German Babies Don’t Need to Be Boys or Girls Anymore
It’s tempting to interpret legislative shifts as progress. After all, plenty of times they are. However, what looks like progress on the surface often masks a much more complicated underbelly. Think about the fight for marriage equality: if marriage is a fundamental right, then everyone certainly deserves access to it. Insofar as the fight for this access has further normalized and entrenched the institution of marriage—itself a problematic tradition with a deeply troubled past—progress becomes trickier to gauge.
This complex relationship between progress and problem is quite clear in regards to Germany’s new third gender option on birth certificates. As of November 1, it is no longer legally necessary for babies born in Germany to be registered as male or female on their birth certificates. Instead—in cases of newborns whose bodies don’t fall neatly into male or female categories physiologically—the male and female boxes on a birth certificate can be left unchecked.
Talking to Berlin’s Hipster Defense Squad
Berlin is often hailed as a mecca for ex-pats and creative types fed up with New York and its stratospheric cost of living. Now, as hordes of graphic designers and writers have begun gentrifying the city, locals have started a concerted attack on members of the German capital’s young “creative class,” who are being blamed by natives for the rising property prices. Bar owners have started anti-hipster viral campaigns, and some locals have begunopenly calling for physical violence to be visited upon the invading hordes.
A group called Hipster Antifa Neukölln have formed to counter this rhetoric, using slogans such as “Tourists, hipsters, everybody is welcome—party like it’s 1945.” Speaking from Berlin, Hipster Antifa’s spokesperson Jannek, explained why his group is doing what they’re doing and why gentrification is a global phenomenon that needs to be seen in a new context.
VICE: When did Hipster Antifa Neukölln start?
Jannek: I guess it began about two years ago when anti-hipster and anti-tourist graffiti started appearing around the city. What was being written just seemed too serious to be a joke, so we decided to make a Facebook page and start a counter-offensive. We had a good idea of who was behind this, and we wanted to criticize them and make people aware of what’s going on.
What sort of graffiti?
Stuff like, “Tourists go home!” and “Kill all the hipsters!”… that sort of thing. There was so much of it. A lot of people thought it was just a joke, but then in the summer of 2011, there were a lot of anti-hipster attacks and there were more and more incidents of people getting thrown out of bars for dressing like a hipster. Some bar owners even started putting signs up in their windows saying “No Hipsters, No Tourists”, stuff like that. Things started to boil over, to get really nasty. That’s when we decided to do something about it. We just thought, ‘Berlin should not be this way.’ And we wanted to know why people were doing this. My friends all had a background in left-wing activism and anti-fascist movements, and we kind of knew that the people writing this anti-hipster graffiti were also from a leftist background. Their idea about gentrification is that it’s the fault of tourists, which is a very simple-minded explanation. So we decided to found a group to defend ourselves.
The Site of Hitler’s Suicide Is Now a Playground
By the afternoon of his suicide, Adolf Hitler hadn’t seen the sun in ten days. He had been living in a concrete bunker 28 feet below the ruins of Berlin for months. There was a time when the dictator was able to walk his German Shepherd, Blondi, in the Chancellery gardens above, but during those last days, the advancing Soviet artillery had made that impossible. Anyway, Blondi was dead—fed cyanide on his master’s orders the night before. Hitler shot himself with a pistol the following afternoon. In accordance with his wishes, his corpse was doused with gasoline and cremated in a shell-crater just outside the bunker exit.
Sixty-eight years later, Berlin is almost unrecognizable. The Chancellery has been replaced by a kindergarten and a Chinese restaurant. The bunker, now half demolished is sealed beneath the parking lot of a beige apartment block. And, the cremation site lies under a weird, polychromatic children’s slide that the modern-art-hating Hitler would have abhorred—which is exactly the reason my translator Gaïa Maniquant-Rogozyk, who is Jewish, likes it. She came along to help me interview the local residents about how it feels to live alongside this dark part of their history. We took turns surfing down the slide as we waited for passersby.
“I don’t think I would have come here if the bunker was still existing,” Gaïa mentioned.
“Why?” I asked.
“When you grow up in a Jewish family,” she replied, “and when half of that family has been exterminated, you have a duty of memory. I went to Auschwitz on a school trip and I finally understood what happened. It’s so big that it’s easy for it to be abstract—just like a story—but in Auschwitz, there’s those big rooms with all the bowls that they found, and another one with all the prosthetics, and there’s a room with all the hair shaved from the heads of prisoners. I saw the hair and I had to leave. At that point, I understood what happened and I didn’t need to see anything more. I had fulfilled my duty.”
Germany’s Blood-Drenched WWII Debt Could Save Greece’s Economy
Above: The rounding up of Jews in Thessaloniki in July of 1942. (Image via)
In early April of 1941, the German army defeated Greek forces along the country’s northern front. Where Greece had spent the previous winter in jubilation after successfully fending off the Italians, they now experienced existential horror at the inevitability of occupation by the Axis powers. The terror was so strong, in fact, that the prime minister shot himself just days before the Germans marched into Athens.
And the three-year occupation of Greece did indeed prove to be hell on Earth, most notably for the famine that wiped out more than 300,000 citizens, but also because it hosted some of the worst atrocities committed by German troops during the war. This included the raping and pillaging of villages, and the systematic execution of able-bodied men, and, in some cases, women and children.
The occupation of Greece tore the nation apart so much that when Axis powers left in 1944, the country soon broke out into a three-year civil war over the ensuing power vacuum.
Today, more than 70 years since the beginning of the occupation, Greeks and historians are pointing out that, aside from the question of unpaid reparations, Germany still owes Greece on two other counts: debt owed on a forced loan Germany took from Greece, and the returning of ancient artifacts stolen during the occupation.
Last April, Syriza, Greece’s second largest party, raised the issue with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos. Avramopoulos agreed that the matter must be decided once and for all by an international court. It was the first time a Greek official had publicly made such an announcement.
Experts are estimating that, all told, Germany owes approximately €162 billion ($211.5 billion), including interest. However, the general accounting office in Greece refuses to make the number they’ve come up with public.
Eighty-year-old Werner Freund would rather be a wolf than a man. He’s been raising and living with wild wolves in Germany for the last 30 years and considers them his family. Last January, Gersin Paya from VICE Germany and a small crew drove to the town of Merzig to meet Werner and help him feed raw deer meat to his furry brethren.
WATCH VIDEO HERE
In the 1990s, as grunge and rap surged, metal faced a crisis. Bands were forced to enter survival mode and, consequently, did weird things to adapt. In Volume 1 of Metal’s Lost Survivalist Endeavors of the 1990s, Chunklet examines the case of German shredders Helloween.
Berlin’s Suicide-Proof Nuclear Fallout Shelter
Anyone who grew up during the Cold War can recall the strangely placid, everyday terror that came along with the constant threat of global nuclear annihilation. Today, we fear that terrorists or a rogue state will get their hands on a nuclear device. This would not be the end of the world—humanity could survive a nuclear terror attack or two, devastating as these might be. Mutually assured destruction was a different kind of thing all together, and in some ways a more palatable fear. You didn’t have to be born-again to believe in Armageddon; everyone could see that it was right around the corner.
Berlin was a particularly surreal place to experience the Cold War. With Western and Soviet bloc forces literally staring each other in the face, the city was a tinderbox waiting to explode into World War III. The citizens of West Berlin understood that they were expendable: if the Soviets were to invade, the NATO plan was a strategic withdrawal, followed by the deployment of 23 tactical nuclear warheads. West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt signed on to this plan, green-lighting the total obliteration of the German people in the name of containing Communism.
The city of West Berlin eventually built 23 nuclear bunkers, employing hundreds of scientists and researchers to design and construct these facilities. Paradoxically, these shelters only provided enough space to house less than one percent of the population. It was a placebo contingency plan, so the government could claim that they were doing something.
Today, at the Pankstrasse stop on the U-8 subway line in Berlin, you can venture into a fallout shelter that was built for about 3,000 people. Though technically still functional, it is doubtful that the facility would actually be usable in an emergency—the plumbing, for instance, has not been overhauled in 40 years. The practical function of the shelter is as a destination for tourists and history buffs.
Resist Control: A Guide to Riding on Berlin’s Public Transportation for Free
Berlin public transit runs on the honor system. I’m on the U-8 line, on my way to work, when a group of controllers board the train. I don’t know what else to call them. The German word Kontrolleur is derived from French, and the passive verb, to be kontrolliert, has gone into colloquial English usage in a rough direct translation, i.e., to be “controlled” (as in: “God damn it, I got controlled on the train today”). The Kontrolleurs are the people assigned to ride the rails all day, randomly entering train-cars as if administering a pop quiz, to check that everyone on board has a valid ticket. As it happens, today I do, but the guy standing next to me clearly does not. You can tell by the way he feigns inattention as the doors close and the two plain-clothes guys pull out their identification badges; he acts as if he is too lost in thought to notice them, staring blankly ahead, his body gone nervous and tense. The other riders, meanwhile, grumble and fumble in wallets and pockets and purses. The controllers begin circulating the train car, repeating their low-intoned mantra: “tickets, please… your tickets, please…” The guy next to me continues to pretend he’s oblivious, even as he inches slowly towards the faraway door, hoping to stay inconspicuous and make it to the next stop. I decide to play defense for him, moving to block the aisle a bit and resolving that when they get to me I’ll take an extra bit of time fumbling around looking for my ticket, to buy him some time.
Riding without a ticket, or schwarzfahren, is something of a national pastime in Germany, and probably nowhere more so than in Berlin, whose citizenry the reigning mayor, Klaus Wowereit, once famously described as “poor but sexy.” Germans have a reputation for being law-abiding and rule-oriented– schwarzfahren is one of the only social arenas in which order is routinely flaunted, where otherwise law-abiding adults feel free to get crazy and thumb their noses at the powers that be. “Poor but sexy:” while the financial benefit of shirking the honor system is obvious, if you’ve ever been waiting at the back of a long tedious line to buy a U-Bahn ticket just as the train arrives, only to have the person you’re with impulsively take your hand and pull you on board ticketless, you’ve realized that schwarzfahren is a lot sexier, too. You can’t get that kind of romantic spontaneity with turnstiles.