Summer in Berlin: some pictures

berlin pic 2

berlin pix 1


Nazi salute

Here are the headlines in one of the Greek newspapers today. A Greek police-chief has been caught in a photograph giving a Nazi salute-

Ναζιστής ο αστυνομικός διοικητής



The story, however, is not at all as simple as it first appears. The police chief (υπαστυνόμο) in question, Yiorgos Kagkalos,(Γ. Κάγκαλος) has been stationed for the last two years in a tourist hotspot, Hydra, and the photo was taken in 2011 in the Nuremburg transport museum. The Greek newspaper “Ethnos” added that the officer was wearing a black t-shirt with some sort of nazi-style insignia on it. I am not sure the photo is actually that clear but the newspaper writer is incensed and adds: “Shame on the police!”(ντροπή για το Σώμα της Αστυνομίας). According to “the Sunday Nation” («Εθνος της Κυριακής») Kagkalos is also a supporter of the defeated Military Junta that ruled Greece in the late 60s/early 70s and was involved in some sort of military salute to the dictator Papadopoulos when he was caught firing his pistol several times over the graveside in 1999. This led to a slap on the wrists by the police federation but no serious prosecution because of “a lack of evidence”. This man has form evidently and a position of authority. So much for the man. Had he been caught saluting by the electric train in Nuremburg, then he would have faced the more serious penalty of a prison sentence or a hefty fine because it remains a serious offence in Germany to give Nazi salutes. (There is a full summary in English here in Damian Mac Con Uladh’s excellent blog, A Gael in Greece:



International Arrests

In 2011, a Canadian tourist was arrested in Berlin for saluting outside the Reichstag. He was temporarily  imprisoned and his girlfriend had the memory card removed from her camera. While threatened with a 6 month period behind bars, he was cautioned, fined and warned not to do it again. At about the time Kagkalos was doing his salute in Nuremburg, a British tourist was being questioned by a testy car hire man and in response did a nazi salute which had him under arrest within 90 seconds. The police said very simply: “You can call him a bastard and give him the finger but you cannot do that.”

photo ethnos
photo ethnos

However, a recent case in Switzerland has questioned the automatic penalty for the Nazi salute- this is Switzerland, mind and not Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic where it remains an offence. After a demonstration this year on Ruetli Meadow that took place on the Swiss National Day, the Swiss Federal Tribunal ruled  that the salute is only a crime if it is part of a racist ideology and intended to influence a “third party”. It is not a crime if it expresses a person’s own conviction. This seems to me to be very difficult to determine. The law as it stands in Germany does not allow for irony, or any personal expression – if the arm is raised in a Nazi salute, it is an offence.

Film and Disney


The film industry has long had issues with the German/Austrian law. “The Sound of Music” had problems filming the Nazi troops in Saltzburg, and the musical itself was rarely seen until recently, yet no one could be in any doubt what message the film carries about Hitler and the flag with “the spider” on it. Things are changing and there was a production of “Cabaret” on in Berlin when I was there a few weeks ago. Disney produced a number of celebrated films during the war which made active use of irony. “Der Fuehrer’s face” (1943) involves a scene in which Donald Duck repeatedly salutes machinery and people, even the postbox. It is part of an insane dream that was the only Donald Duck film to receive an Oscar. We also used the salute twice in the revised “A Torture Cartoon”, once for the main character, the Turkey and once subliminally when the Archbishop was complaining “All Turks are Barbarians.”

christodoulos portrait3

Though he certainly said those words, I would not imagine he intended any salute and when I look at the footage this morning, it is not really very obvious. Under German law as it currently stands, however, it might still be an offence: it is the act itself that is offensive- not the intention.



As for Christodoulos himself, the man died in 2005 and was given an elaborate funeral in Athens. I began a film about some of the more absurd things he said, but in the end, left the film unfinished. Maybe somewhere in my head echoed the Greek equivalent of the Latin tag, “De mortuis nil nisi Bonum”. Who knows. Animation takes time and I ran out of time! Christodoulos rose to power because the Church was felt to be too distant from ordinary people but his meddling in politics once he was made Archbishop has led today to a triumphant reaction against the Church, particularly by the youth whom he claimed so enthusiastically to understand. So much so, it seems today that the only people who attend Church are members of Far Right activist groups. The picture of Orthodox clerics tinkering in politics and wearing expensive cufflinks can also be seen in modern Russia where the current Patriarch is building an elaborate Country pad for himself just outside the main city, in one of those enclosed bits, sealed with gun-touting sentries and high fences. It is a sorry statement about power. A few months ago, I watched his motorcade whizz past – a show of power or a display of brute force?




Football & Putin

Now, the reason for this post is the punishment of Girogos Katidis in Greece last year. I have absolutely no interest in football, though today I am supposed to watch a school match and in a few weeks’ time, I believe I am to be taken to my first stadium game. But I am deeply fascinated by crowd behaviour and by the whole idea of entertainment, whether in the theatre, on film or in Church. Gestures play as important part in that, as they do in politics. I have little doubt that the 20 year old footballer who played for AEK was “having fun”. I do not think he was intending a racist or fascist statement. He said at the time, “I am not a fascist and I would not have done it if I had known what it means.”  Here is a link to the actual moment…



His coach, Ewald Lienen, who was German, said that the boy had no political ideas and “I am 100% sure that Giorgos did not know what he did,” though the actual offence might lie in the plethora of tattoos. Despite that, Katidis received from the Greek football authorities a lifetime ban from the sport. It seemed draconian especially if the boy intended something ironic and while Newspapers say the salute lasted a long time, I see no evidence of that. This was a punishment that went far beyond the one year ban that had been imposed on Lazio striker Paolo Di Canio in 2005. And Di Canio readily admitted his Fascist link: 

“I made the Roman salute because it’s a salute from a comrade to his comrades and was meant for my people,” he said. Football has a long history of links with political slogans- most recently with the development of Путiн – хуйл (ukrainian) and Путин – хуйло (Russian), abbreviated or adapted as PTN, PNKH (Путин, пошел на хуй), something very rude about the current Russian President.

The threat of Golden Dawn (or as my friend has written earlier “Golden Yawn”)
Here is a picture showing the Church’s blessing of the leader of Golden Dawn
There is a Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή) flag I notice in this scene that we did of Athens. Of course the presence of the flag in the picture does not suggest I sympathise with the movement at all. Quite the contrary! The presence of the flag is entirely ironic- and that I suppose is part of the theme of this blog. When is an offensive symbol or a flag offensive and when is it humorous. You cannot stir up debate without reference to the issues.
syntagma picture
Greece faces a serious rise in right-wing political activism, mostly through the hideous “Golden Dawn” though there are other groups, some of which like “Laos” are allied to the Church, but the membership of these groups is pretty fluid and interchangeable. Golden Dawn claims it is simply espousing the principles of the pre-war leader Metaxas who thought that National unity could be best achieved by abolishing rival political parties. Well, there you are! It has many nasty elements to it and I can speak as one who was once targeted by their thugs. The leader of that party claimed that the salute he was giving is the “Roman Salute” and not the Nazi salute, though of course the German salute itself was borrowed from Mussolini and the “Fasces”, from which Fascism gets its name were carried in Ancient Rome before senior magistrates and political dignitaries.
Here is a link to a short film that sums up the Golden Dawn story fairly well.


Like many others, I wait to see what happens to the Police chief in Hydra. The photo does not seem, on the face of it, to be ironic, and nor were the shots over the grave of the Dictator. I do not think this man was being humorous and I do not think he is being misunderstood. It would surprise me, however, if he faced serious punishment for his actions. Let’s not draw too many generalisations here….There are policemen in Greece who act honourably. I know some and even taught some of them English (which was a thing laced with alot of humour and a very fond memory); I even knew the man who set up the system of Internal Affairs there, but the level of cronyism and corruption remains intense and I am afraid that, with the rise of the far Right and the strength it has gained in austerity, there will be a fairly vocal minority that will be saying, “Well, so what! What has he really done wrong?”

Sometimes, in pursuing silly ideas, people may forget their own past: I hope that, should he escape official censure, Kagkalos will now remember the starving families in Crete during the second world war and the holocaust victims of Thessaloniki and Corfu. These are not people who would have understood why a man tasked with the protection of his own people should stand beneath the Hoheitsadler and salute the man who had ordered their deaths.


A while ago I wrote about the Elgin marbles and the Pergamon marbles might be seen as a similar problem, though their origin is in Turkey, not Greece. Today, we tried to see them in their museum in Berlin and what a misery it was. It did not help that as we approached the museum, it began to rain, but maybe that was a divine message, a rebuke maybe. We made our way to what appeared to be the front door of the museum which, like so much in berlin is in the process of restoration, so the whole thing resembled a building site.


And there in the rain was a sorrowful queue stretching around the block. I thought this must have been for the special exhibition hosted here on Babylon but no! It was for the Pergamon marbles, the altar of Zeus and the price- astonishing at 12e each! Now the real issue is that in a matter of weeks, the Pergamon exhibition itself will be closed for the next 5 years and the altar will be denied the public till about 2019!

The Zeus Altar was built in the third century B.C. by the founder of Antalya, Attalos to commemorate the victory over the Galatians. The German excavations led by Carl Humman took place between 1878 and 1886 and involved an elaborate jigsaw puzzle of the various sections of the huge altar. The sultan, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II, was believed at the time to be saving antiquity by inviting scholars and archaeologists to explore, catalogue and if necessary ship back to Europe a variety of priceless artifacts.

Legal Evidence for retaining Pergamon

In 2002, the then Cultural State Secretary Fikret Üccan said in Die Welt, “They tell us, the Pergamon Altar and other artefacts in the Pergamon Museum were carried out of Turkey with a permission. We can’t verify this. They show us old letters, some of them written by people without much responsibility in that time.” Other Turkish officials have been more forthright about the legal rights to the Pergamon marbles but they ignore an “irade”, an order of the Padisah, a high Ottoman official, where the sultan abstained from every right to the findings in Pergamon in exchange for 20,000 Marks.

Like Greece’s call for the return of the Elgin marbles, Turkey’s current Prime Minister echoes his predecessor, in demanding the return of the Pergamon altar. Countering this, German officials say that Turkey has scant regard for its own antiquities and insufficient experience of exhibiting them properly. They point to the flooding of Allianoi in 2011. But like the Elgin marbles, there is a question about the legality and the morality of keeping the acquisitions.

Muted and limited requests

Ömer Çelik, however, the culture and tourism minister in 2013, was less abrasive than his predecessor Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay and said in an article printed in Der Speigel that the altar was not in fact up for negotiation: “This particular artifact was turned over to German authorities, with the necessary permits, during the time of the Ottoman Empire. We are not asking for the return of such artifacts. However, we do want to work, through negotiations and simple persuasion, to bring back items that left Turkey without permits and therefore illegally.” He goes on to list the five items specifically requested: “the sarcophagus from the tomb of Haci Ibrahim Veli, a fisherman statue from Aphrodisias and the prayer niche from the Beyhekim Mosque in Konya. We are also asking for the return of a window frame from the same mosque, and of Iznik tiles from the Piyale Pasha Mosque in Istanbul.” All of these items were exported from Turkey at a time between 1884 and 1906 when exports of art was prohibited except on the personal orders of the Sultan. No such orders exist to cover these items. In response, Hermann Parzinger for the Museum accused Turkey of “chauvinism”, pointed to the return of the Hittite Sphinx of Hattusa (“as a voluntary gesture of friendship”*) and says the rest of the claims are baseless. Making the matter worse is the poor maintenance of a German excavation site in Miletus and the theft of a statue at Göbekli Tepe in 2010 which was also being excavated by a German-led team. Celik says, “I’m not saying the head of the excavation team stole the statue, simply that he didn’t take the necessary security measures. Germany paid a fine for what happened.”

*The statue had been taken to Germany initially for what was called “restoration work” but it was then added to the permanent collection in the Pergamon museum.

the charge of Chauvinsim

The claim of “chauvinism” is peculiar but becomes more understandable in the light of German frustration to borrow a portrait head of Alexander the Great. The insurance became so great, the loan became impossible. At the same time, the Germans say that Turkey wants many antiquities to be sent back to Turkish museums, either as part of their permanent collection or as fairly permanent loans. the deal, from the German point of view, is unfair. The British museum had identified and arranged for the transport of 35 objects for the “Hajj” exhibition in 2012. Because it has not returned the “Samsat stele”, the 35 objects destined for the UK were denied an export licence and the British museum had to scrabble around to find suitable replacement pieces. The director of the British Museum said of the Stele, “At no point between 1927 and 2005 have the Turkish authorities, who were fully aware of the stele’s location, suggested that it has been improperly acquired or should be returned.”

Turkey counters with reference to the repatriation of works looted by the Soviets from Germany. “In his interview with Der SPIEGEL,” says Çelik,Mr. Parzinger said that all the treasures the Soviets stole from Germany during and after World War II must be returned to Germany. We consider this legitimate. It is then also logical to say that everything that was exported from Turkey without a permit should be given back. We can’t say that one thing is right but the other wrong.”

All this talk of repatriation is echoed by a former culture minister in Egypt, Zahi Hawass. “Countries that have had their heritage assets removed by other nations need to fight together to improve their chances of having them returned,” he said a few years’ ago.

Refocusing the debate

I think the debate here is mistaken. One of the positive aspects of the British museum position is that access to the marbles there is free and relatively painless. The Parthenon museum in Athens is expensive so the public get a better deal in London. I think it is difficult to argue with that. On top of that, the sale of the marbles to Elgin is fairly straightforward, the legality of the sale was debated in Parliament and a special gallery was created to house the marbles.

Three points need to be made:


Regarding the Pergamon marbles, I see only one legitimate reason for their return, and that is fairly strong -that is that the Berlin museum charges tourists to view the artifact. Free access is reasonable especially if the artifact itself is questionable acquired.

Legal position:

The legal position is fairly clear. We cannot invalidate a contract without good reason even if our attitude to the trading of national artifacts has changed since the 19th century.

National heritage:

The third and final point is that Turkey must ask whether the Pergamon altar is really part of its own national heritage- it could legitimately be claimed to be part of the Greek heritage and Greece might one day add the Pergamon marbles to its list of demands for repatriation to the Acropolis museum.

Meanwhile the Turks have built a replica altar in Pergamon with a sign saying that the original is currently in Berlin and it is hoped that a “museum of the civilisations” will open in 2023 in Ankara and that it will be stocked with Turkish themed loans from a number of international collections.

Sadly, the Turkish government, like the Greek government cannot have it both ways. You cannot call a person a thief and then ask the same person to loan you some of his (probably stolen) stuff, particularly if you make a fuss about claiming a moral right to possession of the stuff anyway. Who would sanction such a loan? What guarantee would there be that you would ever return the stuff (especially when we know you think it is really yours)? This is a moral minefield but the climate is changing.

In the Economist in May 2012, the thenTurkish Culture Minister Günay wrote, “I wholeheartedly believe that each and every antiquity in any part of the world should eventually go back to its homeland.”

soviet memorial

treptower 1

I had asked Nick Jenkins what I should draw in Berlin and he suggested Treptower park. I had no idea what he was talking about and what I found there was quite stunning. A perfect piece of Soviet art  designed to an overall scheme by Yakov Belopolsky and one of the most tranquil of all memorials I have ever visited. Here is a page of sketches and more will follow when I get the scanner to perform correctly. It commemorates the many soviet soldiers who died in the battle of Berlin. The main focus of the monument is a 12 metre tall sculpture by Yeygeny Vuchetich (top right) and what I called a “station” at bottom right after the “14 Stations of the cross” in Catholic Churches is actually one of 16 “sarcophogi”, each one inscribed in either German or Russian with words of Stalin and showing military scenes. There are no bodies in the sarcophagi but 5000 bodies buried somewhere around the monument. The soldier on the top left is kneeling next to a granite soviet flag and the figure at the bottom left of the page is the motherland weeping for her fallen soldiers.

Putin has been to the memorial and laid a wreath here.