The Berlin Wall: still dividing after all these years

aug 13 180nYou ever been talkin’ to some person in maybe a bar or somewhere…this is another American you’re talkin’ to…and somehow something about the Civil War comes up, and you realize they have a very different take on the same history, they remember different heroes, different historic battles, different dates?

Well…as I reported on Saturday, Germany this week remembered 50 years since August 13, 1961, the day when, in the wee hours of the morning, soldiers rolled out the first coils of barbed wire and masons lay the first bricks of what would become The Berlin Wall, Germany’s version of The Mason-Dixon Line. 

Germany’s civil war was a Cold one and between East and West.  Continue reading

A fairytale of the Berlin Wall: August 13, 1961 and the Big Bad Line

080bThings had been kind of nervous in Berlin, since the day two months before when the leader of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht, had sort of spilled the beans in answer to a reporter’s question: The Allies had formed a state. Would the Soviets then ‘control’ the border?

“There are people in the west that think we are going to mobilize construction workers of the capital of the GDR to build a wall? I am not aware of such an order, because all our workers are primarily busy building housing,” he rattled off. “Nobody has any intention of building a wall.” Continue reading

Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain)

best teuf (71)bThe name Teufelsberg, ‘Devil’s Mountain,’ is a misnomer all around. The Berliner-beloved hill on the city’s western edge is neither a mountain, nor should it be blamed on some demon. Teufelsberg should be called, “Humanity Heap.” That mound of dirt is owned by us.

The hill is perhaps best known for its Cold War spy history–the former CIA listening post perched  on top–but the creepy spook ruin  is only the bright cherry donning the whipped-cream-chocolate-fudge-triple-chunk History Sunday. Teufelsberg’s gooey history reveals itself in layers. Continue reading

Naming Squares after artists, humanitarians, revolutionaries and…Ronald Reagan.

mar 3 b 125Saefkow was a German commie who plotted underground in Nazi Germany to sabotage and undermine the regime. After trying unsuccessfully to assassinate Hitler with yet another cliché briefcase bomb (at that point, Hitler had to be leery toward anyone with a briefcase, duh) he was arrested and executed.

One of the many revolutionaries the GDR named things after. And top it all off, the square even got to keep the name after the wall fell. Continue reading

Color in a Plattenbau world part II

Louis Levin  42nGive an Ossi paint….and watch out, boy.  Geez.

I have a theory…and let me say first, the theory is pretty offensive, really–it belittles the struggle of hundreds of thousands oppressed by secret police and living behind a barbed-wire and machinegun-rife wall finally saying, enough is enough, and standing up to fight for their human rights and taking the chance to tell the government to go fuck itself to the point of toppling said corrupt government, and that nearly bloodlessly–but hey, what theory doesn’t piss someone off, right?  Continue reading

Color in a Plattenbau world

Louis Levin  77nThe word isn’t found in the Germany dictionary I currently possess, and I have met numerous West Germans unfamiliar with the term… yet, ask any Ossi and they will know.

Most people (most Westerners, Ossis don’t count as real people, at least according to Pop culture),  if familiar with the buildings, harbor unfavorable opinions of the cheaply made, usually very square and formerly very drab blocks of habitable concrete.

Plattenbau (roughly, ‘flat-building’) is the name for the pre-fab apartment houses typical to the ex-Warsaw Pact countries.

They are derided by comedians and laughed at by tourists, and seen as a sort of metaphor of the cheap and crumbling GDR communism.

Indeed, “Plattenbau” is rarely said lovingly. Continue reading

‘Trashy-hip’ Tempelhof Airport

jan 8 237Every investor in the city wants a piece of Templehof, if they could get it. Alas, the rather large area, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the city, may never be touched.

Many many Berliners have express the opinion the area should be left as it is: A giant pubic park. Perhaps the word “park” is a bit flattering. It’s a derelict space with a couple tennis courts and a path or two.

There is a good argument for leaving at least something of the field. Operation Vittles among other things. Continue reading

The dangers of unguarded wandering

jan 8 118nWhat happened is  not uncommon in Berlin. It was my fault, really, wandering aimlessly as I was. Should have been more careful.

I had read about these places in the newspaper, had been warned by friends, and there I was.  In that moment…confronted by the situation, I did what any good American would do.

I switched my camera to automatic, gritted my teeth and ran up the middle. Continue reading

The 20th anno of German Reunification

DSC_0053nUnified cola land,” was the title of Berlin journalist Lothar Heinke’s article from today’s Tagesspeigel online, one of Berlin’s more mainstream newspapers. “Look, something great has been achieved,” he writes in the editorial, phrased as if out of a GDR speech. “the people are celebrating their twenty years together, unified….” Continue reading