Tag Archives: Berlin

Letter from Berlin: Star Candidate’s Gaffes Have Berlin Greens Jittering

The Greens had assumed that a high profile candidate like former minister Renate Künast would assure them of victory in next September’s state elections in Berlin. However, a series of gaffes has led the party’s once soaring popularity to plummet.

At one end of Berlin’s central boulevard Unter den Linden stands the Rotes Rathaus or Red Town Hall, the seat of Berlin’s city-state government. Just over two kilometers to the west, beyond the Brandenburg Gate, is Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag.

It is a journey Green Party heavyweight Renate Künast made almost 10 years ago, when she went from being a state representative to an increasingly influential presence in the halls of federal power. Now, though, she is hoping to return to the Rotes Rathaus — as Germany’s first-ever state premier from the Green Party.

Until recently, it looked as if she would have little trouble. When she announced her candidacy with much fanfare at Berlin’s Communications Museum on Nov. 7, her party was eight percentage points ahead of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) in the opinion polls. A third term for Klaus Wowereit, the SPD mayor who has led Berlin since 2001, seemed unlikely. Continue reading

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Dispelling the Myth of ‘Parallel Societies’: Are Berlin’s Muslims a Model for Integration?

Far from living in closed-off communities, Muslims in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district live in a culturally diverse area. However, a new report finds that they still suffer from high levels of discrimination, particularly within the city’s school system.

Berlin’s Kreuzberg district has a reputation for vibrancy, creativity and multiculturalism. Yet in the public imagination there is often a flipside to the area’s cultural diversity with a perception that its large Turkish and Muslim populations live in “parallel societies,” cut off from their ethnic German and non-Muslim neighbors and enclosed within their own communities.

A new report from the Open Society Institute (OSI) takes some steps to dispel this notion. This week, the organization released its “Muslims in Berlin” study — with Kreuzberg firmly in the spotlight — and the findings point to a decidedly positive story of integration. Continue reading

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60 Years of Berlinale: A Film Festival of Propaganda, Stars and Scandal

The Berlin International Film Festival was a product of the Cold War. The US military administration wanted to bring a touch of glamour to a West Berlin that had survived the Soviet blockade. Since then, the festival has gained a reputation for championing political, provocative movies, and has been no stranger to scandal.

When the Oscar Martay, the film officer with the US military administration in Berlin, conceived of the idea of an international film festival 60 years ago, the Cold War was at its peak and much of the destroyed city was still in rubble.

The first Berlin International Film Festival in 1951 was designed to serve as a propaganda tool for the Allies just two years after the end of the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. The divided city marked the front line of the conflict with Soviet Russia and its satellite states in Eastern Europe and the US officials were determined to introduce a bit of glamour to the sector of the city they controlled. The festival was to be a “showcase of the free world.” Continue reading

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Inquiry into Kunduz Bombing: Guttenberg Accused of Lying by Top General

As a parliamentary inquiry is launched into the deadly air strike near Kunduz, the top general fired over the scandal has called Defense Minister Guttenberg a liar. With Germany braced for requests for more troops in Afghanistan, Chancellor Merkel’s government is coming under increased pressure over its handling of the attack.

The German government is struggling to contain a scandal over its handling of a deadly air strike called in by a German officer in Afghanistan in September. In particular, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Defense Minister Karl-Theoder zu Guttenberg are coming under fire for the way they handled information about the strike.

Both are to be called as witnesses to face a parliamentary inquiry into the air strike in January just as they prepare for an Afghanistan conference in London later that month, where Berlin is likely to face pressure to commit more troops to the NATO mission. The country’s involvement in the conflict is highly unpopular at home. Continue reading

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Berlin Clears One of its Last Remaining Squats

One of the last remaining squats in Berlin was cleared on Tuesday. After a long-drawn out legal battle, 600 police descended on Brunnenstrasse 183 to evict the occupants. Berlin’s days as a squatter’s paradise and alternative mecca are long gone.

Berlin is a city that has marketed itself on its edgy alternative image, but in reality the German capital is increasingly becoming like many other European cities. One of the hallmarks of its vibrant alternative culture had been the city’s many former squats. But on Tuesday another one of these self-styled “house projects,” or experiments in alternative living, bit the dust.

On a mild November afternoon around 600 police officers descended upon the alternative house project at Brunnenstrasse 183, clearing out a total of 21 people from the dilapidated five-story house in central Berlin. The expected outbreak of violence by left-wing extremists didn’t happen. The closest it came to a showdown was when a few of the occupants climbed onto the roof and waved Anti-Fascist flags. Continue reading

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Where the Berlin Wall First Fell: Historic Border Crossing Finally Gets a Facelift

The former border crossing at Bornholmer Strasse may have been the spot where the Iron Curtain cracked wide open, but 20 years on there is little in this drab corner of East Berlin to indicate its historic significance. That is set to change now that Berlin has commissioned a firm of architects to create a new square to commemorate the events of Nov. 9, 1989.

Not all historic places announce themselves with pomp and fanfare. Sometimes they can be modest and unassuming, even a little bit shabby.

The Bösebrücke bridge to the north of Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district is just such a place. This desolate corner of east Berlin is the spot where the Iron Curtain cracked wide open 20 years ago. It was here that East Berliners streamed past the suddenly moribund Bornholmer Strasse border checkpoint and into West Berlin at approximately 9:20 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1989. Yet today there is little to indicate that this is the place where communist East Germany entered its death throes.

That is soon set to change, however. Berlin’s city government has commissioned a new urban square to commemorate that fateful day in 1989. Just over a week ago, Sinai, a firm which specializes in landscape architecture, was named as the winner of the competition to design the new “Platz der 9. November 1989” (Nov. 9, 1989 Square). Continue reading

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Berlin’s New UNESCO Sites: ‘Bauhaus Is Better Known Abroad than Goethe or Schiller’

Last week UNESCO awarded six housing estates in Berlin the World Heritage seal of approval. Bauhaus Archiv Director Annemarie Jaeggi tells SPIEGEL ONLINE why these examples of modernist architecture are so important.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Dr. Jaeggi, last week, six Berlin social housing projects were included on UNESCO’s world heritage list — all of them examples of the kind of modernist architecture not often chosen by UNESCO. Did you expect the honor?

Annemarie Jaeggi: I was delighted. The bid entailed a huge amount of work. Some people have been working on this for 10 years and I had huge concerns because of Dresden. (The city’s plans to build a bridge may jeopardize the Elbe Valley’s UNESCO Status — Ed.) There was a fear that UNESCO would say that Germany was not working hard enough and wouldn’t deal with any of the bids from Germany. Continue reading

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Building Utopia: Berlin Chases UNESCO Status for 1920s Social Housing

In the 1920s Berlin was the world capital of modern architecture. Now six unique social housing projects from the period are up for UNESCO World Heritage status. The buildings mark a time when star architects like Walter Gropius and Bruno Taut were committed to improving the living standards of ordinary people.

The Carl Legien estate is nestled in a leafy oasis between two busy roads in the north of Berlin’s trendy Prenzlauer Berg district. The groups of apartment blocks are set amid grassy lawns and are designed so that all the balconies face inwards on wonderfully mature gardens. The elegant, curving balconies and big windows at the ends of the cream, pink and blue blocks give the buildings their modern Bauhaus-like appeal.

Doris Kirscht, an sprightly widow in her mid-60s, appreciates the careful thought that went into designing her two-bedroom apartment. “Everything is so comfortable and simple and well thought out,” she says about the flat she has lived in for over 25 years. “And then there are the lovely balconies. It is really wonderful to live in.” Like most other residents, Kirscht jumped at the chance to return to her building after recent renovations forced her to move out for a few years.

Her affection for the apartment is not surprising — Kirscht lives in a 1920s social housing block built by one of Germany’s leading modern architects, Bruno Taut, in 1926. The estate is one of six social housing projects dotted across Berlin that are up for prestigious World Heritage status. They are the city’s official candidates for the seal of approval for sites of cultural and architectural importance awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Continue reading

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Historic Tempelhof: An Uncertain Future for Hitler’s Airport

A monument to Nazi ambitions that became a symbol of hope during the Cold War: Tempelhof is one of the world’s most storied airports. Its fascinating history may not be enough to save it from closure. But plans are now afoot to transform it into a luxury clinic.

The intent was to wow visitors to the monumental new Third Reich capital of Germania. Monumental Tempelhof Airport was to be a statement of Nazi Germany greatness, and a stage for Adolf Hitler to be adulated by the masses.

It never happened of course. The dream of Germania collapsed along with the smoking ruins of Berlin at the end of World War II. But the airport was built, and went on to become a vital element of the massive Berlin Airlift, and one of the most enduring symbols of West Berlin’s ability to survive its isolation deep within Communist East Germany. Continue reading

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