I joined my first gang when I was three years old in kindergarten. Well, I did not really join, they just took me in. I was the only girl and the youngest, a kind of mascot. The gang did not have a name. It was just „die Bande“ … „the gang“, a few kids aged four to six. Markus was the leader. We did not elect him or anything … he just was. And a great one, at that. The moment, when he came over to me (I was upset and crying after a fight I had with another boy from our kindergarten group), laid his arm around my shoulders, leading me to the building corner (which was kind of our headquarter) and announcing that I did now belong to them and he would protect me, is one of my earliest und fondest memories. I was in love for the first time in my life. It was a key event for me, and sometimes I think, most of my later life has been spent trying to recreate that moment, reaching that feeling of totally belonging somewhere once again.
When I was a little older, I read many children’s books dealing with gangs like that: „Die rote Zora“, „Die Kinder aus der Schornsteingasse“, „Die Vorstadtkrokodile“ and of course uncountable Enid Blyton novels. But I don’t think my kindergarten mates knew any of them at the time and I sure did not. The forming of gangs seems to be something that children do almost out of instinct, and maybe something that is passed down as a kind of lore from older siblings, cousins and other role models. Maybe it is a relict from ancient times, when people still lived together in clans and tribes.
When I think back to it, the things that mattered to us in the gang where all pretty archaic but also very fundamental: it was all about friends and enemies, rules and rites, loyalties and rivaleries, testing your limits, proving yourself, a lot of male bravado, now that I think of it, even though there were pure girl gangs as well and they did not do things any differently. There was a rival gang, in the red group (the kindergarten groups were named after colors, we belonged to the green group), Volker was their leader and I hated him as fiercely as a three year old can hate. We had a few fights (kid level fights, mudball battles mostly, nothing too violent from an adult point of view, but to us they felt excitingly dangerous and real), but most of the time we would just taunt each other, daring the others to enter our territory (the playground was neatly divided between us) and so on. We acted like any streetgang in any gang movie from „Westside Story“ to „Rumble in the Bronx“ has ever acted, even though we were much too young to know any of those.
And I think it is just how young human beings are supposed to act. It is part of our natural growing up program, just like puppies will always play with shoes and ducklings will always be drawn to the water. Deep inside, we are all gangsters. Looking for family, searching for tribe.