Monday, December 27, 2004

Another Classic NYT piece

Memorial to Berlin Wall Victims Divides the City Again

BERLIN, Dec. 24 - Fifteen years after the fall of the wall, Berlin finally has a memorial to the many people shot and killed while trying to escape from the East to the West. But rather than a source of pride and satisfaction, the memorial is proving to be the cause of contention and conflict.

Unfortunately a pretty high percentage of readers just look at the opening paragraph of a news article, then move on. Those folks would come away with the idea that the memorial is a source of conflict. But, what does the article actually say?
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In all, 1,067 people are said to have died trying to flee East Germany's Communist dictatorship.

Are *said* to have died? What, is there some question that maybe they were actually magically transported to fantasy island?

The memorial, put up by Alexandra Hildebrandt, the director of the private
Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which receives some 700,000 visitors a year, is disliked by the Berlin authorities, who find it unhistorical and symbolically inaccurate, the wrong design in the wrong place. They also do not like it that it is a memorial in one of the city's most visible locations established by a private individual according to her private inclinations, rather than one that has the seal of approval of Berlin itself.

So the contention and conflict in the opening graf is simply that the government doesn't like the memorial. I can understand that. If I were in the German government I probably wouldn't want people pointing out recent history either. Much better to have a memorial over which the government has control so they can control the story. But the memorial is unhistorical, right?

"This is not the location where people died," Rainer Klemke, the head of the memorials department of Berlin's cultural senate, said in a telephone interview,
arguing the unsuitability of Checkpoint Charlie as a place for a memorial to the dead.

That is the unhistorical bit: No fair, this memorial is not on the exact site where we killed those 1,000 people so it should be dismantled.

"Mrs. Hildebrandt is an artist and doesn't have a single historian in her house," Mr. Klemke continued. "She doesn't have a scientific adviser, so she can think about something in bed on Saturday night and do it on Monday, and of course that is the core problem of the whole discussion - whether a state or a city can allow a single person to take over responsibility, regardless of whether what she is doing is good or bad."


The "core problem" seems to be that Mrs. Hildebrandt is suffering from a bout of freedom of speech. Incidentally, the memorial is a field of crosses, one for each of the dead. But if she had an historian or "scientific advisor" in her house (sort of creepy, no) perhaps they could have made it more historically accurate in some totally unspecified way. And what is this bit about "allow[ing] a single person to take over responsibility..."? Has Mrs. Hildebrandt somehow prevented the German government from addressing the dead? Newsflash: here's is how you prevent her from taking over responsibitlity. Deal with the issue yourselves.

Turns out the bank is going to cancel her lease on the site (no reporting from the NYT on why).

Check the rest of the article. Klemke is the only person quoted as having a problem with the memorial and he is a government bureacrat in charge of memorials. There is no controversy and contention. There is a bureacrat who sees the private sector intruding on what he believes is solely his domain. Wouldn't a better headline for this non-story be: German Government Harrasses Widowed Artist?




1 Comments:

Blogger Tolles said...

"are said to have died" refers to the difficulty in determining the exact number of people killed. It's not a cop-out as to whether or not there were actually killings. I suspect that you know that.

NYT reporters don't write their own headlines. Like you point out, maybe the headline writer just read the first paragraph.

I think your point about about governments wanting to control their own history is spot-on.

2:30 PM  

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