Police had to be called to an outdoor market in the multi-cultural Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin on Monday to put down an unusual protest against Berlin's bid to host the 2024 Olympics – and promotional donuts.
Thomas Heilmann, the Berlin senator for justice and consumer protection and a Christian Democrat, was distributing donuts decorated with the games' symbolic interlocking rings as part of a campaign to bring the event to Berlin.
The promotion was interrupted by about a dozen left-wing activists and people who opposed the Olympics. The demonstrators said they were angry not only about the Olympic bid, but also about the origin of the decorated donuts.
Thirty police officers were called to the market to keep the peace.
The box of baked goods was prepared by inmates in the bakery of Berlin’s Tegel prison, a product of “forced labor,” shouted the activists.
“I find it macabre and disgusting that these donuts are being produced by prison inmates to be given away at this PR promotion,” said 27-year-old Beate Müller of Kreuzberg.
Mr. Heilmann vehemently denied that forced labor was used.
Berlin has no money for schools, but an absurd amount of money is being spent on this promotional campaign. Protester, Who opposes the Olympic bid
Claudia Engfeld, a spokesperson for the city's jail system, said inmates were paid between €8 ($9) and €15 per hour for baking and preparing the donuts.
The bakery in the prison in central Berlin is also a training facility, Ms. Engfeld said, and the work is one way to rehabilitate prisoners.
Mr. Heilmann, defending the city's Olympic bid, said he did not understand why prisoners should be paid above-average wages. He noted that the penal system, including training facilities, had already been fully financed by taxpayers.
But the demonstrators were not to be placated. Mr. Heilmann was preventing the formation of a trade union in prisons, asserted one Berlin resident, Martina Müller, and distributing donuts at the promotion was tantamount to exploitation.
Another demonstrator, who would only identify herself as Lotti from Kreuzberg, said she was a veteran of the street protests against Berlin’s unsuccessful 2000 Olympic bid in the 1990s, and claimed those demonstrations were instrumental at the time.
Back then, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Berlin to protest the city's Olympic bid. They founded a movement called NOlympic, which is still active today. Sydney, Australia, ultimately won the bid for the summer games that year.
“Berlin has no money for schools, but an absurd amount of money is being spent on this promotional campaign,” she said.
Mr. Heilmann attempted to explain that the Olympics stood for international understanding – but the discussion was unproductive thanks to interruptions. “The Olympic Games do not have to be an adventure costing billions,” he said.
Jumping on the Olympic bandwagon caused another company grief this week.
Air Berlin, Germany's second-largest airline based in Berlin, debuted stickers on its fleet saying: "We want the games. Berlin for the Olympics."
The airline was immediately reprimanded by the German Olympic Sports Committee, which owns the slogan and said it had used the word "Olympics" without consulting the committee. "The word is trademarked and may not be used without consent, or "to improve a company's own image," the committee said.
The airline responded that it had not sold an extra ticket thanks to the stickers, and decided it may use "We want the games" but not the word "Olympics."
On March 21, the German Olympic Sports Association will decide which Germany city enters the international competition for the games.
Hamburg and Berlin are the two contenders.
This article first appeared in the Tagespiegel daily newspaper. To contact the author: [email protected]