Monday, May 06, 2013

Berliner Mauer geek's early moring cycling

On early May Bank Holiday in the UK, I took the opportunity on the back of an unexpected early wake-up, to trace parts of the Berlin Wall along the Mitte-Kreuzberg border. As I randomly happened to be cycling from the Charite, southwards on Wilhelmstrasse, I realised I would cycle through Zimmerstrasse where the wall once stood.

Utilising my Berlin Wall App, I decided to check out some of the landmarks in the area, starting with this observation tower on Erna-Berger-Strasse, to the right of the picture. To the left of the picture, on the background, you can see the building of the Federal Ministry of the Environment - where a part of the wall has been preserved and integrated into the building. So, actually, on the ground floor, when you look through the front window, you see pieces of the wall, next to which the canteen workers were heaving their breakfast before the morning shift. 


I only recalled visiting the Topografie des Terrors (TdT) on one of my earlier visits to Berlin (during 2005-2008 period) after I came across again, this morning, on Zimmerstrasse. The building to the right is the current Federal Ministry of Finance - at the centre, you can see a stretch of the wall, with the exhibition (TdT: to the left of it.

The Ministry of Finance building also happens to be the House of Ministries during the DDR period - somewhat the epicentre of DDR government politics.In 1965, a man named Heinz Hozapfel made a spectacular escape, with his family, from the top of the building: He hid in the toilet for the evening, and after the nightfall utilised a rope (with help by others) as a cableway to launch the family and glide them to freedom over the Wall.

Here is a Spiegel article from the time:
...and here is a Die Welt article from 2000:
Not far from the Ministry of Finance (to its west), and a stone's throw away from Checkpoint Charlie (to its east) is a permanent exhibition of some of he curiosities about the ways of how STASI (the DDR State Security) worked. It was too early in the morning for me to visit (the exhibition opens daily from 10 AM), but I need to come back as many would know my curiosity into the subject:

Here is a juxtaposition with the building to the right, a wasteland (part of former 'death strip) to the left and a hot-air balloon, sponsored by Die Welt to the right.

Speaking of Die Welt, it is well worth mentioning the standpoint of Axel-Springer Publishing Company, that publishes Die Welt, among a number of other daily newspapers and magazines in Germany.

Axel Springer was an idealist who built his empire right at the border between the Federal Germany and the DDR (more on the building here:
His ideology was simple: "believing in German unity", though a conservative one at that.
It is rather less well-known that Die Welt, somewhat similar to the Daily Mail in the UK, ran a hate campaign against the leftists in the era of 1960s, and the infamous RAF. Rudi Dutschke was one leftist, shot in the street by a young boy, as he was being targeted by Die Welt, in 1968. 

While Axel-Springer Strasse (where I took this picture) is an amalgamation of out-of-place contemporary architecture, reminiscent of Potsdamer Platz, as it happens to be one of many former "death strip" areas, the irony lies in its neighbouring Rudi-Dutschke Strasse (formerly Kochstrasse), renamed in the honour of Rudi Dutschke after the leftist newspaper Tageszeitung (taz)'s persistent campaign. 

Even less-known is the work of the artist Peter Lenk "Peace Be With You" on the side of the wall of taz building that directly faces the Axel-Springer Hochhaus. The work clearly mocks the many penis-based cheap news that the likes of Die Welt and many other Axel-Springer publications spam the German society with:

Tracing the Wall has been made easy by numerous attempts of the city authorities. Other than this useful app that I have been using (, the city has marked areas where the Wall once ran and demarcated streets with "Mauerweg" signs to keep Wall commuters along the path of where it used to stand.
As described earlier, there is still a plethora of 'waste land' in inner Berlin. The most famous regeneration attempts of these areas, made derelict as they used to form 'death strips' (the areas between the Wall and the frontier barrier where the Allied soldiers guarded), of course, include Potsdamer Platz. However, as Berlin was admittedly overbuilt in the 1990s with the hopes of relocation of mass populations across from Germany, there was less need to keep building for periods of time (and there may be other reasons, too).  

Today, you still come across areas in these wastelands that now make ways for new office blocks and luxury apartments, 24 years after the Wall has come down. 
...and little did I know that my daily cycling commute, through Heinrich-Heine-Strasse towards Moritzplatz went through a border crossing, here, demarcated by one of many information boards around the city.
Many people allegedly attempted to cross the border here in vehicles, speeding through border police and the physical barriers - while, unfortunately, many of these attempts ended in misery. Today, Moritzplatz, at the heart of Kreuzberg, is relevant in two interesting ways (if not more):
It is an area where land prices skyrocketed more than anywhere else and it houses a refugee/asylum camp of Nigerians (and other Africans) on the park at the square where some of Germany's Occupy movement resided a few years ago.