Category Archive 'Berlin'

09 Aug 2016

Cold War, Berlin

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BerlinEscape
Three West German police officers, wearing old time helmets, back down seven East German Stasi armed with submachine guns after a young woman made it across the line. The West German foreground cop has unholstered his P-38.

09 Nov 2009

20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

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Twenty years ago, the Soviet Empire was beginning to collapse.

In the Telegraph, Charles S. Maier recalls the suddenness of the end.

As late as the summer of 1989, the protesting groups seemed small and fragmented, but then, encouraged by the sense of change that their own activity helped to generate, many more joined the prayer meetings in the large urban churches of Leipzig and Berlin, marched with their candles for a relaxation of press restrictions and, emboldened by those who were heading West, shouted, “We are staying here,” and by September, “We are the people!”

Repeated Monday-night demonstrations in Leipzig swelled to 70,000 by mid-October, a week after the GDR celebrated its 40th anniversary.

The regime could no longer control its frontiers, and chose not to contest the streets. A divided politburo ousted its old-guard members, including party chief Erich Honecker, and after massive demonstrations in Berlin, it decided to relax travel restrictions, leading to the joyous confusion of November 9.

Was such a peaceful revolution inevitable? Three months earlier, Chinese authorities had opted to use force and crushed the pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing. Could the East Germans have wagered on a Chinese solution?

Politburo elders, including Honecker and minister of state security Erich Mielke, who were out of touch with the profound dissent growing across their little republic, might have believed that they could.

But we know from transcribed conversations that younger heirs to the state were despairing. Revolutions usually begin when a ruling group fragments, and the GDR leadership was deeply divided by late summer.

For all the loyalty it might muster, the GDR’s existence, moreover, depended on the presence of several hundred thousand Soviet troops garrisoned originally as occupation forces and, since 1955, as Warsaw Pact allies.

Their tanks had suppressed the protests of striking East Berlin workers in June 1953, when local Soviet commanders understood that their fragile satellite might dissolve into the West.

Until 1989, the Red Army’s presence remained a deterrent, deployed against Hungary’s impetuous revolutionaries in 1956 and Czechoslovak reformers in August 1968. If there were violent clashes in the autumn of 1989, might Soviet troops be used again?

In public, Gorbachev helped Honecker, whom he found tiresome and didactic, to celebrate the GDR’s 40th anniversary in early October.

In private, he was reported to have said that history punishes those who come too late. Discreetly, and through his embassy, he signalled that his Berlin wards were on their own. Russian troops would stay in their barracks.

Local East German officials understood that a crackdown could lead to violence beyond their capacity to control it.

The demonstrators enforced their own discipline and called mostly for dialogue. Their radicalism was limited: no one knew how much would change as the Wall was opened on November 9. Few leaders of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (the SED) and few of the demonstrators’ ad hoc “civic movements” expected their republic to be swept away within a few months.

However, Chancellor Kohl soon concluded that he must outbid the East German reformers’ vision of existing side by side with the West German state by manipulating economic and national longings.

Simultaneously, he persuaded Western leaders (Mrs Thatcher excepted) that the Germans would remain good Europeans and Gorbachev that German self-determination was no threat to Moscow.

The Russian leader, himself intoxicated by the momentum of change, did not expect that his own Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet federation would dissolve within two years, either. But he earned his Nobel for not resisting the dissolution by force.

Germany is celebrating the anniversary, as the New York Times reports. But Barack Obama is not attending the observances of so unhappy an occasion from his perspective. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is standing in for him representing the United States.

It’s only too obvious why Barack Obama, who dashed off to Copenhagen at the drop of a hat to lobby for Chicago’s Olympic bid, is unwilling to attend. But Reuters is asking out loud “Should Obama Be in Berlin?” and is even conducting a poll on the subject. I vote No. I think he ought to be in Havana or Caracas or Pyongyang, crying over a beer with other leaders reduced to despondence by such a defeat for their side.

The BBC took a poll intended to demonstrate that Barack Obama is far from alone in lacking enthusiasm. Only 11% of responders thought capitalism was working well at the present time, and in many countries there was significant doubt that the fall of Communism was actually a good thing.

20 Oct 2009

He’s Going To Stay Home And Cry Instead

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Vladimir Putin has described the demise of the Soviet Empire as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

Putin is not alone in declining to celebrate the defeat of Communism. Spiegel reports that Barack Obama is opting out of going to Berlin to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down.

The unhappy task of keeping a stiff upper lip while pretending to celebrate the victory of a Republican conservative and a Polish pope over socialism will devolve upon the unfortunate Hillary Clinton.

US President Barack Obama has shelved his plans to attend festivities marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will reportedly take his place at the Nov. 9 celebrations.

Germany is going to have to wait longer than expected for US President Barack Obama’s first official visit. Citing government sources in Berlin, Reuters reported on Friday that Obama will not attend the anniversary festivities marking two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event will take place on Nov. 9 — just two days before Obama embarks on a long-planned trip to Asia on Nov. 11.

16 Dec 2008

Wild Boar Controversy in Berlin

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Berliners, the Wall Street Journal reports, have a bigger problem than the pesky white-tailed deer infesting American suburbs these days.

Berlin’s wooded parks, suburbs and increasingly mild winters make it Europe’s capital city for sus scrofa, the wild, tusked ancestor of the domestic pig. The booming population of porkers has Germans on the run, reversing the natural order of things.

Boars like to dig up worms and grubs with their snouts, churning manicured gardens into muddy battlefields. They’ve plowed up parks, cemeteries and even the training ground of Berlin’s major-league soccer team, Herta BSC.

he swine are an obstacle on Berlin’s streets, where 211 have died in traffic accidents in the past eight months. But despite the porcine problem, part of Berlin’s human population is siding with the boars against those who shoot them. Urban hunters have been beaten with sticks, called “murderers” and had their tires slashed. Mr. Eggert once had to call for police protection when a crowd of young partygoers, enraged after he shot a boar that had been wounded by a car, threatened to beat him up.

The boars are usually peace-loving. But 250-pound adults armed with sharp, upward-curving tusks can be dangerous if they think they’re cornered. In October, when hunters shot a tusker in a cornfield south of Berlin, the wounded animal counterattacked, killing one man and injuring another who’d come to finish it off. Every year in Berlin several dogs are gored to death after rashly challenging boars to a fight. On one occasion, three boars got lost in a day-care center on Alexanderplatz in the heart of Berlin and panicked. The children hadn’t arrived for the day yet, but the boars nearly gored the janitor.

The growing threat to life, limb and lawns has led Berlin to take extraordinary measures. In 2002, City Hall began appointing special Stadtjäger, or “urban hunters.” …

Hunters have shot over 500 boars in urban areas since April, but boar numbers keep rising. Up to 7,000 now live in the city.

slideshow

2:23 video

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Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.


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