The Mirror Barricade // Die Spiegel Barrikade

Dortmund, Germany, 2016
Coordinated with the Schauspiel Dortmund Theater
and Schools without Racism – Schools with Courage

The Mirror Barricade (Die Spiegel Barrikade) is a social sculpture consisting of silver reflective inflatable cubes that can be assembled within seconds into a barricade. The playful tools were built by citizens of Dortmund, who positioned themselves against xenophobia and the so-called “Day of German Future”, a neo-Nazi rally on the 4th of June 2016. The barricade was designed to enable Dortmunders to literally held up a mirror to the extreme-right marchers and make space for reflecting on the kind of society we want to live in.


Pupils of the Bert-Brecht Gymnasium learn how to make inflatable barricades. Foto by Peter Bandermann.
Pupils of the Bert-Brecht Gymnasium learn how to make inflatable barricades. Foto by Peter Bandermann.

The School Workshops

Every cube was made by a citizen of Dortmund during a public workshop. The main focus was to work with students at 14 local schools that were part of the network Schools without Racism — Schools with Courage. During daylong skillshare workshops, students worked together in teams to construct inflatable cubes and also took part in discussions about xenophobia.

The whole day was designed to encourage team building. From the very beginning when a truck of supplies from the theatre would arrive, all of the students, teachers and artists from Tools for Action would unload the truck together. We would begin by setting up six custom tables in the school gymnasium or the aula assembly hall, transforming it into a convivial factory for building barricades of the 21st century. The goal was to create a supportive, open and fun environment where students could feel safe to talk about issues of racism and discrimination. By building the cubes together, students built friendships for supporting each other to be courageous and take action to stand up for multiculturalism and inclusion.

Pupils of the Bert-Brecht Gymnasium train with their self-made inflatable barricade. Foto Peter Bandermann

Pupils of the Bert-Brecht Gymnasium do an action training with their self-made inflatable barricade. Foto Peter Bandermann

As a preamble to the fabrication workshop, students would first engage in a discussion about racism and xenophobia, convened by the local organization Respekt Buro. The discussion exercises were designed to bring to the surface the influence of neo-Nazi ideology on traditional German values. It also created space for students to talk about the internationally interconnected neo-Nazi scene in Dortmund, which focuses much of its recruitment on students just out of high school.

After the discussion and presentation about inflatables by Tools for Action, the fabrication workshop began. The entire class would gather together to watch a step by step of demonstration of how to measure and cut the pattern for the inflatable cube. Then the students would form into teams, each locating themselves at one table and using custom-crafted tools to make their cube pattern. The rest of the day would be an ebb and flow of the group coming together to watch a demonstration for the next step, then returning to their team’s table to work together on that step.

One by one the teams would finish their cubes and inflate them. As the silver forms would fill with air, so too would the hall fill with excitement and laughter. Students would bounce the inflatables high into the air in celebratio

Dortmund 4th of June 2016 Inflatable barricade at the trade union demonstration. Foto by Edy Szekély.
Dortmund 4th of June 2016 Inflatable barricade at the trade union demonstration. Foto by Edy Szekély.

n and then assemble all the cubes together to learn a series of choreographies dubbed the Barricade Ballet. These choreographies doubled as an action training in ways these playful tools could be used to intervene in the neo-Nazi march. “Double spaghetti” and “Pumpkin” where among the favorite code words for intervening with these inflatable sculptures as an artistic form of direct action.

The international network Schools without Racism, Schools with Courage (Schule ohne Rassismus – Schule mit Courage) began in Germany in 1995 during a period of increasing racist and extreme right-wing violence. This was the motivation to create a network in which young people have the opportunity take a stand against daily discrimination in their living environment. In this framework students can ask, “What kind of society do I want to live in?” and actively contribute to building a society where respect and multiculturalism are at its core.


The Action

On June 4th, when more than 500 neo-Nazis gathered in Dortmund, counter-demonstrators connected the cubes together to form a barricade, to literally hold up a mirror to the extreme-right marchers. The Mirror Barricade also protected counter demonstrators by functioning as a shield against neo-Nazi violence and police repression.

The inflatable barricades were located at two gathering points in the city: a playful, family-friendly demonstration at Wilhelmsplatz (the square in the district Dorstfeld, what the self-proclaimed neo-Nazis call their “national liberated zone”) and the barricade at BlockaDO, the more radical demonstration that promoted civil disobedience for blockading the neo-Nazi march. The BlockaDO demonstration was kettled in immediately by police, who had formed a cordon around the neo-Nazi march. The cubes became cushions and a protection barrier between impassioned protesters and police forces. The police response was to cut the inflatable works into pieces. Here the question arises about how to deal with neo-Nazi marches and which values are defended in our society.

The Barricade of the 21st Century

Blown up within minutes from a formless piece of plastic, the inflatables are huge props for visibility. Stretching across roads and intersections, their glittering metallic surfaces and surreal weightless forms captivate the eyes of the public and media. They are more than just walls, though — when the cubes are thrown into the air, the street is transformed into a spontaneous playground. In the battle of the spectacle, the Mirror Barricade is a tactical tool for saying NO to xenophobia and racism, and YES to imagining what else might be possible.

The Mirror Barricade created an unpredictable, stunning, aesthetic image of togetherness in Dortmund — standing in solidarity against xenophobia and exclusion whilst in solidarity with refugees and inclusion.




Ende Gelände and Training for Trainers - how we spread the inflatable barricade tactic

Text by Katherine Ball with contributions from John Jordan. 

Ende Gelände is an annual mass action of civil disobedience calling for “here and no Further” for fossil fuel extraction. From 13-15 May 2016, 3,000 demonstrators gathered in the Lausitz region of Germany to blockade the Welzow Sud Lignite Coal Mine, owned by Vattenfall.

Inflatable barricades were set up to block roads leading to train tracks transporting coal supplies. Made of silver inflatable cubes, the barricades prevented police from accessing railways occupied by thousands of demonstrators.

From the rail lines and forests, demonstrators descended into the coal mine and climbed onto the digging machines — forcing the mine to shut down due to health and safety regulations restricting the machines from operating when unauthorized persons enter the mine.

For three days, demonstrators held the blockade of the mine and railways delivering coal to the nearby power plant, also owned by Vattenfall. By preventing coal from being delivered, one unit of the of the Schwarze Pumpe Power Plant had to be completely shut down and the other unit reduced its production by 2/3. Because of the lack of supplies, 1300 MW of the dirtiest power was prevented from entering the power grid.

600 demonstrators entered the power plant, attempting to shut it down completely due to health and safety regulations. Inside the plant, demonstrators were attacked by riot police and pepper sprayed. The demonstrators attempted to leave the plant, frantically jumping over fences, running along an exit road, and breaking through police lines. 130 people were kettled by the police, photographed for three hours, held until 4am in the cold and wind (the temperature dropped 4-6 degrees celsius at night), and finally arrested and brought to the local jail in Cottbus, Germany. Meanwhile, the coal railway and mine blockades continued. The cubes were played with inside the kettle, bringing fun and conviviality into a scenario intended to dehumanize. At one point, one cube escaped the kettle and the police refused to give it back. So demonstrators inflated another cube, chanting:  “We are inflatable, another cube is possible!” (a play on “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.” )

The Ende Gelände actions were part of a larger call to put an end to burning lignite coal in Germany. Lignite is the dirtiest form of coal. It emits far more CO2 than other fossil fuels. Lignite is the main reason why German CO2 emissions have started rising. In Germany, lignite burning is higher today than at any time since the 1990s. No other nation burns so much.

EG2-lrPhoto credit: / Paul Levis Wagner
EG2b-lrPhoto credit: Fabien Melber
EG3-lrPhoto credit: Kevin Buckland
EG4-lrPhoto credit: Tools for Action / Katherine Ball
EG5-lrPhoto credit: Tools for Action / Katherine Ball
EG7-lrPhoto credit: Tools for Action / Katherine Ball
EG8-lrPhoto credit: Reuben Neugebauer

Vattenfall, one of the big energy corporations in Germany, wants to sell the Welzow Sud Coal Mine and Schwartz Pump Power Plant, instead of shutting them down. A new investor on the other hand would reinvest large sums into lignite mining in the area. In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, this coal has to remain in the ground. One of the largest lignite mines in Germany, the Welzow Sud Lignite Coal Mine is where the climate is being negotiated — and where demonstrators are holding the line for climate justice.

In preparation of the Ende Gelände action,  a “training for trainers” occurred in March 2016, organized by, the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination and Tools for Action. Representatives of climate activist groups from all over Europe learned how to organise for the action and make inflatable cubes. Every group representative then took home 2-3 rolls of silver insulation foil, tape, a fan and a battery — enough to make 11 to 16 cubes. Fifteen trainers went back to their respective countries (including Netherlands, UK, France, Denmark, and Sweden) to teach people to make inflatables. 60 cubes were made during these workshops and then brought to Germany.

At Ende Gelände all these inflatables came together for the first time. During the camp, a HQube was set up where people came to find out more about the cubes. 200 people were trained in a rolling programme of role playing trainings in the fields behind the camp in preparation for the actions

The inflatable barricade tactic creates a new visual language for direct action, where play, fun and beauty are pivotal. The technique was first developed by Tools for Action in Paris during the UN Climate Summit. The video below gives an impression of the training for trainers.

More information and instruction manuals here: