Christine Madden

journalist | editor | dramaturg | literary translator

Can we still give peace a chance?

In the face of the rapid escalation of the war in the Ukraine, tens of thousands come together in Berlin to protest for peace

People at the anti-war demonstration near Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor express their opinion of Putin’s aggression. Photograph: Christine Madden

Twenty thousand were expected. But then more than 100,000 people massed in the centre of Berlin on 27 February to show solidarity with the Ukraine. On a day when Russian president Putin issued a not so veiled nuclear threat in retaliation, he says, for NATO aggression.

Angry demonstrators chant anti-war and anti-Putin slogans in front of the Russian Embassy on Unter den Linden in central Berlin. Photograph: Christine Madden

According to the Russian media, who are not allowed to use the word “war”, what is going on in the Ukraine is an “operation to secure peace”. Still, in about 50 Russian cities, people also came together to protest the “operation”. 

Protestors at the anti-war demonstration at Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor. Photograph: Christine Madden

Shortly before the demonstration started, the German government, in a special convocation of the Bundestag (parliament), announced a number of measures to isolate Russia and block its aggression, many of them complete turnarounds from policies they had held even days before. 

More than 100,000 protestors gathered on the Straße des 17. Juni to show solidarity with the Ukraine. Photograph: Christine Madden

Not far away, more than a hundred thousand people streamed from the U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, cycled or walked into city centre with their signs and flags. Infants, children, young adults, the elderly, they came pushing bikes and prams, some accompanied by their dogs, to show solidarity with the Ukrainians, anger at Putin, and hope and desire for peace. In this anxious, fraught moment, where we all hope politicians will hold their nerve, make wise decisions and avert catastrophe, the ability to come together (especially after years of covid-enforced isolation) felt like a hymn to humanity.

Wings of peace: demonstrator at the Brandenburger Tor. Photograph: Christine Madden

No future for Zukunft am Ostkreuz?

Zukunft am Ostkreuz, a much loved arthouse cinema and cultural venue, has not been able to renew its lease. Its demise would represent a huge loss to the local community as well as the city of Berlin

Entrance (before opening hours) to Zukunft am Ostkreuz, mid-January, mid-Covid-19 pandemic

Another casualty of gentrification – Berlin’s most viral pandemic, if not for the current exploding numbers of corona cases. Zukunft am Ostkreuz – the name now conveys a certain irony, as it means “future at Ostkreuz” – is soon to be no more, unless its landlord can be convinced to spare it.

Once a film warehouse during the DDR era, Zukunft is one of the cultural hubs of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district. The building in the east of Berlin, near the city’s Ostkreuz train station, houses an arthouse cinema, theatre stage, exhibition area and music club. Its premises also includes an open-air cinema and stage as well as a beer garden. Zukunft even brews its own beer in an eponymous microbrewery.

Yet, on top of the many hardships of covid and its restrictions, the landlord of Zukunft has not renewed its lease, which was “terminated in an already difficult time, in the middle of the pandemic”, manager Manuel Godehardt told Berlin news agency rbb.

No reason was given for not renewing the lease. But looking around, it’s not hard to draw conclusions. The venue is surrounded by construction sites for high-end office buildings. Luxury apartments are being built nearby, as well as a new tourist attraction: an aquarium for exotic fish and coral, with an accompanying hotel. Property in this rapidly changing part of the city is likely too mouth-watering to be left untouched by developers.

‘We will not and cannot accept this’

Daniel Bartsch, spokesperson for culture administration, Berlin Senate

Many residents, however, feel the pain and deplore the soulless expansion of their neighbourhood. Several demonstrations have taken place in the area to protest building projects. And there is fear for the existence not only of the treasured Zukunft, but also for the clubs About Blank and Wilde Renate. 

If Zukunft goes, it’s likely to take its local affiliated small cinemas – Tilsiter Lichtspiele and Kino Intimes – with it, as much of their income derives from the selling of Zukunft’s craft beers: Goldene Zukunft (golden future) and the sadly prophetically named Dunkle Zukunft (dark future).

Poster near the venue Zukunft am Ostkreuz calling for its preservation: “No future without Future!!!”

A local organisation concerned about the explosion in development, Baustelle Gemeinwohl (“public welfare construction site”) has formed a workshop to create a cooperative vision for a possible new building on the site. Together with its partners, it has entered negotiations with the owners of the site, Groß-Berliner-Damm GmbH & Co. KG and Grundwert AG (represented by Orion Hausverwaltung GmbH) to come up with solutions for a building compromise that serves all sides. Results of the negotiation are expected at the end of January, with possible next steps to be discussed.

Let’s hope, for the sake of the future of the neighbourhood, that discussions are fruitful. As Daniel Bartsch, speaking for Berlin’s Senate culture administration, told rbb, every cultural institution that disappears in the city is a loss for Berlin’s cultural landscape, and “We will not and cannot accept this”.

The lease is up on 31 March 2022. People who wish to preserve Berlin’s unique cultural landscape and make their voices heard for the future of Zukunft can sign a petition.

Rebels with a cause

January stage roundup in ExBerliner magazine

Matthias Brandt in ‘Mein Name sei Gantenbein’ at the Berliner Ensemble. Photograph: Andi Weiland

Alienation and raging against the machine has been a virulent reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. A number of shows opening on Berlin stages reflect the mood. Find the full article here on the ExBerliner website.

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