Two weeks before the Group of 20 summit was held in July last year, rail-signalling equipment was set on fire at 12 locations across Germany, including its capital, Berlin, and Hamburg, the summit’s host city. A group called Shut Down G20 claimed responsibility for the attacks, which it said were meant as an “assault on capitalism’s central nervous system.”
G20 summits have a history of civil resistance. At every summit, protesters gather in large numbers outside the meeting venues to draw attention to various causes—climate change, human rights, anti-war movements—or disrupt proceedings. Protesters are known to clash with the police and vandalise public infrastructure.
For the German police union, the nationwide wave of arson was not just a reaction to the summit—it represented “a new level of escalation in left-wing extremist terror.” Ralf Martin Meyer, the police chief of Hamburg, announced that nearly five thousand anarchists from Italy, Switzerland and Scandinavia were making their way to the city for “not just sit-in protests but massive assaults” during the summit. Over twenty thousand police personnel were assembled from across the country and equipped with riot gear. Water cannons and helicopters were put on standby. Hamburg’s mayor, Olaf Scholz, who is now the nation’s finance minister, called it the largest police operation in post-war Germany.