Espiner's Berlin : Swastika lifting

Last week it was all about fashion. But amid the fun and frolics of Fashion Week, Our columnist Mark Espiner felt as if a ghost was following him around Berlin - the ghost of fascism.

Mark Espiner.Foto: Thilo Rückeis

And it wasn’t just because of The Tempelhof Question - which I think we can say we have now resolved together. Thanks to all of you who shared your feelings with me on that, by the way, particularly Christian Z. whose epic email could almost be published as a social study.

I had noticed a few days before in the lift of my block that someone had scratched something deeply unfashionable on the mirror. A swastika.

I say deeply unfashionable, even though a few people have, in the past, tried to appropriate it as a style icon. Sid Vicious, for example. Well, actually it was Malcolm Mclaren and Vivien Westwood, punk’s godparents and, in Westwood’s case latterly a haute couturist, who put Nazi symbols on their clothes and were responsible for dressing Sid. Before the punks a Rolling Stone had a go at using some SS “style” as a shock’n’roll tactic. Prince Harry was just a buffoon.

So, my first thought was whoever did this was probably someone who wanted simply to shock. Disaffected youth being offensive for the fun of it, not for the politics.But I couldn’t shake from my mind seeing another swastica sprayed on the wall at Volkspark Friedrichshain when I first came here. Unlike the shady buildings of the past, where all those symbols have been removed (I don’t think there are any left in Berlin, are there?), here was an attempt, however crude, to bring it back.

So, I thought I’d run an informal poll. Every time I got in the lift, I’d point at it and say “Terrible, isn’t it?” The first chap, my Vietnamese neighbour, just laughed. I found that a relief, that someone from an ethnic minority here treated it as ridiculous and not worth bothering about. Several others looked aghast. I was shocked that they were so shocked until I realised their speechlessness was a reaction to my foreign sounding German. One woman, though, in her 60s and, I think, a tenant in the block since it was built in 1967, assured me it wasn’t a resident. It might have been someone who had come in from outside, but no one living in this block would do such a thing. I wondered if this was a bit of old-style DDR certainty, that no one in this concrete socialist structure would ever contemplate a fascist stand.

I didn’t have time in the short elevator ride to point out that there had been some ugly race hate leaflets in the lift too, citing an organisation called PI News. I won’t dignify them with a link, but you can read about them on Wikipedia.

Despite her assurances, I still felt bothered. So I rang the the building manager and left a message saying: there’s a swastika scratched in the lift, can you tell me what you’re going to do about it? First thing Monday morning I got a reply that they would look into it right away.

I expected to see the mirror replaced. But someone offered what I thought was a very Berlin solution, and I’m still not sure if it wasn’t the block manager herself. Whoever it was just added a few more lines and turned it into this. They defaced the defacement. Simple. Problem solved.

Sorry to bring up the Nazi past again, although now I think about it, it’s not actually the past.

Let’s change the subject.

This weekend is the night of the long knives. I’ll start again. This weekend is the long night of the museums. And I can’t be the only one whose eye was caught by the poster.

The statue’s pert little bottom used to advertise the event was clearly judged by the joint museums’ marketing planning as the best way to draw the crowds. In less than two minutes, I saw at least four people stop and admire the cheeks on the poster in the underground.

I was already a little suspicious about how you Germans accentuate everything with an “arsch”. Now I am convinced that you guys are obsessed with the bottom. This serves as proof. It’s not just club culture, comedy and street slang, even the highest culture in the land makes use of the backside. [Although, with that in mind, you could rightly say this weekend will be “arschcool culture”.]

Finally, I would never presume that my few words could change Berlin. But this week I had to wonder. After complaining here about the ticket controlling undercover plain-clothed stasi, I have just read they are going to be put in uniform. Result.

You can email Mark on and follow him on Twitter @deutschmarkuk