and ends somewhere nearby. A few Sundays back, as runners in the Berlin Half-Marathon were reaching the end of their trek at Alexanderplatz in the midst of an April snowstorm (why *did* I move here anyway?), I was taking a guided flashlight tour of the bunker system found directly under all those exhausted and frozen athletes. While winding my way through the damp corridors which clearly hadn’t had any fresh air in decades it occurred to me that a couple of D-cell batteries were about all that kept me from becoming stuck there in the darkness for a really, really long time. It also wasn’t lost on me that I probably shared a faith in those D-cells with unnumbered Iraqis who were at that moment for vastly different reasons stuck in similar bunkers several thousand miles to the southeast. Even as Alexanderplatz is being transformed from a charmingly depressed Eastern-bloc department store complex into a depressingly typical western-style shopping plaza, the bunkers remain just below the surface, just in case. Unlike in Baghdad, “just in case” seems like a distant possibility, even if thousands of Berliners pass just overhead the site of the contingency plan everyday.
A few days later and about a half mile away at the Unsicht-Bar, I had an overpriced dinner in a pitch black restaurant. Staffed with blind waiters and waitresses, who navigate through the place with ease, the restaurant offers the novelty of temporary sightlessness complimented by an average cuisine which is not hard to eat with your hands should you give up trying to figure out where the business end of the fork happens to be pointed. Though it only opened about a month ago, I figure that the place will stay around for another year and a half at most: as California utility payers can attest, paying too much to be kept in the dark is not something that you want to sign up for more than once.
Last Wednesday in the full-moon shadow of the Ferehsehnturm, 95 Stunde was getting underway in a former shoe shop that stood on the ground floor of a soon-to-be renovated building (it’s part of that big Alexanderplan mentioned above). Lots of laptop performers, a set of temporary servers for streaming, and a steady supply of beer and espresso kept everyone in the right spirits (though I’m not sure if the word “convivial” actually applied here). Someone had thoughtfully applied the words “artists suck” to one of the walls. Given the long lineup of acts throughout the 95 hours of the project, it was certain that some of them did live up to the tag, though I didn’t sick around long enough to keep a complete score.
Instead I headed off with some friends to the 8mm Bar to catch a night of Spanish pop music and video projections based on the Caves of Altamira. It was tempting to think that club projections serve as a new form of cave painting, but actually it just was a pleasure to see the ancient iconography and soft-edged colors swimming around the screen in place of the usual aggressive editing and eye-bruising hues. (Despite it’s name, everytime I’ve been to 8mm there have been only videos and no films on view, what gives?).
That evening was the first taste of spring here, but it really arrived a few days later. And what better way to spend a glorious Easter Sunday afternoon than to make a trip deep into East Berlin to visit the Stasi Museum? Located in the former Stasi headquarters it appears closed from the outside even when it is open, naturally. Featuring artifacts of the spy trade, stories of operations and resistance, and lots of unenthusiastically kitsch DDR objects such as beer cans bearing the logo of the official Stasi soccer team, the place looks like a shrine to a recent but closed chapter in history until you start reading through some of the materials on display. Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi from 1957 until its demise in 1989 and a Stalinist until the end, had a number of favorite sayings, among them the familiar-sounding, “Who is not with us is against us. Who is against us is an enemy and enemies must be eliminated.” Elsewhere you find out that the Stasi files showed evidence that as the high-ups realized in the late 80’s that the DDR economy would soon collapse and the government with it, the Stasi should encourage its demise and prepare to take advantage of the social changes that were sure to come. Then, as the Wall came down in 1989, all of the most sophisticated spy technologies disappeared from the Stasi headquarters; the supplier of these technologies reorganized and opened for business after reunification. And in the chaos of late 1989, much of the wealth of the Stasi, estimated to be around 65 billion marks also disappeared.
These and many other stories found there made me think of Robert Fisk’s recent dispatch from Baghad in which he notes that after World War II, just as occurred after the Wall came down, there was an aggresive and immediate investigation of the security files of collapsed goverments, but in Baghdad this has yet to be done. He also asks who is setting all the fires to the official ministries in Baghdad (save the Ministry of Oil, naturally) and in whose interest they are being set. He also notes that despite official claims to the contrary, looting and violence is still widespread. Add to that the questions around the disappearance of Iraqi art treasures and my visit to the former Stasi Ministry seemed more and more like a time trip through the present.