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Streets of London: Do Mention The War

Streets of London special: on the Streets of Berlin. Malcolm Aitken speaks with some Berliners about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, war and the Nazis at Tacheles, Berlin’s renowned alternative arts centre.

Photo credit ‘Nur Schrec!’. Used With Permission.

Do Mention The War

Housing an international cinema, art galleries and studios, metal sculpture shops and bars, Tachele’s is a local counter-cultural, artistic focal point and very avant-garde. It showcases pioneering theatre and poetry readings.

Yet Scoop visited Tacheles primarily because of its remarkable war-related history. An ugly, monolithic, concrete and semi-ruined building, it’s a shadow of its former self, after being heavily bombed during WWII. However, it’s listed for historical reasons. It was supposedly Europe’s first walk through shopping arcade. Tacheles was owned by a Jew, though, and therefore ‘Aryanised’ by the Nazis and turned into a detention centre. It has its place in broadcasting history too: it was from here the 1936 Berlin Olympics was broadcast on radio across the world (recalling black US sportsman Jesse Owens’s marvellous athletic rebuffs to Aryan supremacy: much to Hitler’s irritation he won four gold medals). During the GDR days the building was abandoned behind the Wall.

In 1990 squatting artists and performers moved in. Following the government serving numerous eviction notices and protracted legal wrangling, in 1998, property management business Fundus Group, decided to charge the squatters a token one Deutschmark per month rent (about $1). Tachele’s status as a bastion of resistance to corporate greed was now indisputable. These days it’s still reputed as a hotbed of anti-establishment radicalism, although it’s growing ‘commercialisation’ has been the subject of debate.

Interviewee number one: Resa Mashoodi 33, painter, from Berlin.

Scoop: Are you opposed to Saddam Hussein?

Resa: I think he’s a very, very aggressive guy.

Scoop: Do you support a war against Iraq?

Resa: No, it’s a very ugly thing you know…the people who don’t have drugs and no medical and no clean water…without any hope…if people want to bomb them, I would say they have to do something better. I can’t say well you have no medicines and it’s very sad and now I kill you and you are free,you don’t have to have pain. It’s a joke you know.

Scoop: Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons, that is what intelligence agents say…what should the world do to stop Saddam Hussein developing more weapons and using them? Bush and Blair say he has weapons, he might use them.

Resa: I don’t think Saddam Hussein makes these bombs to use. It’s very, very hard work, you know....I think they do this [use Saddam as a distraction] because they have a lot of problems in England [and the US] and other countries. Of course Saddam is a dictator, but there are a lot of dictators in this world, but 50 percent of them are there with the help of the intelligence services or CIA…that’s how they got to this position.

Scoop: What problems does George Bush have that [recently re-elected German social democrat chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder doesn’t?

Resa: Schroeder [whose popularity soared before the election when he announced his government wouldn’t support a war on Iraq] was elected for the second time. It symbolizes that this guy [Schroeder] was able to tell people what they want to hear. George Bush is in his first term…nobody thinks that he was exactly the winner of the election…you know…he had a lot of trouble since September 11th to get an image as the real president of the US. I don’t know if you saw the sequence, as president Bush was in a school…on September 11th and somebody came to him and told him. First his face went to surprise…but…he knew that this time was his time. I can begin to act [he thought].

Scoop: If Saddam Hussein continues to develop his weapons, he may attack Israel, surely we should all protect Israel?

Resa: He did it in the Gulf War. He could have sent thousands of missiles but he did not. It’s a game you know. I give you this…someone else gives you that…but if I kill you the game is over.

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Interviewee number two lived in Iraq for about eight months in the early 1980s. He requested Scoop didn’t use his name.

Scoop: What should be done about Saddam Hussein?

X: I would rely on intelligence and then they could go in and pick him up. Nobody knew anything about the [Nazi] concentration camps. I agree with inspections. You have to inspect palaces. I don’t think he’s got weapons in his palace, but I would be afraid that he’s got people in there.

Scoop: Is George W Bush using Saddam to bolster his popularity?

X: I don’t understand Bush. Why didn’t Bush [George W’s father] pick up Saddam? He went to get him, but didn’t. What was the point in leaving him? The Russians and Americans picked Hitler up.

Scoop: Are Germans so against war because of Germany’s recent past?

X: I would say that any country that’s been in a war doesn’t want to be in another one…. [Re the Berlin Wall]…people who’ve had their house divided and then it comes back together again, they don’t want to make any more noise.

Scoop: How defensible would it be for the US and it’s allies to attack Iraq?

X: Under the Italian constitution states have to regulate their own affairs, without waging war. You’re only allowed to go to war in terms of defending your own country. I would apply this to any country. If no one starts any war, we don’t have any.

Scoop: Yes, but what about a pre-emptive strike to curtail Saddam Hussein’s proliferation of weapons?

X: I’m against the proliferation of weapons, they kill and no one wants to be killed. However, a pre-emptive war like any war may be lost or won. You’re fucked if you lose this.

Scoop: What was Iraq like?

X: Iraq is a nice place. They’re tough people, but also lovely people.

Scoop: Were Iraqis [while you were there] scared of Saddam Hussein?

X: They had some sort of myth. Particular freedoms exist in Iraq that under other Arab countries were not allowed. For example, drinking. And, women would not wear veils in Basra [at least]. In this case, it’s not Islamic fundamentalists. But, when someone is really scared they don’t tell you. They said things about trouble with police, but who doesn’t have trouble with police? Saddam looks like a big papa.

Scoop: Did Saddam have popular support?

X: Looks like it. But some people were scared of him. They were scared that he goes to war and takes them with him. Thank God. It’s better to not go to war than to go to war…that’s why Germans are against it. There should be a conference with Iraq. Saddam himself should be invited. He’s lost himself trust in the west, but he needs a chance to get trust back. It needs to be done at high levels… talk and talk and talk until there’s an agreement.

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- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist based in London. He can be contacted at MTFAitken@aol.com

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