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East and West

A few hundred metres from Emily and Guido's apartment is Frankfurter Allee that turns into Karl Marx Allee at Frankfurter Tor (left hand side in the Google Earth image above). If you stand in the centre margin of this road and look towards the centre of town the Fernsehturm (television tower) is in the centre of your view.

 

Karl Marx Allee near Frankfurter Tor - historical photograph:  Märkisches Museum

 

On either side are matching grand buildings - all post-war.

These owe their existence first to the War and then to the Communists. To the south of  Frankfurter Allee are two major rail junctions and from here low level British  bombers could unload all the way into the centre at Alexanderplatz by flying along Große Frankfurter Straße. 

 

Alexanderplatz 1945 and 2015 (setting up for Oktoberfest)
The S-Bahn on the left in the 1945 photo runs between the darker grey building and the TV tower
This was East Berlin. The historical photographs are in the Märkisches Museum

 

They needed to keep low and south of  Frankfurter Allee to avoid anti-aircraft fire from the Friedrichshain Flak Tower, more of that later.

Whereas high level bombing known as carpet bombing was more indiscriminate low level bombing concentrated damage along this corridor leaving a great swathe of destruction, an ideal site for a grand soviet style reconstruction project: Stalin Allee.  And so it happened.  Women were put to work clearing the rubble.  Plans and models were made and in due course construction began on what had become a component in the propaganda war between East and West. 

 

The grand soviet-style reconstruction project: Stalin Allee - Märkisches Museum

 

 

 Who could clean-up fastest and best became a points scoring exercise.  Soon Stalin Allee rose from the most devastated area in the City.  It was like the rebuilding of Warsaw, a great communist achievement. 

On the other (south) side of Frankfurter Allee from Emily are a series of high rise apartments of the kind often disparaged in the West when talking of the East. The West decried the architecture while the East heralded new apartments with lifts and modern bathrooms and kitchens. 

It sounds odd to Australians, and to all of us now, but in much of Europe a bathroom was a novelty and the height of luxury before the War.  When we looked at buying a house in London in the mid 1970's it was still possible to get a special grant to install a bathroom as immediately after the war only the middle and upper classes had such luxuries.  One day I was riding my bike to work and passed a group of kids in Battersea and heard one say: "Oh no, its bath night!".   'Oh no! It's true,' I thought.  When I was a 'pommy' kid in growing up in Australia a favourite joke of other kids was: "Where do you hide your wallet from and Englishman?  Under the soap!  Ha Ha."   As for hot water in the kitchen - haven't you heard of a kettle?

So these projects were indeed making things better for working class Berliners.

The Russian occupation in what was called the Soviet (sowjetischer) Sector was famously fraught with a power-play between the Germans and Russians.  There is a current Spielberg movie Bridge of Spies that highlights the tension when a DDR (Duecher Democratic Republic - East German) official points furiously at the lack of progress on cleaning up the Soviet Sector compared to progress in the British, French and American sectors.  The movie is bleak, contrasting the worst of Berlin with an upper-middle-class commuter suburb of  New York - no sight of the South Bronx from the commuter train - and the script does not treat the DDR man or his clown-like boss at all well.

In due course Stalin fell from grace.  So Stalingrad became Volgograd and Stalin Allee became Karl Marx Allee.  But the DDR competition with the West was still in full swing when the Fernsehturm (television tower) was built between 1965 and 1969. It's still the tallest structure in Germany. 

 

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Travel

Turkey

 

 

 

 

In August 2019 we returned to Turkey, after fourteen years, for a more encompassing holiday in the part that's variously called Western Asia or the Middle East.  There were iconic tourist places we had not seen so with a combination of flights and a rental car we hopped about the map in this very large country. 

We began, as one does, in Istanbul. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The First Man on the Moon

 

 

 

 

At 12.56 pm on 21 July 1969 Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) Neil Armstrong became the first man to step down onto the Moon.  I was at work that day but it was lunchtime.  Workplaces did not generally run to television sets and I initially saw it in 'real time' in a shop window in the city.  

Later that evening I would watch a full replay at my parents' home.  They had a 'big' 26" TV - black and white of course.  I had a new job in Sydney having just abandoned Canberra to get married later that year.  My future in-laws, being of a more academic bent, did not have TV that was still regarded by many as mindless.

Given the early failures, and a few deaths, the decision to televise the event in 'real time' to the international public was taking a risk.  But the whole space program was controversial in the US and sceptics needed to be persuaded.

In Australia we knew it was really happening because Tidbinbilla was tracking the space craft, as it had previous Apollo launches, and the Parkes radio Telescope had been requisitioned to receive the live television signal, so that an estimated 600 million viewers could watch it too.  Nevertheless for a wide range of reasons, ranging from religious orthodoxy and anti-scientific scepticism to dislike of the Kennedys and big government in general, conspiracy theorists in the US and elsewhere continued to claim that it had been faked for decades later.

 

 

The Houston Apollo Control Room - now a National Monument and the Apollo 11 crew
my photos - see Houston on this website:  Read more...

 

The immediate media reaction to Armstrong's: 'one small step for man one giant leap for mankind', statement was a bit unforgiving.  In the heat of the moment, with his heart rate racing; literally stepping into the unknown; Armstrong had fumbled his lines.  He should have said: 'a man'.

As it was the recording, that will now last, as of a seminal moment in history, into the unforeseeable future, is redundant and makes no sense - an added proof, if one were needed, that it wasn't pre-recorded or faked.

I've talked about Kennedy's motivation for the project elsewhere on this website [Read more...] but the outcomes for the entire world turned out to be totally unpredictable and massive.  Initially engineering in the US had not been up to the task and the space program stumbled from one disaster to the next, with the Russians clearly in advance, but now some centralised discipline needed to be imposed - to herd the cats.  Simply using a single standard of weights and measures was a challenge. 

Yet the incredible challenges involved required new technology and an open cheque had been committed.  Billions of dollars funded tens of thousands of research projects that led to many thousands of innovations.  New materials and methods of manufacture were developed.  Perhaps the most important were semiconductor electronics at companies like Fairchild and Bell Labs and computer science at the previously mechanical card sorting and calculating companies: NCR and IBM that had once been sceptical of this newfangled electronic stuff.  Engineering and science educators expanded to provide the young researchers, engineers and programmers.

Unlike the wartime 'Manhattan Project' much of the research was published. Scientific American was required reading among my friends. In any case the speed of innovation rendered advances redundant in a matter of months. Thus quite a bit of this taxpayer funded technology 'fell off the back of the truck' and computer engineering entrepreneurs like Hewlett Packard, who had got their start making sound equipment for Walt Disney, quickly took advantage, soon to be joined by many others. So that today electronics and communications related industry has become the core of the US economy.

Today the computing and communications technology you are using to read this is several millions of times more powerful than that employed to put Neil Armstrong on the Moon and this is indeed a testament to that 'giant leap' that, in part, enabled 'one small step for (a) man' 50 years ago.

 

 

Opinions and Philosophy

Bertrand Russell

 

 

Bertrand Russell (Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970)) has been a major influence on my life.  I asked for and was given a copy of his collected Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell for my 21st birthday and although I never agreed entirely with every one of his opinions I have always respected them.

 

In 1950 Russell won the Nobel Prize in literature but remained a controversial figure.  He was responsible for the Russell–Einstein Manifesto in 1955. The signatories included Albert Einstein, just before his death, and ten other eminent intellectuals and scientists. They warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons and called on governments to find alternative ways of resolving conflict.   Russell went on to become the first president of the campaign for nuclear disarmament (CND) and subsequently organised opposition to the Vietnam War. He could be seen in 50's news-reels at the head of CND demonstrations with his long divorced second wife Dora, for which he was jailed again at the age of 89.   The logo originally designed for the CND, the phallic Mercedes, became widely used as a universal peace symbol in the 60s and 70s, particularly in hippie communes and crudely painted on VW camper-vans.

 

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