April 11, 2018

The New York Times profiles the antifa actions of a local bookstore in Berlin


For many, last summer marked yet another turn in the recent, crooked path of the American government. When fascists marched in Charlottesville, antifa groups from all over the country met them on the streets, face to face. We know how it ended: with the death of anti-fascist Heather Heyer, and newfound attention to an established and historical form of socio-political protest.

The mainstream media zeroed in on “antifa”: who they were, what they represented. Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, became a de facto spokesperson for antifa activists —  because of both his academic research into their historical origin and his unabashed admiration for their tactics against rising fascism.

But one dynamic to which the mainstream media paid inadequate attention was the non-violence to which many anti-fascists adhere. Sally McGrance doesn’t use the term “antifa” in her recent New York Times profile of Berlin’s Tucholsky Bookstore, but she has a lot to say about how the owner helped mobilize a neighborhood to stop encroaching fascist sentiment.

Jörg Braunsdorf, Tucholsky’s owner, was appalled when a march by neo-Nazis passed by his shop in the fall of 2016.

According to McGrane, the next time a march was announced, Braunsdorf took action:

By last summer, when a third march through this neighborhood was announced, the group was ready: They had teamed up with “Berlin Against Nazis,” a city-funded organization that targets racism and anti-Semitism. A friend of Mr. Braunsdorf’s designed colorful posters and fliers and together they set up three protest stations along the marchers’ route. Between 200 and 300 neighbors showed up with soup spoons, banging on pots and pans, to protest the march.

Braunsdorf and his community exemplify anti-fascist work by quickly organizing in reaction to any rise in fascism. Literally drowning out the opposing side with music, shouting, any kind of noise, their message was very clear: your words do not hold ground here.

McGrane places the Tucholsky Bookstore and Braunsdorf’s grassroots activism within the larger framework of bookstore activism in Germany. In a country where it is law to sell books at a fixed rate, indie bookstores have flourished. McGrane also spoke to Johanna Hahn, director of the German Association of Booksellers in Berlin and Brandenburg, who elaborated on the interest bookstores have in contemporary German politics:

“In German bookstore circles, the topic of nationalism and fascism is particularly prominent now, Ms. Hahn added. This follows the rise of groups like the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West and Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which won 12.6 percent of the national vote in September, making it the first far-right party to sit in Parliament in 60 years.”

McGrane’s profile on this small bookstore in the historicallyJewish neighborhood in Berlin makes for a nourishing read, for both lovers of books and haters of fascism. McGrane should perhaps have gone a step forward and called the work what it is: antifa. While the media all too often portrays antifa as a chaotic movement defaulting to violence, the vast majority of antifa work is, in fact, peaceful. Keeping Nazis off the streets of your city through nonviolent organizing is antifa, too, and it’s about time for writers like McGrane to make this clear to the readers.

As for Braunsdorf and his comrades — right on, folks.



Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.