'United Stasi of America' Light Artist Wanted by Berlin Police

Berlin police are investigating a light artist for projecting the phrase "United Stasi of America" onto the the US Embassy in Berlin. The phrase refers to the former East German secret police and was meant as a protest against American spying. But can the artist really be prosecuted?

Berlin police believe that this message, projected onto the wall of the US Embassy in Berlin on Sunday night, could be a violation of laws against insulting representatives of foreign states.
Oliver Bienkowski/ Caveman Guerilla Marketing

Berlin police believe that this message, projected onto the wall of the US Embassy in Berlin on Sunday night, could be a violation of laws against insulting representatives of foreign states.


It was meant to be a publicity stunt -- a political prank aimed at voicing displeasure over vast US Internet surveillance and spying activities. But Oliver Bienkowski, the light artist who projected the words "United Stasi of America" onto the US Embassy late Sunday night now finds himself in hot water with the Berlin police after authorities opened an investigation.

Officially, a Berlin spokesman confirmed on Friday, Bienkowski is suspected of having violated a law against "insulting organs and representatives of foreign countries." So far, however, the artist has not yet even been approached by the authorities, though the Berlin police said he would soon be invited in for questioning.

The projection, which included an image of Internet activist and hacker icon Kim Schmitz, aka "Kim Dotcom," took place at around 1 a.m. local time on Sunday night and lasted for a mere 30 seconds before police guarding the embassy asked him to move on. "Stasi" is a reference to the infamous East German Ministry for State Security, which managed a vast network of spies and informants in communist times -- but which also persecuted the state's political opponents.

Bienkowski told SPIEGEL ONLINE that his goal was to "do things that people will see and try to get them to think." Specifically, he wanted to voice criticism of US web surveillance, the vast scope of which was revealed recently by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Bienkowski says he even spent €5,000 ($6,500) out of his own pocket to finance the costs of the guerilla light projection.

Free Speech?

Despite the slow pace of the investigation thus far, the artist has already hired a lawyer. And in a press release issued this week, the law firm made clear that it sees the case as having little merit. For one, the law firm D. Breymann Rechsanwälte says that a complaint has to have been made by the US Embassy for the case to be pursued. But the embassy has told Berlin daily Tagesspiegel that it does not intend to file such a complaint. For another, the supposed insult was not directed at a specific individual.

Mostly, though, Bienkowski's lawyer makes clear that the projection on Sunday night should be protected by the right to free speech. "By making use of the artistic form of satire, which has always been characterized by exaggeration and hyperbole, Bienkowski was protesting in a legitimate manner the massive degradation of civil rights, particularly via the recently revealed attacks on the private spheres of (not just) German civilians through intercontinental surveillance measures," the lawyer's statement reads.

Bienkowski, for his part, seems unconcerned as well, telling SPIEGEL ONLINE on Friday that it is a cut-and-dry case of freedom of expression. He also seems to harbor little animosity toward the Berlin police themselves -- even if they forced him to turn off his projector just seconds into his protest. "They were very friendly," he says.


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thx1138 07/12/2013
How is that even a crime in a free country?
Donac 07/12/2013
2. Free country, aye?
You are only as free as they want you to be. Freedom of speech is accepted as long you are pro government. If you have another opinion than the self proclaimed Elite, they shut you up in no time. Do not ever dare to criticize them in Germany. It is a crime. On the other hand, it is no crime if you don´t pay your taxes. But ONLY if you are one of them or close to them in any way! This is called "Zwei Klassen Gesellschaft", which means something like class-divided. Welcome to the Banana Republic of Germany!
jo6pac 07/12/2013
I hope it's to reward him and yes thx1138 my thought also.
Celso 07/13/2013
4. Why not?
I do not understand such subservience to USA, country that does not respect others. See what they did in Afghanistan during all those years. The only clear result, as the United Nations report says is the huge increase in the drug production besides the country does not have hospitals, schools, but according to the USA they have democracy...
romyle 07/13/2013
5. United Stasi...
If the projection said, "I love Nazis" or "Hitler was good for Germans", would people say that the projector should have freedom of speech?
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