About Joep

According to the medics, Joep was only born two weeks late. A decade and a half later, he found out it was about 40+ years. Hipster Historian Joep is very interested in youth subcultures in the 1960s. On this blog, he combines his education (historian) with his alter-ego in his leisure (hippiehipster)

The 25th jubilee for the Fall of the Wall. Unsuitable predictability in the form of 8000 balloons.

Bösebrücke, the 9th November 1989.

It’s been 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell. Never again, this concrete monster would demand a casualty from leaving East Berlin. The starting decade of the 1990s promised unification of families and country, as well as an improvement by democracy and material prosperity. Additionally, the Mauerfall was the ultimate peak of the over-throwing of the East German regime, followed by other socialist regimes in the Eastern Bloc. The West thought of itself as nothing less but the winner of history and could expand its capitalist market stands. The fear for a nuclear Apocalypse disappeared like the snow in the sun: the Cold War and its arms race came to a peaceful end. With the Fall – there was no reason to moderate the borderless optimism.

Of course, Berlin’s Bösebrücke deserves all attention during the 25th jubilee of the Mauerfall. This bridge was the compound of the checkpoint Bornholmer Straße that had to be overcome at the historical 9th of November 1989. That noon, a bungling Günter Schabowski -spokesman of the ruling Communist Party- promised at an international press conference that East Berlin’s borders would be open immediately. An East Berlin crowd, mentally prepared by many previous protests and thousands of people that left East Germany, gathered that same evening in front of the checkpoint named above. The commanding officer, Harald Jäger, excluded violence and opened the barriers of the checkpoint at 11:30 pm. The crowd celebrated their way over the Bösebrücke, into West Berlin’s lower-class district Wedding. Clear as the day, Harald Jäger doesn’t deserve anything but a thirty meter high statue made out of white marble, standing on a golden pedestal.

Toppling over the socialist regime and uniting the Germanies was nonviolent, even uncomplicated. Soon after, all the misery started. The socialist regime left behind a useless economy as a heritage. The healing of socialism was implemented with a shock therapy. The market economy was introduced too rapidly, which the old factories couldn’t keep up with. Half a generation of East Germans was doomed to unemployment, social benefits or even a homeless existence. Depression, alcoholism, addiction and violence became a mass phenomenon. Their financial weight caused that united Germany was nicknamed the sick man of Europe, in serious need of social reforms. In the meanwhile, the little profit that was able to suck out of the former East, disappeared mostly in the pockets of West Germans and their businesses. It was a development, often seen by the Ossi’s as economic colonialism. The claimed tax however, was again brought back to -former- East Germany. The amount of public funds that was invested into the former East is estimated between the €250 billion and €1500 billion. Knowing what is means when such a number is not transparent, I would rather believe the second number here is closest. Up till now, many Wessi’s are often dissatisfied for paying the German unification.

With the disappearance of the East German regime, the political violence wasn’t brought to an end at all. The Mauerfall and die Wende (‘The Turn’) resulted in nothing less than a Welle (‘Wave’) of violence from the extreme right. The violence peaked in 1992, when their black boots kicked life out of 26 people. Since the unification, it’s been proven of at least 184 murders that they have been committed by the neo-nazi’s. Who knows how many more victims fell in fact. And the number is still counting due to incidents, but the real Welle seems to be over. Now, a coincidence in history makes that the neo-nazi’s start their own party at the 9th of November – when antisemitic aggression peaked in 1938 during the barbarous Pogromnight. Today, the nazi’s and football hooligans found each other in an aggressive anti-IS coalition. It is feared that they will disturb the celebrations upcoming 9th of November. Berlin’s riot police is preparing a situation already.

Happily, this doesn’t keep the Berliners from celebrating the twenty-fifth jubilee this Sunday. Apparently, the bourgeoisie is the winner of the Mauerfall since a Bürgerfest (‘civilian festivity’ – not ‘people party’) is organised at the Brandenburger Tor. There is music starting at 2 pm, with a culminating point is planned to be in the evening – when Beethoven’s 9th symphony is performed. According to Richard Meng, spokesman of Berlin’s local authorities, the jubilee is going to be an “emotional weekend” in which Berliners “will celebrate the happiest day in the newest history of the city”. For these festivities, Berlin’s authorities therefore asked the help of the brothers Bauder. They had a stunning idea.

Lets dump some illuminating balloons in the city. Kind off looks like the Wall!” said one to another, who more or less answered “Great idea! A light wall where the Wall stood, through the inner city!” and probably forgot that the Berlin Wall had to be about ten times longer. “…But the real Berliners live in the inner city” he probably assumed. “You’re a genius, ‘bro! In this way, the light wall will pass by the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag – so these buildings will finally be on the photos again!” – “And the balloons will fly on the tones of Beethoven!et voila. Of course, these brothers don’t do this for a fish in a tin. Apparently, this conceptually correct balloon costs €240 each, since there is paid about €1.938.000 for it. Happily after all, there was a socially engaged foundation that said “Very artistic, guys! Really interesting! And cheering! So nice of you, to provide the birds in their food for the upcoming winter!” after which the Berliner Lotto Stiftung (‘Berlins Lottery Foundation’) was thank-you-very-much’ed. To make sure that no one is going to be surprised by this boring idea, photo-shopped images of these balloons in front of the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag appear already one year in advance.

And what’s going to happen at the Bösebrücke? Somewhat outside of the centre, we still find here victims of die Wende. These German mumbling, addicted men of a middle age who by the end of the morning sit drunk at the stairs. I’ve seen it myself. The street scene is dominated here by a well-known discount supermarket chain with its blue-yellow logo and a beggar hanging around its entrance. The Bösebrücke is for the Bürgerfest not photogenic enough. Sunday, a speech of three quarters is announced, c’est tout.

So. Twenty-five years after the Mauerfall, the sick man has recovered fairly well. The German politics and economy are relatively stable and trustworthy, big parts of the former East are economically profitable and there is -usually- barely violence on the streets. The overthrow of socialism hasn’t been this successful anywhere else. It wasn’t even nonviolent in Romania and it didn’t succeed in Belarus after all. In former Yugoslavia, the 1990s didn’t mean a unification. The upcoming nationalism resulted in a division, which was heavily encouraged by the German Minister of Foreign Affairs. The situation escalated, a bloody war followed and resulted in a genocide. This however, has all been outside of Germany. It’s kind off on the edge of being context, you see.

For Berlin, the optimism that the Mauerfall started is grounded to a certain extent. For an “emotional weekend” it is even normal to gather nearly €2 million and spread round and about 8000 balloons over the show window of Berlin’s centre. The predictability of how this moment is going to look like is in the strongest contrast possible of all the side-effects that followed the Mauerfall. In my opinion, using balloons is a repetition of the somewhat arrogant optimism 25 years earlier. I can only hope that unforeseen waves of rubbish won’t violate the free spirits in the sky this time.

The Hochbunker Heckeshorn. Hard to miss, yet hard to find.

Lees de Nederlandse versie op de website van Jonge Historici Schrijven Geschiedenis!

Dear audience,

over two months has passed by without me writing an article. While I’ve been productive in walking tours and writing my thesis, I missed visiting spots which I didn’t know about or see before. Although I cannot invest as much time in the investigation of details as I used to, I don’t want to exclude you from the historical sites in -what I call- The Capital of the Twentieth Century. Every second Friday again, for the foreseeable future, one can expect articles as below!

Hochbunker Heckeshorn, Berlin-Zehlendorf (24 September 2013). No © neeed, photo by Joep de Visser.

Somewhere in the woods of Berlin’s district Zehlendorf, the Hochbunker Heckeshorn (an aboveground bunker) survived the last seven decades of history. So far, there is zero English information known about it – and its physical being is also hard to find. After walking half an hour in the rain, two locals couldn’t help me in my quest. A building labourer, currently deconstructing some hospital, even told me that I must have been mistaken. After all, an older woman -without understanding how someone could be interested in a closed down bunker- told me how to get there in only 200 meters.

The site of the Hochbunker Heckeshorn has a short pre-history which started in 1938. Here and then, the Reichsluftschutzschule (Nazi-Germany’s School of Air Defense) was founded. This institute had the task to defend Berlin’s airspace. Already in September 1940, it turned out that they couldn’t. Due to Hitler’s personal command, bunkers were constructed to serve as anti-aircraft canons (Flak‘s) as well as air raid shelters for Berlin’s population. The construction of the Hochbunker Heckeshorn started in 1942. The next year, this six stories high bunker was finished. The bunker’s walls and its roof, made of reinforced concrete, were four meters thick. The Hochbunker Heckeshorn had no Flak‘s, but only served as the central command post for air-defense above and around Berlin. For example, fighter pilots and Flak‘s in a 250 kilometer range were commanded from here. Also, the moment to alarm Berlin’s population for air raids were decided by the staff in the Hochbunker Heckeshorn.

After the War, the bunker served as an American radio station for nearly 20 years. Since 1967, the Hochbunker Heckeshorn served as a lung research clinic, as well as mortuary for the ones who didn’t recover successfully at the nearby lung hospital. In 1985, the bunker was changed into an emergency hospital for €5 million. Over 400 patients and a staff of 120 people could have lived here for a few months. Although the state of emergency never came, this was more twice as affordable than blowing it up with dynamites. In 2001, the mechanic content were given to hospitals in the Czech Republic and Ukraine – after which the bunker became an empty place.

The lung hospital is also useless, stated by the deconstruction worker with his disc grinder. Still, we don’t have to be anxious that he and his colleagues -if they ever find the way to this bunker- will demolish the Hochbunker Heckeshorn. Nowadays, the bunker is in use by the Berliner Unterwelten. Only by taking a tour of this respectable tour-company, the Hochbunker Heckeshorn’s interior is visitable. Unfortunately, these tours don’t take place regularly. Still, you can make photos of its exterior on rainy afternoon – as I did. If you are interested to see a Berlin Hochbunker in a more easy way, please wait for the next update!

Hochbunker Heckeshorn, Berlin-Zehlendorf (26 September 2013). No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser.