Berlin's History Res-Erected: Giant Penis Sparks Bizarre Media War
Four decades ago, the mass-circulation tabloid Bild did its best to squelch the 1968 student movement in Berlin. This year, the German capital has seen the conflict swell once again. And it has resulted in some rather stiff competition.
The shimmering, gold-colored high-rise building that publisher Axel Springer had built in the 1960s is just a stone's throw from the offices of Berlin's legendary left-wing Tageszeitung newspaper, more commonly known simply as the "Taz." But for someone looking from the 17th floor of the Springer building, where the main editorial offices of the influential tabloid newspaper Bild are located, a few trees block the view of the gray building that houses the editorial offices of the Taz, a publication that appears to believe even today that it has the right to dictate what it means to be left-wing in Germany.
But what exactly does it mean to be "left-wing" these days? Is it left-wing to attach to the outside of the Taz building a sculpture of Bild editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann showing him naked, wearing red glasses and cheap brown loafers and equipped with a penis that extends all the way up the front of the Taz building? Or is it just in poor taste?
Diekmann, 45, is standing in front of the Taz building on Rudi Dutschke Street. He is wearing a gray pinstriped suit and brown brogues that look like they cost several hundred euros. He tilts his head back to take a look at his enormous pink doppelganger. "I came all the way down here to see it because there are trees blocking my view," says Diekmann. "But I still haven't quite figured out who the sculpture on the front of this building is supposed to depict."
Well, Diekmann himself, of course.
At this moment, Diekmann looks a little like the American comic actor Buster Keaton, who always looked slightly sad. But there is also a trace of triumph and irony in his face. "It can't be me," he says. "The artist, Peter Lenk, expressly denied that it's me."
'A Six-Meter-Long Schlong'
An odd dispute has been the source of excitement in Berlin's media community in recent weeks. On the one side of the dispute is Taz, published by a cooperative, constantly on the verge of bankruptcy and with a paid circulation of 65,000. On the other side is the editor-in-chief of Europe's biggest newspaper, Bild, the cash cow of the Springer Group, with a circulation of more than 3 million.
Lenk, 62, an artist from Lake Constance, attached his anti-Springer installation, "Peace Be With You," to the façade of the building with the approval of Taz management. It didn't take long before the installation had triggered anger and outrage -- but not from the gold-colored high-rise nearby. In fact, the displeasure over Lenk's piece came from the fifth floor of the Taz building, where Ines Pohl moved into an office four months ago as the publication's new editor-in-chief.
"If the artist Peter Lenk has his way, I'm going to have to lock up my bike every morning under a six-meter-long schlong for the next two years," Pohl says. "What a pathetic provocation. How tedious. I'm just not interested in this inflated smugness that revolves around the sad, never-ending male rivalry over who has the longest penis." She wants the sculpture removed.
Diekmann can hardly believe his luck, now that his adversaries are turning their weapons on themselves. The satire that was intended to expose him has become a comedy about the Taz editors and their image of themselves. While chaos was erupting at the Taz, Diekmann began a game of self-deprecating jujitsu on his blog.
In a blog entry titled "The Naked and the Reds," Diekmann scoffs at his counterparts at the Taz, who have apparently "become so humorless and bitter recently that you have to ask yourself: Are these people truly brothers in spirit?" In another entry, entitled "How Much Dick Is Acceptable?", he gleefully commiserates with his esteemed colleagues over at Taz: "I had a feeling this would happen. Now my Taz comrades are tearing each other apart over that naked monument."
Pranksters and Reactionaries
The world has been turned upside-down on Rudi Dutschke Street. The team that likes to claim that its job is to stir things up in bourgeois society now finds itself with its back against a wall adorned by an art installation it approved. Meanwhile, the supposedly reactionary die-hards at Bild are using the tools of the modern prankster to stir things up at the Taz. The casual observer could be forgiven for being confused by the strange goings-on at the two papers. Who exactly are the revolutionaries here, and who is bourgeois?
Kai Diekmann, at any rate, appears to derive a certain Mephistophelian glee from playing the Springer prankster. When he walks through the door of Sale e Tabacchi, an Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the Taz building, he seems about as energetic and self-confident as if he owned the place.
The restaurant was once a favorite of the editors at Taz, who had worked out a deal with Sale e Tabacchi whereby they could get lunch for a bargain 3.50 ($5.20). Germany's poorest editorial staff once had the country's best cafeteria. But then they began finding fault with the food. Nowadays Diekmann uses Sale e Tabacchi as a living room of sorts, and he even launched his book "Der grosse Selbstbetrug" ("The Great Self-Deception"), a critique of the German student protest movements of the late 1960s, at the restaurant.
"Enemy territory? Not at all," says Diekmann. For some time now, Taz employees have been eating lunch in their own cafeteria, where "Fennel au gratin with gorgonzola béchamel sauce, bulgur and vegetable pilaf" can be had for 5.95.
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