby produced an odd distance from the grassroots activists. Presentations and discussions by activists and artists alternated with performances and film screenings. On the Internet, one could follow the events and exchanges, or watch the locally-produced “”[4]. Media and also a few theatrical actions emerged there and linked up with other protest forms.

Especially during the blockade days, the revelry and temporary autonomous zones in the vicinity of the fence proved to be bases for concerted sallies into the prohibited zone and for symbolic blockades of all the roads leading into the Summit. On the day that the international politicians and all their entourages arrived, thousands of activists in groups and formations streamed out of the camps, all heading for the security fence from different directions. The posse players swarmed over fields and meadows, came together in front of the police blockades, then opened themselves into “five fingers” and overcame the police barriers. In this way, all the roads and the railway into Heiligendamm (called “Molli”) were temporarily blocked off and a symbolic victory scored in the game of borders. Sunny images of colorful people, some with umbrellas, in fields of poppy, in the background an attack by water-cannons and martial, anonymous robocops. The mass of protagonists joyfully subverted the power of the state through the power of performativity and images. Militant groups of “fun guerrillas” set the tone at the blockades and many of the demos. The hedonists, the Überflüssigen (the Unneeded Ones), the “naked bloc” and the Superheroes read out and distributed political manifestos during the demo march, contributed orgiastic music, or gave away superhero costumes. In the lead up to the action days, the Rebel Clown Army recruited up to 500 clowns who used all the tricks of the circus to make the police and activists crack up in laughter. Against the ban on masking, they brought their clown grimaces, with wigs, red noses, and lots of make-up. When ranks of police and warlike attack troops showed up with riot sticks and tear gas, a few clowns with water-pistols and confetti courageously ran up to the potential attackers and performed dilettantish skits or posed among them for nice press photos. They were much beloved by the activists and the media alike, for their carnivalesque excess not only ironically exposed state power, but in certain moments opened up spaces for experiencing different forms of action. In the long run, this didn’t please the police at all, because the easygoing border crossing and laughable militancy of the clowns in police areas subverted their closed “power bloc”: the message was put out that members of the Rebel Clown Army had sprayed cops with “an unknown chemical liquid.” Eight cops supposedly had to be treated in hospital. The accusation was subsequently taken up and disseminated widely in the media. Despite the absurdity and flimsiness of the message, the police never corrected or retracted it. Soap suds sprayed from colorful water-pistols: this was what the police rated so dangerous that many rebellious clowns were repeatedly arrested and attacked. Nevertheless, the Rebel Clown Army was not the loser in this scenario. In any case, its “jester position,” which was occupied above all by the Pink bloc in Genoa in 2001 and Prague in 2000, disrupted macho battle posturing and enacted a still offensive and normatively effective mode of confrontation inside the border zone. Still, the clowns were able to overcome only small symbolic borders and prohibitions. It’s true that the strategy of the carnival-makers in Heiligendamm did not dissolve the high-security fence. However, the encouraging images of militant clowns remain as a users’ guide for self-empowerment.