A stripper and a widow walk into a Berlin courtroom for the Checkpoint Charlie case. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke -- but that's exactly what happened on Monday in the German capital.
The stripper was Tom Luszeit, a 34-year-old who -- for his day job -- dresses up in various period military outfits to pose with souvenir-seeking tourists. The widow was Alexandra Hildebrandt, 48, who has run the Wall Museum at Checkpoint Charlie since her husband passed away in 2004. She has taken issue with Luszeit's antics in the past, in particular with his penchant for dressing in the uniform of East Germany's secret police, the Stasi. And the court case is one that has gone a long way toward eroding the dignity of one of the Cold War's central sites -- and has yet to reach its conclusion.
While Berliners are still waiting for the final punch line, there has been no shortage of chuckles during the three-year-old drama, which kicked off in late May 2004. That spring, Luszeit -- who offers strip shows through his company Dance Factory Berlin -- began posing with tourists next to the little, white Checkpoint Charlie hut dressed as a Stasi agent. Hildebrandt, who owns the hut -- a replica of the original -- was not impressed and told Luszeit to get lost. He refused.
Wrapped in Toilet Paper
Hildebrandt flipped. The city, as it turned out, could do nothing -- Luszeit had obtained a permit from the local authority. So in protest, Hildebrandt wrapped the hut in a blue tarp and duct tape. Luszeit, in response, wrapped himself up in toilet paper. That part is undisputed.
But Luszeit also claims to have been assaulted by Hildebrandt. He says that, while posing one day, the museum director came out and asked him to remove the red carpet he was standing on. As he bent down to pick it up, Hildebrandt unleashed a kick which struck the stripper on the wrist. She also, he claims, called him an "asshole" and a "murderer." And poor Tom's wrist hurt so bad that he couldn't drive his car for two days. So he sued.
On Monday, the two met in court. It wasn't the first time: In November 2005, a court ordered Hildebrandt to pay Luszeit €750 for having injured and insulted him. Calling the verdict a "clear miscarriage of justice," Ms. Wall Museum appealed.
And on Monday, she seemed to have plenty of witnesses to back up her version of the story: A reporter who testified that Luszeit said nothing of the attack despite interviewing him just hours after it supposedly occurred; Luszeit's doctor, who says the injury was no big deal; and Hildebrandt herself, who says that the word "asshole" isn't even part of her vocabulary.
Embarrassing to Both Sides
Pathos, however, is. While the outcome of the current court case has yet to be decided, Checkpoint Charlie under Hildebrandt's stewardship has not been a stranger to negative publicity in recent years. In addition to her ongoing conflict with a two-bit-stripper-turned-Stasi-officer, Hildebrandt also provoked the ire of Berlin by setting up her very own monument to those who lost their lives while trying to escape communist East Berlin. The problem was that she built the memorial -- consisting of dozens of wooden crosses -- on a bit of rented land and refused to remove it when her lease ran out. The resulting demonstration was embarrassing to both sides.
It is unclear who Tom Luszeit will call to the stand to back up his view of what happened in the spring of 2004. But there is at least one man who might be helpful. Three years ago, Gerhard Lindner, owner of a souvenir shop at Checkpoint Charlie, came to Luszeit's defense, saying he found nothing wrong with his posing as an East German policeman.
But then, his testimony might not be worth all that much. It didn't take long for Berlin journalists to discover that Lindner himself had worked as a Stasi spy in the 1980s.
With reporting by Uta Falck