A protest action, which for a long time appeared as a provocative mind game, will probably soon become reality according to a ruling by the Berlin Administrative Court. On Tuesday, the administrative judges followed an application by the Historiale e.V. association and obliged the Berlin-Mitte district office to approve the installation of a wrecked Russian tank opposite the Russian embassy.
When asked by WELT, the district office stated that no legal remedies were intended; they respect the decision of the court and will implement it.
For Enno Lenze and Wieland Giebel, the initiators of the campaign, this is a small triumph. Lenze told WELT that it was important to them to use art to keep people aware of the war in Ukraine. "But that doesn't work with some pompous exhibitions that the vast majority of people will never visit. Instead, we want to give the citizens of Berlin a concrete impression of the devastation that can be seen on every street corner in many cities in Ukraine.”
A shot-up tank is the ideal subject because it demonstrates the destructive power of war without arousing a sense of shock or disgust, as would be the case with images of piles of corpses. Enze, who works as a war reporter among other things, has little sympathy for the argument put forward by the Berlin district office in the proceedings that the Russian occupants of the tank presumably died when it was destroyed and that the action was therefore irreverent.
“I was in Kharkiv myself when Russian rockets landed nearby and saw the bombed bodies of Ukrainian civilians. It's pretty bizarre that the Berlin administration now thinks they have to protect the actors of this terror regime from being critically portrayed."
Such sensitivities are apparently less pronounced in Prague or Warsaw: in both cities destroyed Russian war equipment was on display – but not in front of the Russian embassy.
The objections of the Berlin administration also missed the heart of the matter from a legal point of view, said attorney Patrick Heinemann, who represented Historiale in the proceedings. The district office had argued, among other things, with dangers for monument protection, with conflicting usage concepts for the district and even with Germany's foreign policy interests. "But that was not the point for the court at all, because only road traffic law objections have to be taken into account for the decision on the exemption, i.e. traffic impairments," says Heinemann.
Two lucky coincidences came to the aid of the applicants: First, the intersection between Schadowstrasse and Unter den Linden is a trunk road, so that federal law, which is more accommodating in practice, is applied and not Berlin state law.
And secondly, the relevant section of Schadowstraße near the Russian embassy is currently closed to vehicles anyway for safety reasons, which is why the erection of the wrecked tank does not entail any additional traffic disruptions.
In view of this, the previous attitude of refusal is astonishing, especially since Almut Neumann, a politician from the Greens and a former judge at the Berlin Administrative Court, is responsible for the areas of order, environment, nature and roads in the district office.
If Lenze has his way, everything can now happen very quickly. "A low-loader from Berlin to Kharkiv or Nikolaev takes about 24 hours, I already have the approval of the authorities there." However, the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control must first give its approval.
"It's actually just a formality, because the tank is no longer operational," says Lenze. "But if the processing there is just as uncooperative as in Berlin, then I'm afraid it could take a while."
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