Friday, March 22, 2013

Back to the cows

Headin’ home in the morning, back to Ireland with the young lad. It’ll be our first time back since the last time and the last time before the next time.
Work commitments have cut the visit short. Indeed they are infringing on my time there, but fuck it, we’ll make the most of it and appreciate the bit we get.
Fionnito’s pretty excited, he’s looking forward to the plane, the airport, the trains and buses, not to mention the cows, sheep, muck and family that awaits us. Noddy, his godfather, will be there too, on a flying visit from Australia as short as hours.
I’m looking forward to it too, as much as I’m sure the cows are. Vorfreude pur.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hofftastic Sankt Pádraigstag

I missed the parade for The Hoff.
St. Patrick may have driven the snakes from Ireland, but David Hasselhoff was there to drive the developers from the East Side Gallery, and I guess the later is more relevant for me now. Snakes get a bad rap, they’re not so bad.
It was madness. The media were all gathered patiently to await his arrival at Yaam and they all jostled for a piece of the big man when he arrived. He took it all in his stride, the rugged face of freedom.
The Hoff was charming, effusive, and good-humored as he lectured Berlin’s head-honchos on the merits of preserving mementos of the city’s turbulent history. Perhaps in an effort to appeal to their greedy ways, he pointed out how much money the East Side Gallery generates through tourism.
“It's like tearing down an Indian burial ground. It’s a no-brainer,” he said as he posed beside a sign saying, ‘The Wall must stay in in one piece, not in slices.’
He blasted the authorities for tearing down the crosses at Checkpoint Charlie there to remember victims who perished while attempting to reach the West.
“This is not the first time they’ve done it,” Hoff said, in reference to the gobshites in charge.
“This last piece of the Wall is really sacred,” he said. “It keeps the memories of all the families, the thousands and thousands and thousands of families, that were torn apart, alive.”
He added that it was important to keep mementos for the world to remember the Cold War division and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Some idiot asked him about the potholes and acid rain in East Germany, before I asked him, “What happens next?”
He didn’t know, but launched into a very entertaining monologue in which he made it very clear how important it is to him personally to keep the East Side Gallery intact.
“I loved that memorial,” he said. “It's like Anne Frank's house. It's a sacred thing.”
Afterward, as he was signing autographs, he said he didn't think he could afford the patch of land “but we can raise the money.”
Then he joked, “David Hasselhoff is going to police the Wall.”
Too many were outside when the presser ended, so they were all forced back in. That’s when I seized my chance. I saw the ‘Save East Side Gallery’ poster he had been holding up was still on the table, I grabbed it, and asked him to sign it. He did!
As he was signing, I told him I admired him for sticking to his guns and fighting for what he believes in. “Thank you,” he said.
It’s true. My estimation of David Hasselhoff has risen immeasurably. I didn’t really watch Knight Rider when I was a kid, and was more interested in his co-stars in Baywatch – Erika Eleniak was my first love – but to the begrudgers who take the piss and badmouth his East Side Gallery involvement, well, he’s doing more than you are.
The crowd went apeshit when we finally emerged and made it to the Wall itself. There were too many people, nobody could move. One guy in a silver skin-suit and jocks was dancing like a madman to The Hoff’s hit ‘Looking for Freedom’ to show him his gratitude for getting involved. He was hilarious, brilliant.
His girlfriend reckoned there were 100,000 people there, “easily way more than the last time.” A Polizei reckoned there were slightly more people than two weeks previously, so probably around 7,000. At first he said, “zu viel.”
When The Hoff made it to the van to sing ‘Looking for Freedom’ I knew it couldn’t get any better. People were even climbing the Wall to get a better look. I sought my own freedom and hurried down to Kreuzberg for what was left of the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
The green-clad folk were leaving as I got there – bah! – but those remaining had taken up residence in a beer garden with a stage where participants were being taught Irish dancing in the muck. It was authentic if nothing else.
The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking and talking. The naggins of vodka were unnecessary and ill advised though.
The Fernsehturm was green as I cycled home, as if it too was feeling the affects of too much alcohol. Such compassion. I love that Fernsehturm.
Meanwhile, the East Side Gallery’s fate remains murky and Hoffnung of a satisfactory outcome appears to have dropped despite his involvement. The diggers were back on the site this morning, and a spokesman for the investor Maik Uwe Hinkel told the Forum StadtSpree this evening, “We're going to keep building.”
Hinkel himself didn’t attend the meeting because of threats he received by email, but his associate Jürgen Scheunemann said it was too late for negotiations to buy back the land and that Living Bauhaus was going ahead with plans to build in any case.
Of course Hinkel has no interest whatsoever in history, culture or keeping open spaces along the river for residents. All he gives a shit about is money. Fuckers like that symbolize all that is wrong with governance when money is allowed dictate policy.
The Hoff says the only way you can fight money is with money.
“If it goes to the next step, we’ll come back with a huge concert and really rock Berlin,” he said.
Please Hoff, Berlin needs Hoffnung now more than ever before.


This video is by Luci Westphal, who has a habit of shooting cool videos. Check out more of her stuff here: http://vimeo.com/luciwest

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fünf fetten Jahre

Five years a Berliner. FIVE YEARS! I’m a professional now, an old hand. Young Berliners are coming to me for advice, asking me what it was like in the old days, when it was wild and dangerous and still exciting.
It is still exciting, but there’s no doubt the city’s losing its shine. Those entrusted with its care do not care for it very much. Esteemed leaders everywhere are too esteemed to give a shit about anything but themselves, and Berlin has sold its soul to the devil, allowing its history fade away while pursuing short-term material gain – Tacheles, the East Side Gallery, C/O Berlin, Teufelsberg, Checkpoint Charlie...
But that’s “progress.” Berlin has been deteriorating since I got here and the rot clearly started before.
On a personal level, I feel I have at least made progress by moving here. I’ve gained a lot and lost a lot but certainly gained more.
It’s been exciting, eye opening, invigorating, inspiring, confusing, revealing, frustrating, rousing, infuriating, fucking freezing, happy, sorrowful, good and bad. There have been huge highs and low lows. It has never been boring. For that reason alone I definitely made the right decision to move here.
I’ve met a lot of cool people, though it’s harder to make friendships here than it was in Ireland, where loyalty means you’d walk through fire for someone but you wouldn’t text them if they moved to another country.
I miss Ireland of course, but only friends and family I left behind. The country itself has sadly descended into an even bigger joke now than it was when I left.
The Celtic Tiger was still roaring then, though we know now of course he was only roaring. Now he’s roaring drunk, crying in a bar somewhere asking himself how he believed his own hype. Or maybe he’s gone too – off to Australia or Canada like all the others forced to leave because leaders only looked after themselves.
I’m angry about what’s been done to Ireland, by its own cowboys, the EU cowboys, IMF cowboys, and other cowboys elsewhere. But Ireland is not unique. Moving abroad has thought me there are cowboys everywhere, with the big rancheros in Germany and New York. The West won and now it’s wild all over again.
Jaysus, I was actually in a good mood when I started writing this. Honestly. Five years is something to be celebrated. Five years!
Plans were pretty loose when I left. I’d had enough, just wanted to get the fuck out.
There’s no better feeling in the world than throwing everything in the air and seeing where it all falls. Some of it didn’t fall where I’d like it to have fallen, some of it hasn’t landed yet, and some of fell just right.
Now I’m proud to be a Berliner. I’ll never be German and I reckon the longer Berlin holds out against being German the better too.
Fünf fetten Jahre sind vorbei. Mal sehen wie die nächsten werden.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Teufelsberg Tale, Part 2

In the previous post, Teufelsberg veteran Lew McDaniel of West Virginia, USA, offered an insight into life at Field Station Berlin during its time as a Cold War spy station.
Here’s more of what he said, starting with a response to my request for photos of his time at Teufelsberg:
“I took no pictures of the site during my time there nor any of Allied military activity … We were cautioned to not be photographed if we could help it. However, Soviet mission cars were in the Grunewald area a great deal and photographed away when they wanted. They were pretty easy to spot – black low grade Mercedes with diplomatic plates and RDF antennae on the roof.
“Work there was a mix of excitement at times, coupled with normal business at others.
For most of my time there, I worked around the clock regardless of shift when there was urgent work to be done. I remember several three-week stints when I barely bothered to leave. Usually there was an even flow of things to learn and look out for that made the work very interesting – had my wife at the time not wished otherwise, I would have remained in the Army for a career.
“We were keenly aware the Soviets and the East Germans considered T-Berg a prime, first shot target and could have readily obliterated us. Berlin was after all within very easy striking distance of several Soviet tank, artillery, and rocket divisions. Teufelsberg would have literally been vaporized within less than a second after the command to fire was given and that command would have been one of the first.
“We were a military installation with concordant rules and regulations, but for the most part we were left alone to do our jobs. While we were certainly in the Army, wore the uniform, and followed the rules for the most part, we did not feel like we were part of the ‘regular’ army that toted rifles and slept in tents and such. I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but our talents were more suited to what we did than to being regular line troops.
“We were also dedicated partiers and nightlife people. We worked rotating five-day shifts and at end of the five days, many folks headed for the bars or to gatherings. Not many folks left Berlin – we could only travel via the American or British duty train or via American flagged aircraft and were not allowed in East Germany or East Berlin – so leaving the city was time consuming.
“We lived in an apartment in Steglitz, so I was not subjected to life at Andrews Barracks where most were quartered, other than the first week I was in Berlin. My original assignment after language school was to the US Military Liaison Mission in Potsdam. However, the Army realized shortly after that that I was married and changed the orders. Married personnel were not posted to Potsdam.
“Living on Maßmann Straße in Steglitz was interesting. I was issued two weeks of C-rations in case the balloon went up and given an airline ticket for my wife for the same situation. I always felt neither would be of any use – see the comments above regarding the forces around Berlin. When I departed Berlin, I had to turn in the rations and the ticket.
“The folks who lived in the other apartments there were nice. We were invited to their parties and family events and we often reciprocated. The Hauswirt and her husband were Czechs who came to Berlin before the Wall was built. We often took them cigarettes, bourbon, and beef and they cooked Czech meals for us now and then. We downed copious quantities of excellent Rumtopf they seemed to always be making.
“Before that, we lived on a street over off Clayallee in a house that belonged to an old couple who had lived there through WWII. They said their house was occupied at one time by Russian troops who were civil enough, but didn't seem accustomed to a regular house.
“What we did and how we did it remains cloaked in secrecy still. I can tell you the Army was in dire need of Russian linguists when I signed up in 1967. Which I did after receiving my draft (conscription) notice – draftees during the Viet Nam war did not usually have a choice of what they did in their two years in the Army, so I enlisted for four years in order to get a better opportunity to do something interesting. I originally wanted to be a helicopter pilot, but discovered during testing for that that I am color blind and that disqualified me... So I was asked if I wanted to be a linguist. I said sure, how about German, since I had four years of German courses in college. But they needed Russian linguists and sent me to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California for nine months. Last time our vets group held a reunion at the institute, Middle Eastern language courses were the largest group – not much Russian taught there now that the Cold War is over.
“Hope this was informative.”
Mr. McDaniel (right) now lives with his wife 26 miles south of Morgantown, West Virginia, in the middle of a forest.

Again, many thanks Mike Bigelow of the US Army Intelligence & Security Command for providing photographs.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Teufelsberg Tale, Part I

Lew McDaniel of West Virginia, USA, was stationed at Field Station Berlin atop Teufelsberg between 1968-71.
The US military veteran is helping to organize a reunion of his colleagues and co-workers in Berlin to mark the 50th anniversary of the first permanent spying facilities (SIGINT) on the hill in September. They hope to place a commemorative plaque there commemorating the site's Cold War service.
Mr. McDaniel, who worked at Teufelsberg as a linguist, got in touch with me after I wrote about the ongoing shenanigans at the site last November.
In the course of our email correspondence, he told me of happier times at the spy station from its heyday, before it was abandoned and then fell into the hands of money-making opportunists and vandals.
His words are better than mine, so without further ado, here they are:
“I am sure you have seen all the various T-Berg links on the web. There are a lot of them, some accurate and some not. No submarine tunnel, a favorite while I was there, no aircraft radar, and no secret escape tunnels.
“The first site on T-Berg consisted of mounted vans in the early 1960s or thereabouts. I am not sure when the first dome was built, but I think around 1963. During my time there, there was a single dome with metal structures radiating from it. I worked in one of them – hot in summer with no windows we could open and so cold in winter we wore coats, sweaters, and gloves. Gloves made typing very difficult so I cut the tips of the fingers out of mine.
“The dome was two stories atop a concrete central pillar. The dome was made of some kind of rubberized canvas and kept inflated by air compressors from a WWII German submarine. At times the wind would overpower the compressors' capacity. When that happened, the windward dome side would partially collapse, causing a klaxon to sound. Upon hearing it, we all got outside and away from the structure as quickly as possible lest the dome fall and take everything in it down. The normal air pressure inside the dome was high enough that technicians who had to work occasionally in the top part actually had to decompress on the way out to avoid ‘the bends’.
“The view from the surface of the Berg (hill) itself was phenomenal on a clear day. At night, we often saw flares firing off along what was then the ‘Wall’ on the western border of West Berlin. Most of the time, it was caused by animals tripping the flare trigger. Near the site, we often saw wild boars along the perimeter fence.”
Mr. McDaniel (right, from his time stationed at Monterey, California, in 1967), added that he left the US Army after his three year tour in Berlin was over. He taught Russian at West Virginia University for a while, and eventually retired as its computing director in 2000.
Well, my appetite was whetted, so I asked him for more information. Check back tomorrow at noon to see what else he said!

All photos (except the last) were very kindly provided by the US Army Intelligence & Security Command. Many thanks especially to Mike Bigelow for his assistance.

Monday, March 11, 2013

'Tis Allgäu in Ofterschwang

Bavaria took me by surprise. During my Berlinerism – and even before it – I was instilled* with a natural distrust and disdain for all things Bavarian, but I have to say my trip to Ofterschwang in Allgäu changed all that.
Not that I don’t maintain a healthy distrust of Bavarians – the Münchkins will see to that – but the rural Bavarians, the proper ones, charmed their way into my cynical heart.
It started when I was presented with a big cheese when picking up my accreditation for the skiing – yes, it’s cheesy, but what do you expect from cheese? – and continued with the general hospitality and friendliness I encountered wherever I went.
Herr Kinkel of the Pension treated me like a long lost son, or even a short lost son – a son of any height really. What I mean is that he was very kind. He’d still be talking to me now if I hadn’t made my excuses to leave when the pangs of hunger were setting in last night.
The first night wasn’t too promising. I found myself in a huge tent eating an ox-burger washed down with beer only to have my ears assaulted by a medley of the most godawful shit imaginable to an ear. Now I know what killed the ox. The band was on a break when I walked in or I would have walked straight back out again.
The singer came back from his break, noticed most of the audience was at the back, away from the stage, so he came to them, walking over the tables until he was gyrating directly in front of them – and behind me. That’s when I first moved table. Then a woman got up on another table and started gyrating too. At this stage they were playing “Schatzi, Send Me A Photo” and bubbles were rising behind the stage, sending the crowd wild with delirium. I moved table again. Delirium trembles. I had to move a third time because some couple were coming alarmingly close to knocking over my beer with their frivolous dancing.
The beer was lovely, the music was awful, I didn’t know what to do. I got another. When they started “Sweet Caroline” and the crowd started clapping along inanely it was the final fucking straw. No more. I horsed the beer into me and left as fast as my feet would take me. The locals were still clapping along, swaying drunkenly and baying for more. I’m sure more bubbles rose behind the stage…
I avoided the tent for the rest of the weekend and it improved drastically. Ofterschwang is a funny place. “Ofter schwanger” means ‘often pregnant’ and the local mountain’s called the Ofterschwanger Horn. That’s where the skiing was on. There was also an Ofterschwanger Haus with a view over the Dorf. Well, you can’t fault their sense of humor.
Bavarian beers in general are excellent. This isn’t news, I know, but I love discovering it again and again. And they have proper-sized beers too, not like the thimbles they offer in Small Beer Country. The local brew in Ofterschwang is Zötler. They had it everywhere – delicious. I would have drunk more but work was calling. They even had it in work! Free bottles of Zötler Gold for thirsty journalists. I resisted temptation until I was finished.
The work itself was very enjoyable too. Your wan Tina Maze was usurped by the bold Anna Fenninger on the first day, but made amends the next by usurping Mikaela Shiffrin and taking over the slalom lead before the last race of the season. World champion Shiffrin is 17 until Wednesday, and either of them can still win the title with a victory on Saturday. So it was exciting all in all.
The mountains around Ofterschwang are staggeringly beautiful. The view from the Pension was stupendous. You can’t beat a good mountain, as meself and Gav used to say on out traipses up the Wicklow mountains in our “youth.” But I guess the Alps are harder to beat.
Lack of mountains notwithstanding, Wexford's similarity struck me on the final night, when I was beginning to feel sentimental. There were rural reasons, a donkey braying, the same farm smells, over-friendly people, the bad taste in music…
I actually felt at home. I never thought Bavaria would be a home from home. Well, it ain’t. But I’ll be home in less than two weeks. Looking forward to it now more than ever.

The first and last pictures were taken without leaving my room.

*Not installed as originally written. As far as I’m aware, I haven't been installed anywhere, or at all, yet. 

Friday, March 08, 2013

Downhill assignment

It’s the furthest, highest and coldest assignment yet! Furthest within Germany that is, but it’s definitely the coldest and highest.
As I type, I’m speeding toward a host of international women – fitting for the day that’s in it – to watch them compete this weekend at a World Cup alpine skiing event in the resort of Ofterschwang.
Ofterschwang is way up in the Bavarian Alps, so I’d to get a train to Sonthofen, Germany’s southernmost town, and I hope there’s a bus from there. At least I know I’m on the right train – it says ICE on the side.
There are no mountains worth talking about in Ireland, and the rain keeps the snow away, so my knowledge of skiing is limited to knowing there’s always loads of booze and wild parties afterward. Going on the piste is just a couple of letters from going on the piss, altogether a more Irish pastime.
But I’ve been reading up and I know a little more now than I did before. Tina Maze from Slovenia is the big star this year apparently. She’s won the overall World Cup title already, set a points record, and the only thing left for her to do is see if she can win in all five disciples – slalom, super-G, downhill, giant slalom and super-combined.
Don’t ask me what any of them mean. They all involve flying down mountains as quickly as possibly and walloping sticks in the snow with a ski-pole on the way. There’s a slalom and a giant slalom on this weekend. I presume one is bigger than the other…
Anyway, “Amazing” Tina has more or less got three wrapped up, is all but assured of the downhill trophy on account of Lindsey Vonn’s banjaxed knee, and is challenging another American, Julia Mancuso for the super-G title.
The local favorite is Maria Hoefl-Riesch, but she’s way behind Maze in the overall title race. There are others too of course, but readers of this thing are even less likely to have heard of them than I am.
I’m looking forward to it – especially the booze and wild parties – but not the cold. I’ve brought 2½ pairs of gloves (two fingerful, one fingerless), my wooly hat, but couldn’t find my long-johns when I was packing in a hurry this morning.
I was going to do a Zeppelin flight on Monday, but found out this morning I’m five days too early for flying season! Bad luck. Jenny gave me the voucher almost five years ago but I never used it because Friedrichshafen is as easy to get to from Berlin as the North Pole is. Friedrichshafen is “only” 2½ hours from Ofterschwang
Still, I’m sure the alpine skiing will provide enough highs for the weekend. It’s all downhill from there.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Mauerpark's gentrification struggle

Developer Klaus Groth presented plans for up to 530 apartments at Mauerpark to city planning officials tonight, when residents presented them with their anger.
Groth said he had a sore throat so another Groth Gruppe representative did the talking. He outlined plans for the development to occupy around 35,620 square meters between Gleimstraße and the rail track perpendicular to the Schwedter Weg bridge, on land north of what is commonly referred to as Mauerpark, to the east of the kids’ pony farm.
The farm itself has been spared the chop under the revised plans, not that the ponies will appreciate all the construction work and new neighbors they’ll find looming over their patch.
The developers don’t know whether there’ll be 520 or 530 apartments, strange seeing as they’re the ones building them, but there you go. Maybe they’ll see how many bricks are left over.
Each apartment would be around 78 square meters, with 0.7 of a garage for each one. There’d also be around 370 parking spaces and 1,100 bicycle parking spots.
The prospect is light on further details, but your man said traffic lights would be installed, there’d be a supermarket, and that the playground would be surrounded by lower buildings, presumably to allow the children breathe.
Alexander Puell from the Friends of Mauerpark group said the whole thing smacked of a “gated community” and that politicians and investors should know residents would “fight it to the bitter end.”
They seem concerned about the impact of such a development on the existing neighborhood. Gleimstraße is the only access point for traffic.
Heiner Funken from the Mauerpark Stiftung Weltbürgerpark said it would be a case of two worlds colliding with nothing in common.
“This is not integration, this is disintegration!” he said to loud agreement.
“This is luxury homes in Mauerpark!” yelled another opponent.
“On the death strip!” someone else interjected.
“A scandal!” the original replied.
The Groth Gruppe had earlier presented plans for 600 to 700 apartments on Lehrter Straße, where I used to play football, near Hauptbahnhof.
Those plans were described as “displaced” by one planning official.
I’m not sure what happens now. I don’t know what powers the Mitte borough’s Stadtentwicklungsausschusses (urban development committee) has. Perhaps they can make recommendations.
But I suspect the developer has already struck a deal with the real powers. Mitte already gave the development its blessing on Sept. 13 and I’m sure Grohl and Woweit are shaking hands and smiling in a picture somewhere…
Wem gehört die Stadt? Time will tell. Grohl and Co. want to start building in autumn 2014.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Hoffnung for East Side Gallery

All it took was over 6,000 people and David Hasselhoff.
On Sunday, property developer/investor Maik Uwe Hinkel called off work at the East Side Gallery until March 18 at least, after 6,000 to 10,000 people (depending on who’s counting) turned up to voice their anger that afternoon.
On Monday morning, The Hoff chipped in: “How can you tear down the wall that signifies freedom, perseverance and the sacrifice of human life?”
Monday afternoon, Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit finally opened his gob on the issue and said: “I support the preservation of the Wall pieces. The senate will address the topic on Tuesday.”
Wow. I’m impressed. I really didn’t think the protests were going to have an effect, but they have granted the East Side Gallery a stay of execution at the very least.
Hinkel, in interviews with the Berliner Zeitung and Berliner Morgenpost, sought to shift the blame, saying the 22 meter hole in the Wall had been ordered by the city to make way for the reconstruction of the Brommybrücke, that his luxury apartment block beside it had nothing to do with it. (Another, smaller, hole would be made for that.)
Of course, he didn’t say anything about this when sending his workers in to cut down pieces of the Wall before anyone could ask any questions.
Now it all boils down to money (which is all it ever boiled down to). Hinkel said he’d sit down with planning officials, members of the Berlin senate and Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg borough, as well as other interested parties including the “Sink Mediaspree” initiative at their next scheduled meeting on March 18.
“If the borough says stop with the Wall displacement, then we’ll stop,” he said.
However, the project to build the luxury apartment block will not be called off unless the city comes up with the cash.
“For a medium-sized company like ours it’s a question of cost.”
Even then, it’s not so simple.
“The problem is, we’ve sold 20 of the 36 apartments already. I can’t simply tell the owners: ‘Now please buy your apartment somewhere else.’”
Meanwhile, it turns out the “Sink Mediaspree” crowd, who object to most things containing a brick, didn’t object to the hole during the project’s planning phase, nor any of the holes already existing along the 1.3km section of Wall.
But that’s neither here nor there. Most people simply don’t want the East Side Gallery to be damaged any further.
As I ♥ Berlin put it in an impassioned defense of the reasons for saving it on Monday evening: “It is a fight in favor of a Berlin spirit that is endangered ... History and art are not negotiable for me. They have to be cared (for), curated and preserved for future generations.”
And thanks to The Hoff, now at least there’s Hoffnung.

The “Denk mal” sign is a clever pun on the German word (Denkmal) for a historical monument while it also implores, “Think, once in a while.”

Friday, March 01, 2013

We won! For now at least

There’ll be no more destruction of the East Side Gallery today, at least according to police.
The Polizeisprecher made his announcement around midday, having earlier threatened protestors with arrests and fines if they didn’t back away from the scene.
“I’d hate for anyone to get injured,” he said in a kind voice over the loudspeaker, threat clearly implied.
Nobody moved away. Everyone held their ground. Around 300 protesters had gathered to stop a scandal from being perpetrated before our eyes.
The destruction workers, the fuckers, had started already under police protection at 7 a.m. and removed a section, leaving a conspicuous 1½-meter gap in the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall.
The hole was there already when I arrived, by which time the protesters had just forced their way past the police tape and stopped any further destruction. Police used sturdier barricades to prevent them getting any closer.
Some protestors brought along a new section of Wall to cover up the gap. “Mr Obama, tear down Wall Street,” was written on it. There was a bit of argy-bargy when it was forced through the police lines, but in the end they took it and place it beside the gap. Later they confiscated it. Evidence I suppose.
Other protestors held up signs. “Does culture no longer have any value?” asked one in Berlinerisch with “Die Yuppie Scum” in smaller letters. Others included “Mediaspree? Piss off!” and “Berlin Sell-Out” as well as “Berlin, selling itself and its history.”
More and more police arrived, and truckloads of barricades. It was fairly obvious they were going to force the protestors back and allow the destruction continue.
“Shame on you!” shouted one woman.
Further up the Wall there were more police at the entrance to the construction/destruction site, protecting the criminals. One let me in to take pictures after I showed him my press pass – one of the cops that is, not one of the criminals. The destruction workers were a rough-looking bunch but they’re not the real culprits.
By 11 a.m. the police evidently decided enough was enough, and they began doing maneuvers to dissipate the crowd, similar to the ones they do at the May Day riots every year. They also had cameras to record the crowd, like they do at the riots.
The Polizeisprecher made his announcements and threats but nobody budged. I was beside the Wall near the crime scene when they started violently pushing people back. There were shouts, complaints, a bike was knocked over. I didn’t see any fists flying.
Two of them shoved me back. I said I had a right to stand there. “No you don’t.”
I said I was press. “Doesn’t matter.”
At least she used the formal “Sie” when addressing me. Others weren’t so polite. One Polizist had a face contorted with rage as he struggled with a protestor. You could see he was just itching for a scrap.
Once they set up the new barricades, the protestors settled down again. Two girls beside me were drinking bottles of Sterni. It was clear no one was going anywhere, despite the biting cold.
A politician told a TV crew he wouldn’t have allowed it happen if he could stop it, that the developers “must have a very bad conscience” for rushing through the demolition, and some other blather about the senate having to have a debate about it.
Still nobody moved. Then the Polizeisprecher said work was halted, before changing it to the more definite, “Work has stopped for today.”
Success! For now. The crane looming ominously over the wall was pulled back, the next section of Wall destined for withdrawal was released, and then – like in a Hollywood movie – a ray of sunshine burst through the dark clouds and illuminated the scene. Cue a great cheer from the crowd.
At least one woman was needlessly arrested. Not sure for what exactly, but she said she pushed back when a policeman touched her breast. She was tiny, but manhandled by two HUGE policemen with others circling around to prevent people taking pictures. She called them “Bullen” so they probably didn’t like that. I hope she’ll be OK.
Still, I couldn’t believe it. We’d actually stopped the demolition! I asked a Polizist what the story was now and he said the demolition workers wouldn’t be working over the weekend.
I hope to fuck the politicians use the breathing space to do their jobs in the meantime – saving a world-famous “protected” site of incredible historical importance from senseless destruction.
It’s a small victory. But I’m proud to have contributed, proud to be a Berliner today.

Just beside where the gap has already been cut is the plaque you can see to your left. Read the small print.