Guest Post: The 99% of Cologne

This piece originally appeared on the Occupy Writers website.

October 15 started out as any Saturday does in Germany: marketing for the weekend since all shops are closed on Sunday. Noon, sunny, a crisp fall day. The wind dragging leaves across the street in crackling whooshes. All was quiet in our Sudstadt neighborhood. Until we turned a corner and the street was packed. “Solidaritat mit 99%” posters were pasted on billboards and lampposts, sheaths flying through the air.

My husband and I turned to each other, eyes wide. “Go home and get the camera!” He ran off to recycle glass and plastic, I hurried back home hoping the protest wouldn’t be finished by the time I returned.

Not by a long shot.

Our neighborhood of Chlodwigplatz, Cologne was the site of the German 99% Percent sit-in. Protestors and supporters lined the street. V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks gave the crowd a surreal feel. German soldiers, with their guns and batons stowed, lined the front of banks with their arms crossed over their green uniforms. I had a flash of what the streets must have looked like during a particular era in this country’s history.

People lined the sidewalks, singing German songs, drinking beer (it’s legal to drink in European streets) or coffee, pushing their children on strollers, carrying signs ranging from support of total anarchy to more tempered messages of “Why are the banks running our lives?” and “No more Euro!”

My husband and I have been following the Occupy Wall Street movement since the beginning. If we were in America, we would totally be there.

I left the United States for Europe in 2002 for mental health reasons: I am the survivor of a gun crime that took the life of a dear friend. The gun that killed Wendy was never found, but the couple on their robbery spree had plenty of spares in the back seat of their car along with my wallet. The system that allows guns to permeate American society is the same one with so much invested in the Military Industrial Complex. It is the same system that would rather train soldiers than educate children in the arts. It is the same system that funnels blood money into the pockets of the 1%. American doctors would do nothing but try to medicate me. I tried to kill myself with the medication I begged them not to force down my throat. “We can’t help you without these [insert name of meds here],” they said. After my psychiatric hold I received a bill for $10,000+ dollars for the ambulance and fire truck that took me to the hospital. What kind of society charges a person for a ride in an ambulance? What kinds of kick-backs were those therapists getting from the drug companies? Why are they hell-bent on treating only the symptoms and not the root of the problem? European doctors managed to treat my post traumatic stress disorder without a single pill. I was very lucky that my mother worked in Europe at that time. I’d be dead otherwise.

I am the 99%.

My husband left America for Europe because of economics. After taking a teaching English as a foreign language course he was offered a position running a program, then heading up a school. He then opened his own school and has been in education administration ever since. If he had stayed in America he would be a career bartender. He’d be dozens of thousands of dollars in debt and he’d have no health insurance. He got lucky when a friend offered him a job abroad.

He is the 99%.

Our German is still limited after only two months living here, but we understood that the protest we were amidst was against the Euro currency. Germany has the strongest economy in Europe and has been carrying other struggling nations such as Italy, Greece, Spain and Ireland. The Euro has made life more expensive for the middle class and as the 99% movement spreads, so does the German people’s desire to opt out of the currency.

Once our visas are processed, my husband and I will pay 45% taxes on our earnings. We are guest workers and we abide by local laws, we are more than happy to pay for the right to live here. However, why should we pay 45% tax that goes to the failing economies of countries whose governments lied about actual figures so as to join not only the European Community but also the European currency? Those politicians have gotten rich from inclusion into the EU, but their citizens suffer. An example: Silvio Berlusconi. Why are we in Germany paying for his lavish lifestyle and putting our tax money into the rife corruption that has caused the economic crash in Italy? Why are we helping him hire underage prostitutes while he literally allows garbage to line the streets of major Italian cities?

My husband and I stood in Chlodwigplatz, Cologne and discussed. I wished our German was better — who knows what stories would have come from the people around us. I couldn’t tell them all that was going through my mind, so I’ve told you.

Regardless of the language barrier all of us packed into the square, those occupying Wall Street and all the other sit-ins across the globe are united.

We are the 99%.