German stuff that's distracting us today.
Joni Mitchell may have said it best: You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone. Or going.
When news first surfaced in November of last year that the Frohnau radio tower in northern Berlin was to be demolished, a few nostalgic residents spared owner and Deutsche Telekom subsidiary Deutsche Funkturm GmbH (DFMG) no critical words. But the gathering of thousands of spectators for Sunday’s demolition painted a much more accurate picture of the emotional significance of Berlin’s second-tallest man-made structure.
The blustery day only enhanced the impending drama of the scene: like devotees to a great pilgrimage, observers streamed into the yellowy no-man’s land behind Frohnau where the Berlin Wall once stood, plodding through muck and mud, weaving past dirt piles and dead reeds. Look-out points gradually formed: ridges in fields, mounds and trenches filled with people in colourful winter jackets, hats, hoods, gloves. Bikes and cameras. All eyes slowly settled on the 358-metre tower which, for many, had always stood there.
Construction on the Frohnau radio tower first began in 1977. Upon completion, the mast would host a radio transmission system to facilitate communication between West Berlin and West Germany. The first transmission to Gartow, Lower Saxony was sent on June 1 1979. The 20-square-metre room near the tower’s top became the highest closed man-made space in the EU.
That was a title it held up until Sunday. At 1:10 pm against a grey-padded sky, an explosion could be seen toward the base of the tower, then the sway of its pinnacle as the lower section of the structure twisted out beneath the greater 200 metres of metal and wood it had supported for the last 30 years. Within eight seconds, the gaunt, red-and-white-striped mast disappeared into the wooded landscape below.
For many, it was the execution of an icon – an object many West Berliners remember as the first sign of home on a trip from the north. A symbol of independence and pride, if for no one else, then for Frohnauers. But like most executions, while some observed in discomfort, others watched in eager anticipation. The Frohnau radio tower had stood as one more tired relic of the Cold War – a sometimes painful reminder of the historical divide that existed within the country.
With operational costs set around €50,000 a year, however, the tower’s fate was more a product of pragmatism than politics. And if nothing else, nostalgic mourners of the Frohnauer Funkturm have myriads of photos and YouTube video to help them remember just how it all went down.
German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück has left ministers in London aghast with his undiplomatically forthright comments about the British stimulus package. Many British newspaper editors, however, are citing German prudence with approval.
Speaking to Newsweek, Steinbrück described Gordon Brown’s bid to borrow his way out of recession as ‘crass Keynesianism’. Mockingly, he pointed out that the cut in value added tax from 17.5 to 15 percent would leave a DVD player 80 pence cheaper – hardly enough to entice people to hit the malls.
Steinbrück’s comments were a blow for Brown and his chancellor (finance minister) Alistair Darling, providing as they did a pointed reminder of how much better prepared Germany is than Britain for the tough times ahead. Germany’s budget surplus contrasts with Britain’s large deficit; the high levels of personal debt in the UK contrast with low debt and high levels of savings in Germany.
Needless to say, today’s UK papers have been poring over the entrails of the Newsweek interview – before picking them up and slinging them at the British government.
The tabloid Sun newspaper, never a great friend of understatement, was quick to paraphrase the finance minister; ‘Germans: Gord is a total failure’, it shrieked.
Over at the centrist Independent, Jeremy Warner wondered whether the Steinbrück might like to take over his column: ‘In two words, he’s managed to articulate what many of us have been struggling to say ever since the [British] Government announced a £20bn VAT giveaway in the pre-Budget report – namely that trying to spend your way out of recession after years of preaching fiscal rectitude is not only a U-turn of quite astonishing proportions, but also that in the manner proposed it probably won’t do any good either.’
The right-wing populist Daily Mail agreed. It found itself in the unusual position of summoning the ghost of uptight sitcom hotelier Basil Fawlty to side with a German Social Democrat. In an article headlined ‘Don’t Mention the Fiscal Stimulus’, the paper admitted it wouldn’t usually take advice from Steinbrück, a man ‘known to frown on Anglo-Saxon free markets who earlier this year starred in a rap video wearing an Afro wig.’ But, it said, this time he was right:
All around the world, governments are rushing to spend and borrow their way out of the recession, despite no country in history ever managing to do this.
The Financial Times cautioned that the German finance minister may have spoken too soon. Reminding readers that Steinbrück is ‘not known for keeping his thoughts to himself,’ it describes his anger with Britain as ‘understandable, but misplaced’. Understandable, because Steinbrück has spent the past few years diligently bringing the German public finances back into the black. Misplaced because the economic downturn elsewhere is having a massive impact on German exporters. The time will come for Germany to lecture the rest of Europe on prudence, the paper says. For now, though, ‘Germany must start spending. The consequences otherwise will be dire.’
Other columnists were warning that it would be more correct to apply the ‘crass’ label to German policy. The economics editor of the Daily Telegraph, Edmund Conway, argued that German ‘inaction and restraint’ could have much worse consequences than the hyperactivity of the British.
During the 1930s it was the resistance of the world’s surplus nations to large-scale rescue packages that caused the economic misery to spread so virulently around the world.
Right or wrong, Steinbrück’s comments have done little to improve German-British relations. Still less have they sold German economic prudence to British ministers and their supporters in the press. But they have certainly given ammunition to Gordon Brown’s detractors.
Today German tabloid daily Bild ran a story that claimed to confirm the long-standing speculation that Adolf Hitler had only one testicle. As is our custom at The Local when dealing with Bild coverage, we went looking for the facts behind the story. Our search revealed that UK tabloid The Sun actually broke the story – which was quoted by a number of news organisations around the world, including Bild (though without attribution).
The problem, though, is that in their eagerness for a few Hitler-driven clicks, these news sites failed to mention a source for the information.
The Local called The Sun in London and they passed us off to a freelancer who provided some details, but he didn’t exactly make things clear. When we pressed for more, the freelancer got testy and said, “It was good enough for The Sun.” Of course. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
So while emasculating an evil dictator seems harmless enough, we’d rather let The Sun deal with all the bollocks about Hitler.
Berlin, we are led to believe, is spellbound by the arrival of Hollywood glamour in the form of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The couple are enjoying an extended stay in the capital while Pitt films a new Quentin Tarantino movie, Inglorious Bastards, which is set in the Second World War.
If you’re desperate to get a glimpse of movie royalty, the International Herald Tribune has put together a little guide to the Pitts’ new ‘hood, Wannsee. Apparently, the couple’s new 30,000-square-foot home has 20 rooms, but there’s much more to do there than just gawping at celebrity homes. Read the article here.
E-commerce was supposed to break down borders, but try buying something from a website overseas and you’ll frequently find that there’s some lawyer who says you can’t.
A tune might be available on iTunes in the UK or France, but if your iTunes account is in Germany or Sweden you will often find yourself barred from buying it. Sometimes, the European Single Market is little more than an illusion – and for expats in particular, it can be frustrating.
The European Commission is now trying to bang a few heads together. Competition commissioner Nellie Kroes has brought together Apple’s Steve Jobs, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and the CEO of eBay to try to work out what can be done.
Still, isn’t it odd that Eurocrats should be needed to persuade companies to sell their products to consumers who want to buy them? Surely good capitalists should want to find a way to make this happen?
Berlin: September 18th, 2008 at 6:05 pm by JS
With the anniversary of German reunification just round the corner, newspapers in Germany and abroad are taking their annual look at how the wounds of separation are healing, nearly two decades on. According to Britain’s Independent the divisions are becoming less distinct – but slowly. The paper speaks to, among others, Simone Matern of Berlin’s famous Trabant safari tours. For her, West and East Berliners still maintain an invisible wall in their minds:
Matern admits that West Berliners don’t move too much around East Berlin. “They’d rather leave the city than move to East Berlin, and East Berliners don’t really move to West Berlin. There are very few marriages between East and West Berliners. It’s amazing.”
International: September 16th, 2008 at 6:02 pm by JS
The bodies of many American GIs who died in the Second World War have never been found. Now the US Department of Defense is stepping up efforts to locate the remains of troops who died in Germany. The search is currently centred on the Huertgen Forest, the scene of a bloody battle in 1944. But as Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports, few of the estimated 2,000 bodies are expected to be found.
Read the whole story here:
Miscellaneous: August 5th, 2008 at 12:09 pm by JS
Barack Obama’s recent visit to Berlin had the phones at Local HQ ringing hot, such was the huge international interest in the speech by the Democratic candidate for the US presidency. Follow this link to hear our editor Marc Young tell Wisconsin Public Radio how the Obama message went down among Germans – and why Germans remain opposed to sending more troops to Afghanistan:
Listen to the full interview here.
Miscellaneous: August 1st, 2008 at 11:06 am by JS
Raising living standards in the former East Germany has been a long and painful process, still incomplete nearly two decades after the country was reunited. One factor that has slowed economic development has been poor transport links in the former communist east. The Wall Street Journal has an
interesting reporton how one city has seen business boom since the arrival of the Autobahn:
Wismar was one of the earliest German cities to benefit from the A20, and it probably won’t be the last, if recent economic data are any guide. Its home state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany’s poorest, may be entering an economic turnaround because of the highway that traverses it, Germany’s first new autobahn since World War II.
Miscellaneous: July 22nd, 2008 at 1:48 pm by JS
Some say Germany lacks a celebrity culture of the kind that exists in the United States – an egalitarian world-view and a dose of intellectual snobbery means that the cult of fame has never taken off here in the same way. All to the good, you might think, if you’ve been dismayed by the trials of the ‘famous for being famous’ Hiltons, Lohans and Richies of this world. But the founding editor of German Vanity Fair, Ulf Poschardt, tells the New York Times that a dose of celebrity is just what Germany needs:
I think we need to create our own independent sense of glamour, not self-consciously, but because we should stop this superegalitarianism and be more open to difference. I don’t mean we should have pomp, but the state here has the power to make everyone the same. It’s a democratic ideal, but it was also a fascist idea.
Poschardt is quoted in an article by Michael Kimmelman profiling a show of papparazzi pics at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin. Kimmelman makes the point that Newton, whose photos of models pretending to be celebs being photographed by paps are featured in the exhibition, had a less angsty attitude to celebrity than most Germans, “but then, he spent most of his life in places like Los Angeles and Monaco, not Germany.”