Update: The Monument Has Been Destroyed.
We at Davids Medienkritik have been closely following events surrounding the planned removal of the Checkpoint Charlie monument. The monument, which consists of over 1,000 crosses adorned with the names of those murdered attempting to escape Communist East Germany for freedom during the Cold War, was to be razed in the middle of the night at 4:01 AM on July 4th Berlin time. After widespread protest from victim's families, American veterans groups and many others, the city decided to move the scheduled bulldozing back a day to 4:01 AM on July 5th, cynically explaining that its initial decision had been "mediawise imprudent." But, as we have already noted, the irony is that at 4:01 AM Berlin time on the 5th, it will still be July 4th in the USA! It will be 10:01 PM in New York and 7:01 PM in LA, just about the time Americans will be setting off fireworks to celebrate the anniversary of their independence!
The Checkpoint Charlie monument scheduled for destruction July 5th in Berlin (July 4th in the USA): Each cross has the name, and in some cases, photo of a victim of Communism murdered attempting to escape East Germany during the Cold War. Three Americans are among those honored.
Berlin's Socialist-Communist City Government Behind the Monument's Planned Removal
Unfortunately, the portion of Checkpoint Charlie on which the monument stands is not a protected historic site. It is owned by a bank named Bankaktiengesellschaft (BAG) headquartered in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It was Bankaktiengesellschaft which leased the land to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and its director, Ms. Alexandra Hildebrandt. On her own initiative and with the help of others, Ms. Hildebrandt began putting the monument together last year. According to John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, it was officially unveiled on November 15, 2004 to mark the 15th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall. Since that day the monument has been a thorn in the eye of the city government of Berlin, which is made up of a coalition between the SPD (Gerhard Schroeder's Social-Democrats) and the PDS (former SED party that ran Communist East Germany). This despite the fact that the site attracts thousands of tourists daily and generates a significant income.
Perhaps the monument's most outspoken critic has been city official Thomas Flierl of the Communist PDS, who has blamed the site for what he sees as the "Disneyfication" of Berlin. He and others in the Berlin city government have repeatedly called for the crosses to be removed and put pressure on Bankaktiengesellschaft to terminate its lease to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. The bank cooperated and successfully sued Ms. Hildebrandt when she refused to remove the monument. Since the court decision was handed down, those wishing to preserve the monument have been told by Bankaktiengesellschaft (BAG) that the site can only be purchased for 36 million Euros (or about $43.2 million), an outrageously inflated price. Clearly, the bank's so-called offering price is completely absurd and clearly designed to frustrate the monument's supporters since the real estate's true market value is not worth even a fraction of the bank's asking price.
Henry Nickel of Republicans Abroad correctly described the bank's actions as a smokescreen and a total lack of good-faith aimed at giving the Berlin city government what it wants: Clearance to bulldoze the site. Mr. Nickel also pointed out that the bank is now refusing to take calls on the matter, instead asking those who oppose the monument's removal to send a written letter. The bank's disingenuous stonewalling and outrageous pricetag clearly demonstrate a sense of profound arrogance and condescension towards those wishing to preserve the monument.
Massive Conflict of Interest (from our first article)
What makes this story all the more disturbing is the obvious conflict of interest involved. As we indicated above, the Communist PDS is currently a member of the coalition that governs the city of Berlin. But prior to 1990, the PDS was known as the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands), the party that ruled East Germany with an absolutist iron fist. It was the SED dictatorship that was directly responsible for the hundreds of murders that the crosses at Checkpoint Charlie memorialize. And guess what? The PDS wants the monument torn down!
According to Deutsche Welle:
"The Berlin Senate for Urban Planning, one of the project's main detractors, fears that the capital is fast becoming a "Disneyland" version of its former self and insists the wall monument is too reminiscent of the Holocaust project at the Brandenburg Gate. The authority stresses that the East German dictatorship cannot be equated with the atrocities of the Third Reich."
In other words, the Socialists and Communists in Berlin's city government don't want to be constantly reminded of the murders that the SED dictatorship committed during the Cold War. How unpleasant that would be for them! So they would rather allow the crosses to be bulldozed and mockingly associate the monument with Disneyland, a place that many Germans see as a symbol of trivial American commercialization.
July 3: Rally to Preserve Checkpoint Charlie Monument in Berlin
We at Davids Medienkritik would therefore like to support efforts underway to gather at the monument site this Sunday, July 3, 2005. Anyone who can make it to Berlin this Sunday is encouraged to attend. Here are the details:
On Sunday July 3, a temporary photomontage will be set up at Checkpoint Charlie to demonstrate international support and solidarity for preserving the site as a monument to the struggle for freedom. The installation will consist of a montage of approximately five photos illustrating the history of Checkpoint Charlie and the division of Berlin. Under the theme "Ich bin ein Berliner - I support preserving Checkpoint Charlie as a monument to the struggle for freedom." visitors to the site will have the opportunity to sign their name and provide their country of origin on the installation.
Volunteers will be mobilized to Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburger Tor and Alexander Platz on Sunday morning July 3 at 11 a.m. to pass out flyers notifying visitors to visit Checkpoint Charlie and sign their name on the installation.
Everyone taking part will then gather at the monument site at 3 p.m. Berlin time on Sunday, July 3 to express their support.
A BBQ will follow in Mitte starting at 17:00. Press will be notified of the effort, the emphasis will be to maximize public turnout at the Memorial site on Sunday up until the scheduled demolition on July 5 and provide as many signatures and expressions of support as possible.
Like Disneyland? How can Schroeder's SPD Support the Monument's Destruction on July 4th of all Days?
This all comes in the wake of Monday's visit of German Chancellor Schroeder to the White House in which Mr. Schroeder attempted to convince Americans that all is fine and well with German-American relations. As John Fund of the Wall Street Journal pointed out, the monument's planned destruction is one item that should have been on the agenda but wasn't during Schroeder's meeting with President Bush. Have Germans already forgotten the sacrifices of thousands of Americans who stood guard at Checkpoint Charlie and throughout Germany for decades during the Cold War?
Important: Let Them Know How You Feel!
You can email Thomas Flierl's spokesperson at: Pressestelle@senwfk.verwalt-berlin.de
You can email Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit (SPD) at: Der-Regierende-Buergermeister@Skzl.Verwalt-Berlin.de
Note: Be sure to check out our first article on this issue.
(Article by Ray D.)