Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fighting for Berlin's green spaces

Last Friday loads of people from all corners of Berlin – all 47 of them – gathered in Wilmersdorf to highlight to plight of the city’s green spaces at the hands of evil developers and corrupt politicians.
The demo brought together various concerned groups, from those against the 650 apartments planned for northern Mauerpark (it was ‘only’ 530 when the developer presented his plans last year), to people objecting to the destruction of their Kleingärten (garden allotments) and green spaces at Lichterfelde-Süd, Oeynhausen, and Spandau-Hakenfelde, along with the Franz-Cornelsen-Weg Wiese in Schmargendorf and others.
In short, people were seriously pissed off that their voices as residents are not being listened to. Some 85,000 people, 77 percent of those eligible to vote, voted to keep the Oeynhausen gardens alone but the powers that be have turned a deaf ear.
Public enemy No. 1 for the residents is Klaus Groth, the developer who has his finger in most if not all of these projects, aided considerably – a little too considerately – by city development minister Michael Müller.
Groth has a shady past when it comes to his financial dealings and Müller is a shoo-in to be Berlin’s next mayor. He’ll be replacing Wowereit, who wasn’t exactly unkind to developers. It doesn’t bode well.
Well, the residents decided, “Fuck this, we’re not going to lie down and let this shit happen.”
Hundreds, young and old, turned up on Friday to give voice to their concerns with their presence, whistles, noisy things, flags, placards, angry chants and slogans, while various speakers gave them further voice by outlining eloquently just what exactly those concerns are.
“Wir haben die Nase voll!”
The full-nosed citizens stopped outside Müller’s office for a loud protest so he could hear their concerns too. The racket was incredible! Friday afternoon though. I’m sure he was already well into his weekend.
After that we walked up to Groth’s HQ, the Groth Gruppe building on Kurfürstendamm, stopping along the way at various points for more speeches and performances from The Pokes, a Berlin version of The Pogues.
Once we got to the HQ the noise levels increased again.
"We want trees, we want parks, we want green, not Groth! Green, not Groth. Green, not Groth…" And so on. People lit candles for the developer, the holy ones in the red containers that you get in churches.
“I wish you a long life and a quick retirement,” one of the speakers said earlier.
The speeches were largely along the same lines, of broken promises, lies, greed and corruption. I wish I’d brought my recorder. Some of them were really rousing and the crowd was getting more and more fired up.
They were fired up to begin with. Assets are being stripped from communities for the benefit of a select few. Luxury apartments in Mauerpark will benefit no one but the builders and backers.
“We don't want a Berlin in which investors get rich with politicians’ help at our expense,” said the woman who gave the last speech.
I’m happy that there are clearly many who feel the same way and who feel strongly enough about it to fight for it too. The fight continues.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

"The feckers" - The story of the Berlin Wall

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not that it fell at all. There were hammers and diggers involved.
The news is full of it at the moment and people are getting nostalgic for the elation caused by the destruction of this symbol of Cold War divide.
The young lad hadn’t even heard of the Berlin Wall so he was asking me when he heard your man on the radio talking about Mauerfall last Wednesday. He actually started laughing, thinking that your man was saying Mauerpark wrongly. We go to Mauerpark quite a bit.
So I told him all about it, that there used to be a huge wall going right through the middle of Berlin, preventing people from going where they wanted to go. It was right beside our last house, meaning we wouldn’t have been able to cross the bridge up by Lidl.
I told him about the people guarding it too, that there were feckers there who’d even shoot people for trying to cross over.
But then, 25 years ago, thousands and thousands of people had enough, enough of this wall disrupting their lives and preventing them going where they wanted to go, and they all screamed and shouted and pushed and pulled and they got their hammers and knocked down the damn wall.
Naturally he was very impressed. This was all mad shit to be hearing about for the first time.
I told him this was all a long time ago, when Jenny was still a kid in school and when I was kid in Ireland, also in school.
Then I asked him if he wanted to see it, and of course he did, so we hopped in the Trabi and crossed the border (like all those people years ago) to go down to the bits of the Wall remaining at Bernauer Straße.
He was apprehensive when we got there first, didn’t want to get out of the car.
“The feckers…” he said, before I reassured him they were long, long gone.
He later asked what happened to them. I told him most probably ended up in the Polizei and some must have died in the meantime. All this shit happened a long, long time ago, when he was but a twinkle in my eye. (And his mother’s eye too, of course.)
I brought him right up to the Wall, showed him how tall it was, asked him if he’d be able to climb it.
“No,” he said.
“Me neither,” I told him, so he didn’t feel too bad about it.
I showed him the watchtower, told him the feckers used to stand on that and shoot anyone they saw trying to cross. He nodded solemnly.
He wanted to know why the Wall was still there if everyone went at it with their hammers.
“They left this bit for you, so you could see it,” I said. It’s true.
Well, he loved it, especially the video footage of them blowing up the Versöhnungskirche. He wanted to see that again and again.
Then he wanted to see more videos, so I brought him over to the Gedenkstätte building across the road. On our way I spotted Nordbahnhof, told him that was all closed up while the Wall was there, that all the entrances were bricked up and blocked.
“Everything was feckin’ blocked,” he said, before pointing up Gartenstraße, then the other way. “That way was blocked, that way. That way was blocked. Everything was blocked. The feckers.”
And with that, he told me the story of the Berlin Wall.