Victor Grossman – 15. November 2020

Berlin Bulletin No. 183

Victor Grossman

Ding-dong, the wicked witch is dead! A wicked but very male Witch of the East seemed to be crushed under a houseful of angry voters, though this house, unlike Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz, was definitely not from Kansas! And I have a lingering fear that the man still in the White House may plan another trump card, like a false flag operation to provoke a conflict – at home, with Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, even China – then proclaim a national emergency requiring him to remain commander-in-chief. Is that just a hangover nightmare? Or can someone finally dig up a straitjacket?
Countless Germans also waited, full of angst, for final numbers from distant Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona – while many puzzled over the mysteries of the Electoral College. (Does it have dormitories or offer a degree?) Or why, until January 20th, a weird fowl called a lame duck can keep squawking about foundless, featherless “Fouls”! But as the figures rolled in from Pennsylvania there was a collective German sigh of relief (and a few may have wondered whether Germantown, PA also played a part).
The media here are full of speculation: How much friendlier will Biden be toward Germany and Europe? There will certainly be far less friction. Is that good or bad? Federal Germany was a compliant buddy of every US government – until 2016. Its growing independence since then was partly due to dictatorial White House insistence that Germany buy American fracking gas instead of cheaper Russian pipeline gas. Also due to pressure because Germany never spent quite the giant sum on armaments demanded by NATO, also largely imported from the USA. Nor did it join heartily in provoking trouble with Iran. Will Germany now revert to its long, cosy relationship with the Pentagon, Langley and the billionaire transatlantic gang? Or will it prefer to build up its own strength as the biggest bully in its European playground, with heavy-muscled domination of a new European army and the European economy, now free of British competition – plus growing power in other continents? With the witch gone, will Germany again be caught between the devil and the deep blue (Baltic) Sea?
But enough of worries about Trump and other toxic mixtures, including the virus shutdown. After all, maybe a possible vaccine rescue is really in view! I turn instead, almost sadly, to the end of a different and less menacing story – that of Berlin’s Tegel Airport.
Why sadly? Except for those poor souls who lived under its arriving and departing planes – every two minutes from dawn to late evening (and who now rejoice) – most Berliners liked or even loved it. East Berliners, able to use it after 1989 and undisturbed by its Cold War/Berlin Airlift history, also came to admire it. That was easy. Only five miles from downtown, its unique hexagon shape made it amazingly practical.  With no long safaris through mazes of “duty-free” shops, there was a short walk to the right check-in counter, five steps to pass control, five more steps to a short, one-line baggage check, separate for each plane, and you were right in the waiting room for your gate. No endless corridors, confusing turns, multiple escalators. When arriving in Berlin, a usually perfunctory pass control near your plane’s short exit tunnel led right to your baggage carousel. After a brief glance by the customs checkers you were one door away from bus, taxi or car slots inside the hexagon. Maybe twenty yards in all. Yes, air travel via Tegel could almost be pleasant again.
BER. Pfoto: YouTube

But alas, it proved too small, so it was decided to build a big, super-modern airport replacing it and the equally overfilled Schönefeld airport on East Berlin’s oppositer border. It would be more than double so far from downtown, but a quick, easy city rail connection was guaranteed. In 2006 work began on the Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt project – named for the former West Berlin mayor and West German chancellor. It was to cost 2 billion euros.
Elaborate opening ceremonies were planned for June 2011. Then, only weeks in advance, Berlin’s mayor, Brandenburg’s minister president and a federal minister, its joint bosses, admitted shame-facedly that the deadline could not be met. Nor could the 2012 deadline. Nor 2013. Year after year new blunders, snafus, doors that got stuck, ceiling extinguishers that didn’t extinguish, etc., etc. , delay followed delay, and before long all Germany finally had something to laugh about. Bets were offered: which would be first, the airport or a human on Mars. Others advised: “Let’s just move Berlin to a functioning airport – that’s cheaper and quicker!“ Nostalgic East German “Ossies” recalled West Germans’ haughty condescension about the capitalist system’s efficiency and superiority.
It finally did open on October 30th, nine years late and with a triple price tag of 6 billion euros! An awful lot of euros sliddered into many an already very heavy pocket! The opening ceremonies were kept to an embarrassed minimum and now, alas, its great size is no longer needed, with virus-cut travel down to a minimum, airlines going broke and cutting or closing down.
Tegel closed the same weekend with an outdoor farewell dance by the big uniformed ex-staff. There was one farewell last flight, then all the lights were turned off. This – and virus masks – covered over many a tearful face.
There were more tearful faces ninety miles to the south in Leipzig – for a very different reason: tear gas! Or rather for two reasons. For days there had been a nasty conflict beween the city police and young people in a neighborhood dominated by left-anarchist young people. In their opposition to gentrification – and resultant soaring rents – they are quick to throw things, but rarely want to hurt anyone – except maybe the “bulls”. One small group, led by a young women, does physically attack neo-fascists and extreme rightwingers. When she was arrested a melee began last weekend, with  water cannon and tear gas coming into play.
On the very same weekend, possibly by concidence, Leipzig was hit by a giant rally of the so-called Querdenken movement – “thinking crosswise”, which refers to its welcome to anyone and everyone across the prism, left or right. Thousands are bussed in to its rallies from around the country, and while its organizers often spout phantasy figures (this time 50,000), the number was most likely well over 20,000. Their basic position is that the dangers from the Corona epidemic are greatly exaggerated, facial masks invade our privacy, social distancing is nonsense and it’s all a Merkel plot to suppress freedom.  Some are opposed to all vaccination, others suspect a world plot by Bill and Melinda Gates, with just a whiff of anti-Semitism mixed in, and its far right margins, often almost openly fascistic, display far right flags, slogans and QAnon signs. All sectors defy the regulations on masks and distancing.
Just like in Berlin and elsewhere, they were permitted to gather – under the same regulations which they clearly flouted, which the greatly outnumbered police ignored till almost the last speech was ended, when it began to arrest a few unmasked demonstrators. At left-wing demonstrations in bygone years, ironically, they arrested those who DID wear masks – or balaklavas. Far more puzzling, it was the highest court in Saxony (Leipzig’s state) which rejected the city’s attempt to ban the rally to the outskirts and insisted that they had the right to the city center. The result; when the police began arresting a handful, the far right contingent went on a nasty rampage, fighting cops, journalists and just about anybody who obediently wore a face mask. A minor version of these events – openly fascist – was taking place in Saxony’s capital, Dresden, causing turmoil in the governing coalition, made up of Social Democrats, Greens and right-wing Christian Democrats.
November 9th is a highly meaningful date in German history.  After rebellious navy sailors in Kiel refused to continue World War One on that day in 1918, Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils seized power in Berlin in their November Revolution. The Kaiser resigned, two days later came the armistice and German surrender and Karl Liebknecht’s proclamation of a socialist republic from the royal palace. But this attempt was immediately stymied and the “moderates” of the Social Democratic Party set up the weak Weimar Republic, soon ruled again by the same big business forces and lasting only fourteen years before it succumbed to Hitler’s mobs and secret super-rich backers.
 On November 9 1938, called Kristallnacht by the Nazis because of all the broken glass, a government-led pogrom was begun; 1400 synagogues and Jewish religious sites were destroyed, usually by undisturbed fire, thousands of Jewish stores were pillaged and 30,000 Jewish men were thrown into concentration camps, where hundreds died – presaging – a few years later, the total annihilation of the Jewish community in Germany – in what was to be known as the Holocaust or Shoah.
On the same date in 1989 – surely by coincidence – an unexpected ruling led to the opening of the Berlin Wall, a major step in the demolition eleven months later of the East German Democratic Republic, an attempt, after World War Two, to build up – in at least a smaller third of Gemany – a state free of the giant monopolies and cartels which had profited from the first world war, built up Hitler and made billions during World War Two by war production, the seizure of nearly all of Europe and the toil of hundreds of thousands of slave laborers.
This year’s November 9th, although the events contained little of earlier victory, tragedy, hope  or sadness, and with most German streets, aside from a few like Leipzig and Dresden, very calm and often “pandemic-empty “,  nevertheless contained omens enough of what could happen in future – or what, by dire necessity, really needed to happen!
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