During Conor’s exile to Bismarck (that would the one in North Dakota named after Otto von, not the Bismark of Sachsen-Anhalt)*, I have been drafted to provide you with your bi-annual German language lesson. It’s an easy one: “Ihr stinkt.” As you might have already guessed, it translates as “you (plural) stink.” But, there is a distinct difference from the English pronunciation, with an emphasis on the sch-sound at the beginning of stinkt. Like this: ear SCHtinkt. Please practice aloud now.
Now, to put the two-word lesson into historical context, I offer you the annual Gemüseschlacht (vegetable battle) between Kreuzberg and Fredrichshain over the Oberbaumbrücke (Oberbaum Bridge). As you can see from this map of the Berlin Wall (1961-1989) the red dot of the Oberbaumbrücke designates it as one of the crossing points between the former American-controlled Kreuzberg and the former Soviet-controlled Friedrichshain.
One can not quite imagine the smell emanating from the Gemüseschlacht without having been there. I was helping the the Kreuzberg side (naturally, since I’m an American) arm themselves on Friday evening and they reported a munitions inventory of three vats of döner (gyro) grease drippings from the local kebab shops, buckets of leftover vegetables from the fresh-produce markets left on rooftops to rot for the past three weeks, and an unholy mixture combining the previous with eggs to bind them into a substance lauchable from a slingshot. When approaching the battle scene, one could hear it first, then smell it, then see it. After a disasterous incident two years ago when the police tried to stand in the middle to break it up and found themselves attacked by both sides, they now watch from the sidelines, and even helpfully redirect traffic. I tried to enter the frontlines for better photos and nearly vomitted.
It has been nearly twenty years since the wall came down and yet traces of the historical divide will remain. Generally, westerners ally themselves with the Kreuzberg side while people who grew up and were educated while the communists were in power find themselves chanting “Ost, ost, ost BER lin” on the Friedrichshain side.** Probably, the reason why the fight takes place here is because Kreuzberg/Fridrichshain has the densest concentration of punks, students, and artists in all of Germany. While the wall was up, rent control (presumably meant to keep people from abandoning the city while having the adverse consequence of causing the property owners not to invest or altogether abandon their property) was imposed in Kreuzberg creating a haven to a community of ‘squatters,’ another name for dissidents, artists and punks who prefer not to pay rent. I have not been able to verify this, but I believe Einstürzende Neubauten was formed and lived under these conditions.
For the past three years, the Ost-side has won the battle. Though the West was probably better armed, the people of the Ost outnumber those of the West and simply throw the vegetable matter right back at them. Here is a video of the Gemüseschlacht in 2005 with music by Pantera. Here is a different one of Linden versus Nordstadt filmed in 2006.
*Eigenlich, vielleicht Conor ist in Fargo, but that doesn’t really help me squeeze a bit more German geography into the bi-annual German lesson.
**By the way, in my humble opinion, the Soviets really did get the spoils of what was left of the city by arriving there first. Mitte, including the Spreeinsel, Prenzlauerberg, and Friedrichshain were under their control. Potsdammer Plazt had been decimated and divided.