Berlin's first big peace rally in years

BERLIN, Germany - Berlin's march for peace was a joyous moment in tragic times. The peace movement, languishing for years, enlisted all its energy and was rewarded by a turnout of over 50,000 people in Berlin and 25,000 in Stuttgart, plus smaller gatherings in Nuremberg and other cities.

The Berlin meeting started off at three assembling sites, the Friedrichstrasse station, famous Brandenburg Gate and the fanciful Neptune Fountain near City Hall.

From the latter, especially, an endless stream of people moved through downtown East Berlin to the magnificent Gendarme Platz, where one of the other groups had already arrived.

The square, one of the most handsome in Europe, was so full that the third group was hardly able to squeeze in between the two baroque, towered cathedrals and the imposing central Schauspielhaus, now a concert hall, with a broad stairway and many columns.

The huge crowd was an extremely mixed one, a wide array of all age levels, with young people somewhat in the majority, a welcome sign after years of mostly aging activists. There were not a few Turkish, Kurdish and Afghani participants.

Nearly all signs, in varied ways, condemned the war in Afghanistan. Some were careful to condemn terrorism of every kind, others called for opposition to imperialism.

Perhaps most dramatic was the speech by an Afghan woman who described what was happening to her friends and relatives, and one by the aging but still vigorous Kathe Reichel, one of Bertolt Brecht's favorite actresses, who quoted the master in warning the world: 'Carthage conducted three wars. It was still mighty after the first one, still livable after the second one, but could no longer be found after the third one!'

Many signs condemned the German coalition government of Social Democrats under Gerhard Schroeder and the once-pacifist Greens under Josef Fischer for blindly supporting George Bush's war - and arming for more military incursions around the globe.

Suddenly the audience spotted a big banner, high up on one of the two domed cathedral buildings, calling for an end to the war and a breakaway from America - in the name of the NPD, the neo-Nazi party which has tried to cash in on anti-war feelings in recent weeks - while coupling such demands with its 'Hate foreigners, Jobs for Germans' slogans with which it seeks support among unemployed and embittered people, especially in the economically devastated East German areas.

The reaction was immediate. The giant crowd took up the shout: 'Nazis Raus! Nazis Raus!' and kept up the cadence until the emcee on the central stage interrupted a speech to announce that the police had agreed to keep the Nazis away. Only then did about 10 men in uniform run into the building.

The crowd waited for them to appear up above - waited and waited, again and again taking up the cadence. After another 10 minutes someone - a civilian - finally appeared up above. He found his way to the banner, tore it up and threw the pieces off the building to a great cheer of approval.

Only after five or 10 minutes more did the men in uniform finally arrive, on the wrong level, and looked in bewilderment for the banner, to the derisive laughter of the thousands in the square.

This was not only an anti-war crowd but a militantly anti-fascist one and for the first time in years, a huge crowd, which cheered when told that 25,000 in Stuttgart and 100,000 in London - and many groups across the United States - were demanding an end to the bombing.

One speaker moved the audience with a quotation from Bertha von Suttner, inspirer of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of its first recipients: 'Only a fool would try to remove an ink spot with more ink, or an oil spot with oil; how can anyone believe that blood stains can be removed by shedding more blood?'