The Last Generation’s Climate Rebellion


Jeffrey Arlo Brown is a freelance writer based in Berlin.

All photography by Ben Arnold

At 8:12 a.m. on January 20, a dark-haired, 19-year-old German student named Hannah Wolf, stepped into the crosswalk of a busy intersection and superglued her left hand to the street.

Just minutes earlier, Wolf, a new member of the German climate activist organization, Aufstand der Letzten Generation or Rebellion of the Last Generation, looked like any other teenager waiting at the bus stop in Dresden. She was wearing a black fleece over three layers, a black beanie, and green cargo pants over thermal leggings amid the wind and flurries of snow. Her stomach was empty. She had avoided drinking anything, so she wouldn’t have to pee. “I have butterflies in my stomach,” she texted me earlier that morning. 

When the pedestrian light turned green, Wolf and 10 fellow activists walked into the street, donned neon-orange vests, and unfurled a banner referencing Article 20a of the German Bill of Rights, which guarantees conservation for future generations. They squirted superglue onto their hands from tiny plastic tubes — and then sat down.

The time and location of the demonstration was supposed to be a secret. But local media had published the details, and Dresden police were ready. Almost immediately, officers began redirecting traffic around the blocked Zellescher Weg. For Wolf and her fellow protesters, the police presence was not exactly unwelcome. Almost all the activists that day, including her, were first-timers.

“We just thought, if the police is already there, it protects us from drivers who might get out of their cars,” she said, “get really angry, kick us, drag us, tear away our banners.”

Across the street, members of the climate movement Fridays for Future, founded by Greta Thunberg, were holding a small vigil for a nearby forest. Music with earnest German lyrics played from their speakers.

At 8:37 a.m., the police told the Last Generation protestors to clear the street. They refused. “You’re idiots,” a passing pedestrian said, “there are people who have to get to work.” Others, including a student heading to a class Wolf was currently skipping, expressed support. An empty tube of superglue lay on the street next to Wolf’s hand. She had covered her fingertips with the substance, but it had oozed between her fingers instead, and she didn’t have enough left for her whole palm. After 10 minutes, she wasn’t really stuck to the ground anymore, so she just pretended to be.

At 9:11 a.m., police brought out a plastic vat of olive oil and used a syringe to squirt the oil under Wolf’s hand to loosen the already-dissipated glue. “The oil was pretty warm, it was pleasant,” she said. 

Fifteen minutes later, the police carried Wolf off the street, her legs dangling limply. “You can walk, you know,” she said an officer told her. But by then her legs had fallen asleep. They read her the charges — dangerous interference in road traffic and coercion — collected her personal information and took mug shots. The police kept the two empty tubes of superglue Wolf had used as evidence of her alleged crimes but returned an unopened package of five more tubes, she said, under the condition that she only use them at home for “arts and crafts.”

Last Generation activists stop traffic by sitting in the road and gluing their hands to the asphalt.

Wolf was raised in a Bavarian town called Landshut, about 50 miles outside Munich. Her father, Alex Wolf, 45, is an electrical engineer. He raised Hannah to be politically aware. When she was around 12 years old, he took her to counterdemonstrations against Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident (Pegida), a right-wing, anti-Islam movement that began in Dresden. She began attending Fridays for Future’s climate activism events and joined the left-wing party Die Linke. After her first “street blockade,” the first person she excitedly texted was her father.

In the fall of 2022, Wolf moved to Dresden to study molecular biology and biotechnology at the city’s University of Technology. On a Sunday evening that November, Wolf and a friend hosted a game night. One of the guests was a lanky 19-year-old named Lars Ritter, already a veteran member of Last Generation. Ritter told Wolf about his experiences gluing himself to the street in Berlin for the group, and his time in a Munich jail.

“It was so inspiring for me, because I saw the contrast between, ‘Hey, they’re gluing themselves to the street, breaking the law, and going to jail,’” Wolf said, “and there was Lars, sitting there, so grounded and calm, and talking in such a thoughtful way.”

“Though Germany has a vaguely green reputation — maybe a result of its rigid enforcement of trash-separation rules — it still emits more pollutants than many of its European neighbors.”

Wolf had already been feeling dissatisfied with the lack of results achieved by other climate activist groups. On Sept. 20, 2019, 1.4 million Germans took part in a Fridays for Future demonstration across the country, which was replicated in cities across the globe. “And what changed?” Wolf said. “Nothing.”

Though Germany has a vaguely green reputation — maybe a result of its rigid enforcement of trash-separation rules — it still emits more pollutants than many of its European neighbors. In 2019, Germany was by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Europe. “Germany’s green energy shift is more fizzle than sizzle,” wrote Politico in 2020, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has only increased the country’s short-term reliance on coal.

In January 2023, the energy firm RWE demolished the northwestern village of Lützerath in order to expand a coal mine, despite a large march from a neighboring village to the edge of the pit. Both Wolf and Greta Thunberg attended —a photo of the Swedish activist being manhandled by German police went viral.  

Inspired by Ritter, Wolf joined a Last Generation Telegram group. Checking her phone during lectures, Wolf saw dramatic photos of Ritter glued to the street in Berlin, facing down large vehicles with nothing to protect him. “He’s so intense,” Wolf said. “I’m a huge fan.” Compared to those images, Wolf’s debut demonstration in Dresden felt inconsequential. “I was definitely a little disappointed,” she continued, “because I felt like, ‘Shit, it’s not like online.’” 

Wolf’s father, Alex, joined Last Generation shortly after her. But not everyone in her family was as supportive. The night before her first blockade, Wolf’s maternal grandmother sent her an article by a climate change denier. “I’m sick of manipulated adolescents telling me what I’m supposed to be ashamed of,” it read. 

Meanwhile, the world got warmer.

Massive Disturbance

Aufstand der Letzten Generation was founded Aug. 30, 2021, when a group of seven climate activists frustrated by the slow progress on reducing carbon emissions in Germany set up tents in Berlin’s seat of government, the Regierungsviertel, and began a hunger strike. Germany was set to elect a new chancellor after Angela Merkel’s 16-year term, and the goal of the hunger strike was to convince leading candidates to sit down with them for a public discussion about climate issues.

One young activist, Henning Jeschke, held out the longest: 27 days. On September 25, the day before the election, Jeschke and a compatriot, Lea Bonasera, refused water for seven hours. At 6 p.m., they received a call from Olaf Scholz, the frontrunner candidate from the center-left Social Democrat Party, who agreed to talk. Bonasera and Jeschke ended their hunger strike and Jeschke was brought to the ICU. On September 26, the Social Democrats received 25.7% of the vote, the highest share of any party, with Scholz as presumptive Chancellor. 

Weeks later, Scholz met with the two Last Generation activists in front of a small audience. The conversation was unproductive and awkward. Bonasera and Jeschke pressed the politician to acknowledge the apocalyptic gravity of the climate crisis. Scholz preferred to discuss pragmatic solutions that could increase wealth while reducing emissions. They struggled to find common ground.

“You’re looking for a response that says there is a fatalistic situation,” Scholz said, “in which we can’t make the world a better place, in which we can’t fix anything.”

“You don’t have to stick your head in the sand,” Jeschke countered.

Bonasera, Jeschke, and Scholz kept interrupting one another. By the end of the 45-minute conversation, all parties were visibly dissatisfied. “As the likely next Chancellor of this nation, it is up to you to make sure that our population has enough to eat,” Bonasera said, in a lamenting tone, “and if you can’t do so, if you don’t live up to your responsibility, then we see ourselves forced to create massive disturbances here in Germany. Peaceful, but massive.”     

On Jan. 24, 2022, Last Generation activists began blocking roads in Berlin. Christian Bläul, a 40-year-old father of two with a thick, greying ponytail, traveled from Dresden to the capital to participate. Bläul, who trained as a physicist before working as a backend computer developer, got into climate activism gradually. In 2007, he became a vegan for ethical reasons. Then he stopped heating his home. He signed petitions, wrote to his representatives, and began working with the climate protest groups, Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion.

“When the Last Generation was formed, its founders asked activists ‘whether you were willing to go to jail.’ And I said: ‘yes.’”
— Christian Bläul

Bläul had studied the scientific literature around global warming and felt he needed to do more. When the Last Generation was formed, its founders asked activists “whether you were willing to go to jail,” he said. “And I said: ‘yes.’ That was because so much had been attempted and so little had changed in climate politics.”

Bläul was joined in Berlin by a 71-year-old retired mechanical engineer and activist named Ernst Hörmann, who lives in Freising, near Munich, and who bears a striking resemblance to the American avant-garde composer John Cage. “As soon as I heard about Last Generation,” Hörmann said, “I didn’t need time to think, it was as clear as day that I would join, that I would give my all, no matter what happens to me.”

At first, Bläul, who has a calm manner verging on placidity, was comfortable blocking traffic, but unwilling to superglue his hand to the road. “I’ll sit there, that’s OK,” he thought to himself. “I’ll let myself be carried off, that’s OK. But not more.” But by Bläul’s second day demonstrating, he realized the impact of the gesture. “For me, the gluing is a very severe form of communication,” he said, adding, “It’s a statement: we’re not leaving, we’re staying here, it’s that important to us.”

Last Generation activists hold a sign reading “Last Generation before the tipping points” while sitting in the street and blocking traffic.

In late January, Berlin officers arrested Bläul and took him into preventative custody. He was held alone in a cell, without his phone or anything to read. He exercised, danced and sang in the cell’s resonant acoustic — mostly Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.” A month later, Hörmann spent his birthday in custody. He celebrated after he was released with other activists from Last Generation. 

As natural as Last Generation’s brand of activism felt to Bläul, he still felt a certain reserve about the effects of the blockades on others; the night before one, he often had trouble sleeping. “I know that I’m intervening in traffic and disturbing people’s days,” he said. “In that sense it’s a moral burden. I know I’m creating a tricky situation for people: I’m causing them a disturbance. But in my actions, I’m totally calm and determined.”

Last Generation’s first wave of protests in Berlin lasted five weeks. The organization recorded 69 blockades, 254 arrests, and over 100 cumulative hours in police custody. The tabloids dubbed them klimakleber — “climate gluers”— and the term stuck.

Though Last Generation’s political demands have changed at least three times, its leadership, which still includes Jeschke and Bonasera, has intentionally kept those demands almost absurdly modest.

The first was a prohibition on supermarkets throwing away edible food products; the second, a speed limit of 100 kph on Germany’s highways and a permanent extension of a summer 2022 government policy-making all public transportation in Germany available for €9 per 90 days. The group’s third and current demand is the formation of a “citizen’s council,” independent of parliament, to develop and implement climate policy.

“The demands are completely laughable and ridiculous,” Bläul said, referring to their strategic lack of ambition. Last Generation’s goal is to embarrass the German government: You can’t even manage this? (In May 2023, Germany introduced a nationwide public transportation pass for €49 per month, which critics view as expensive and restrictive. No other Last Generation demands have been implemented, though eight German mayors have sent letters of support on behalf of the group to the federal government.) 

Working in small cells with the goal of widespread disruption, Last Generation protests took place across the country, with blockades concentrated in Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt.

In late February 2022, 35 activists blocked a bridge leading to Hamburg’s port. In April, pairs of activists turned off crude oil pipelines across the country. In July, Last Generation protesters covered the ground in front of the Kanzleramt building – Germany’s equivalent of the White House – in black liquid, demanding a moratorium on new oil drilling. (Bläul wore a bald cap and suit to impersonate German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.) 

In August, two activists glued themselves to the frame of Raffael’s 16th century “Sistine Madonna” at the Dresden State Art Collections to protest the arrest and subsequent two-week detention of Bläul following a demonstration in Sweden. (The painting was unharmed. The frame, which a museum spokesperson said was “not historical,” had to be replaced.) 

Similar protests at museums in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Potsdam followed. In Potsdam, activists threw mashed potatoes at a Monet. (The work was behind glass and wasn’t damaged.) “It’s good that it was just the glass,” Bläul said. “It’s an interesting image: Everyone gets angry, and it was a piece of glass that got dirty, and it gets cleaned and everything is fine again.”

“The street blockades are Last Generation’s trademark tactic. Because they take place in the public sphere, in the middle of crowded intersections in cities, the activists believe they lead to more attention and discussion than targeted interventions.”

Like the venerable Canadian organization Greenpeace, Last Generation does sometimes target groups it believes are most directly responsible for climate change: Western governments, large corporations, and the super-rich. But the street blockades are Last Generation’s trademark tactic. Because they take place in the public sphere, in the middle of crowded intersections in cities, the activists believe they lead to more attention and discussion than targeted interventions.

The blockades came with risks both practical and ethical. At about 8:20 a.m. on Oct. 31, 2022, Sandra Umann, a 44-year-old fashion designer and co-owner of a vegan fashion brand, was riding her bike in western Berlin when she was struck by a cement-mixing truck. According to a Berlin Fire Department press release from that morning, a Last Generation protest delayed the technical team deployed to release Umann from under the truck. 

Umann died from her injuries three days later. (Full disclosure: In 2013, before I became a journalist, Umann’s company hired me to compose music for their fashion show.)

Umann’s twin sister and business partner Anja told SPIEGEL that she felt “unending emptiness. Unbearable pain. Darkness.” But, she added, “I generally don’t feel anger, and I don’t feel it toward the activists either, because San wouldn’t have wanted anger. Anger won’t bring my sister back.” She added, “I still support the activists, but sometimes I question their methods.” (Berlin prosecutors later determined the delay caused by Last Generation’s protest did not contribute to Umann’s death.)

Already skeptical over the group’s traffic-snarling tactics, much of German society turned on Last Generation after the accident. According to a survey conducted on behalf of Der Spiegel after Umann’s death, 86% of respondents believed the group’s protests “go too far,” while 78% were in favor of harsher punishments for activists.

A survey by public broadcaster NDR from early 2023 showed similar results: while 72% of respondents agreed that the German government’s response to climate change was insufficient, 73% found Last Generation’s actions either “completely” or “rather not” appropriate.

The group’s leaders were undeterred by their unpopularity. “We don’t have time for slow transformation,” Jeschke told SPIEGEL. “We need peaceful revolution.” 

Training Bees

On a gray morning this past February, Bläul conducted a training session for a group of potential Last Generation members in Dresden. Seven interested activists, ranging in age from their early 20s to their 40s, met in a conference room at a community center in an industrial 2, neighborhood of Dresden. There was coffee, tea, and a table with snacks — mostly cookies, but also three kohlrabis and a kiwi. No one touched the kohlrabis. 

Everyone introduced themselves with their first name, age, job, activism experience and favorite vegetable. Bläul described the structure of Last Generation. A group that blockades streets together is called a bezugsgruppe. The individual activists sitting in the streets are known as “bees,” with “bumblebees” filming from the sidelines and a “queen bee” making tactical decisions like where and when to sit. Behind the scenes, Last Generation has staff handling legal, media, detainee release coordination and other organizational matters. 

Last Generation receives funding from a variety of sources, including private donations, the Climate Emergency Fund, and Rote Hilfe, a left-wing group that helps activists cover costs of arrest. Last Generation is a member of the A22 Network, which calls itself “a group of connected projects engaged in a mad dash to try and save humanity,” and which includes sister organizations in Austria and Italy that also bear the name Last Generation.

Other groups in countries from the U.S. to New Zealand engage in similar civil disobedience strategies, like “slow marches” in traffic and smearing paint on artwork, though they operate independently, under separate leadership.

According to Bläul, the UK-based activist group Just Stop Oil, another A22 Network member, has given Last Generation a preview of how their demonstrations may be received by society, the press, the justice system and politicians. By April 2022, Just Stop Oil had racked up nearly a thousand arrests, and Bläul expected a similar development in Germany. “The consequences will definitely be that many more people will be arrested,” he said.

Bläul shared war stories with the trainees. He described receiving a call from an unknown number where he could only hear breathing on the other line. Then, a few days before the training session began, a driver appeared to purposefully accelerate toward Bläul, while he was glued to the road, before braking at the last minute. “Victory is possible, but uncertain,” Bläul said, “but the hate is certain.”

“But shooting the messenger is not a form of carbon capture — or, as a book on Last Generation rushed to market in March put it, ‘When the world is on fire, it’s doesn’t help to turn off the alarm.'”

“What I’m really afraid of is the drivers,” a man named Johannes said. “How people react. Because the more we do, the more blockades and so on, it’s just a matter of time before someone is injured.”

The group practiced blockade choreography. Outside the conference room, they stood in a line, donned orange warning vests, held up a banner with the words “Letzte Generation vor den Kipppunkten,” or roughly, “Last Generation before climate tipping points are triggered,” and, at a signal from their “queen bee,” all sat down together, their timing a little ragged.

Bläul played the part of an enraged driver: “What are you doing? Get out of here. You’re breaking the law.” When a student named Sören smiled at Bläul’s acting, Bläul growled, “Wipe that grin off your face.” They rehearsed again. This time, Bläul dragged the activists from their seats as they tried to wriggle free and scamper back to their places. 

After the exercise, Bläul led the group in a meditation. “When you feel ready, close your eyes and concentrate on taking a few deep breaths,” he began in a soothing voice: 

The pedestrian light turns green. You walk with your group onto the street. You put your warning vests on and spread out your banners. In front of you is a row of cars. A car is right in front of you, and your group is all around you. The cars honk, and you sit down…

Do you feel the contact between your body and the ground? The road supports your weight. 

After around five hours of training, each of the seven trainee activists was officially qualified to participate in a street blockade. But most of them never did. Some were hesitant about missing school or work, others wary of incurring fines or gaining an arrest record; still others had developed doubts about the efficacy of Last Generation’s methods during their training.

One new activist had a week of vacation from his job at a supermarket following the training. During that week, he glued himself to the road three times.

Street Tactics

At 4:25 p.m. on February 27, Wolf arrived at Dresden’s Carolaplatz, a large intersection near the river Elbe. Last Generation was marketing the event as a “public blockade,” with the time and approximate location announced in advance. The police were already there, as were many curious onlookers, including two of the group’s newly-trained activists.

Most people seemed to have already made up their minds about the group. Two women, who lived nearby and declined to give their names, said the protesters were causing delayed drivers “moral injury” and compared Last Generation to Pegida, the anti-Islam movement borne in Dresden. The women felt like both movements put Dresden in a negative light.  

At 4:33 p.m., three protestors sat in a pedestrian crosswalk. But they didn’t use superglue. “Rüberfahren soll ma,’” a bystander said to no one in particular: “Run ‘em over.” Then, across the square, four demonstrators glued their hands to the pavement in another crosswalk. The first group had been a decoy, so Dresden police couldn’t intervene before the others were stuck in place. Wolf watched from the sidelines.

As police set about clearing the demonstrators, a largely sympathetic crowd gathered on the sidewalk. “Protecting the climate is not a crime,” they chanted. Wolf went around to the stopped cars and explained Last Generation’s goals. “There were some productive discussions,” she said. Thirty minutes later, Dresden police, clearly more experienced with Last Generation protests by now, had cleared the street. 

Wolf and Ritter accompanied the other activists to a debriefing underneath the “Golden Rider,” a massive statue of King Augustus the Strong. Wolf said she had planned to glue her hand to the street but decided not to because she had a big molecular biology test two days afterward. Both seemed satisfied and agreed that the “public blockade” was an unusually calm, positive protest. “I thought the police would react more quickly and more aggressively,” Ritter said. “They were relatively relaxed.”

The two had slowly become closer through that winter, texting occasionally about tactics and then other things; gradually becoming friends. 

Meanwhile, the world got warmer. 

The ‘Klimaterroristen’

As Last Generation protests achieved media saturation, the activists found themselves firmly situated in Germany’s culture wars. Their base of unambiguous support was small. Instead, center-left and moderate citizens largely believed their methods were wrong, but their goals righteous; the right considered them anarchists or worse.

“As Last Generation protests achieved media saturation, the activists found themselves firmly situated in Germany’s culture wars.”

Establishment newspapers, magazines, and talk shows ran a steady stream of hot takes, op-eds, and panel discussions on Last Generation. The word klimaterroristen, in reference to the group, was voted the unwort — the worst neologism — of 2022. 

The tabloids gleefully exposed instances of climate hypocrisy. In February 2023, the popular daily Bild paper discovered that two Stuttgart-based Last Generation activists had recently taken a long-haul flight to Southeast Asia. 

Such reactions to climate activists are not new in Germany: Twitter opponents nicknamed Luisa Neubauer, who heads Fridays for Future, langstreckenluisa, or “long-haul Luisa,” for her travels while advocating for lowering carbon emissions. But Last Generation has aroused unusual passions among politicians as well. At local Berlin elections in early 2023, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party’s campaign posters read Klimakleber in den Knast — “jail the climate-gluers.”

Leaders of more mainstream parties were almost as critical. Vice-chancellor Robert Habeck, of the Green Party, said Last Generation’s protests were “no help in protecting the climate.” Christian Lindner, currently Minister of Finance and head of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), accused the group of supporting “an authoritarian model for society,” while Friedrich Merz, Merkel’s successor as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said, “They are criminals, not partners in dialogue.”

A police officer tries to unstick Hannah Wolf’s hand from the roadway.

But shooting the messenger is not a form of carbon capture — or, as a book on Last Generation rushed to market in March put it, “When the world is on fire, it’s doesn’t help to turn off the alarm.” An hour in traffic was comparably trivial to the trials of climate change. “People are just thinking about their appointments in the next half hour, the next hour. I understand why they’re angry,” Ernst Hörmann told me, “because the government tells them, ‘Everything is fine, we have it all under control.’”

He added: “When all the parties say that it’s fine, then it’s easier to believe the comfortable untruth and ignore the truth that the science shows us.” 

Meanwhile, incidents of violence by irate drivers against Last Generation activists have occurred with increasing frequency. On Feb. 6, a Berlin driver ran over an activist’s foot. On March 3, a 60-year-old drove into an activist in Bremen. On March 21, a driver kicked protesters in Dresden, and on March 26, a driver in Hamburg kicked another protestor in the stomach.

Before Last Generation’s next wave of protests in Berlin, the local senator for the interior (a position responsible for local security), Iris Spranger of Scholz’s Social Democratic Party, told a reporter that drivers attacking activists would, “unfortunately need to be held accountable.”

Outside, the world grew warmer.

State Sanctions

On April 12, Christian Bläul was being prosecuted in Berlin for coercion relating to two blockades from the previous year. He arrived straight from Dresden carrying a suitcase; courthouse security guards confiscated a vegan spread in a glass jar he’d brought as a snack.   Alone at the defendant’s table, Bläul argued his case.  

In his introductory remarks, Bläul admitted to participating in the blockade, following Last Generation protocol. He emphasized his motivation: “It was a difficult, but very conscious decision,” he said.

“The climate movement is certainly one of the most visible political movements in Germany,” the judge said. “Isn’t that enough for you?”

She called three police officers as witnesses. Twice, the first officer said, he pulled Bläul away, and twice Bläul sat down on the street again. Although he’d been deployed to many blockades since then, the officer added, he remembered Bläul because of his distinctive ponytail. 

Bläul filed motions to admit into evidence information on the urgency of the climate crisis. As in most Last Generation cases so far, this motion was denied as irrelevant to the allegations. During recess, Bläul said he was happy his family wasn’t in the courtroom: “It’s more relaxed when they’re not here, though if they’re interested, I’ll make it possible for them to come.”

The prosecutor rushed through her closing remarks. Bläul’s speech was calm, even lawyerly. “As a father,” he told the judge, “it is important to me to guarantee a future for my children and their generation.” 

After short deliberations, the judge sentenced Bläul to an €800 fine, saying that Last Generation aims to “blackmail politicians.” So far, Bläul has racked up over €25,000 in anticipated fines for his protests, though he plans to contest every charge at trial. “The trials are part of the political protest,” he said.

“But Last Generation has aroused unusual passions among politicians as well. At local Berlin elections in early 2023, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party’s campaign posters read Klimakleber in den Knast — ‘jail the climate-gluers.'”

Still, total costs were concerning, as Bläul had recently quit his job to focus on Last Generation. His relationship with his girlfriend was straining under the pressure and as for his teenaged children — for whom he felt an urgency to act — they seemed only theoretically interested in climate change; to them it felt distant and abstract.

“I think they repress it, like many other people,” he said. After his conviction, Bläul went to a hotel lobby with his laptop. Time to organize Last Generation’s upcoming protests in Berlin.

Rising Heat

On April 19, Last Generation began a new wave of demonstrations in Berlin with the goal of bringing the capital to a “standstill.” The following day, the public broadcaster MDR released a video of Ritter being carried off a Berlin street. The police used a schmerzgriff, or pain compliance hold on him and you could hear Ritter emit a blood-curdling scream-groan. “Just let me sit,” he tried to plead, the last word cut off by his scream. The video has been viewed 2.8 million times on Twitter. (Berlin police have opened an investigation into whether the hold was used legally.)

Wolf was in a lecture in Dresden when she saw the video. She left the classroom and went straight to Berlin to protest, a day earlier than planned. At noon on April 21, Wolf and a gaggle of other activists blocked a right-turning vehicle in order to take control of one of the former East Berlin’s wide thoroughfares for a Last Generation march. For an instant, the car kept driving, pushing into Wolf’s body.

Then the police arrived, the car turned around, and a slow march formed. Wolf held the group’s banner, her expression determined and impassive. “They tried to bury us / They didn’t know / that we are seeds,” the demonstrators sang softly. At 12:08 p.m., a line of police officers tried to stop the march; Wolf was the first person to slip through their line and continue down the street. 

On April 23, Last Generation held a legal demonstration, complete with a stage, at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. It was a warm, sunny day. An earnest band played, and it was almost unnerving to see the activists looking so relaxed. 

Wolf was there with her father Alex. He said he’d spent an entire day crying after watching the video of Ritter demonstrating days earlier. “It breaks my heart that my daughter had to leave her university and the lecture she was in,” he added, “and say, ‘I have to do my part. I have to go to Berlin.’”

Ritter didn’t really feel up to talking. He had bruises on his spine and his collarbone since the police action, and his pain medication was making him groggy. He told me that he planned to meet with the Last Generation’s emotional support team soon.

Bläul and Hörmann were both there but they felt the demonstration lacked in intensity. “We’re too easy to ignore,” Bläul said. 

The activists heard speeches by scientists and politicians from the small Climate List party. Wolf leaned on Ritter as they listened; he wrapped his left arm around her. Since February, their friendship had blossomed into something more. They use the term bezugsmenschen to describe their relationship, which translates roughly to “people who are there for each other.”  

And the world got warmer.

The next day, Hörmann glued his hand to the street in northeast Berlin. He was called a nut, an idiot, a piece of shit, a Nazi, a cunt. A bicyclist spat on him. Police used a compliance hold on him and he screamed, though mostly, Hörmann would later say, because it helped ease the pain of the police hold. 

He mentioned, almost casually, that his prostate cancer was in recurrence, and that he needed to return to Munich in three weeks for chemotherapy. “For sure it makes me sad (to leave), because it means I won’t be able to fight,” he said.

A few weeks later, Wolf and her father blocked a street together. Hannah Wolf and an activist named Markus used quick-drying concrete to attach their hands to the road. Someone threw a can of Red Bull at them from their car. Others revved the engines of souped-up vehicles as they drove by. 

“Stay strong,” a man riding by on a bike said.

Wolf would be detained separately from her father. The police would use a chisel and a saw to remove her hand from the asphalt. She would develop burn blisters from the concrete and be brought to the hospital in the company of a police officer. Her shoulder would hurt, and the police would confiscate her keys, and she would have to pee. She would look close to tears, but only for an instant.

On May 23, Chancellor Scholz called Last Generation’s protests “completely idiotic.” The next day, Bavarian law enforcement led a national raid on the activists. They seized their website, calling the group a “criminal organization” and warning that donations to it were illegal; they also seized the server hosting Bläul’s personal website, confiscated his electronic devices, and searched his girlfriend and his father’s apartments. On June 23, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Bavarian investigators had been tapping the group’s press hotline since October. Berlin police, who counted 18 attacks on Last Generation activists in 2022, registered 84 between January and June 2023 alone. 

And still, it got warmer and warmer.