The Treehouse in the Wall, the Epitome of the Berlin Attitude

It was 1983 and the Berlin Wall was still standing. Osman Kalin walked past the Berlin wall like he always did. He passed by the small corner of the wall an anomaly of war. In the rush to set up a wall, the Soviet Berlin troops made a mistake, they forgot to curve the wall. This left them in the situation of having a piece of the East German wall in West German land.

The empty plot had become a place for rubbish to collect, no one took responsibility, no one cared for or about it.

Osman looked away and shook his head, the stench, the eyesore, urgh!

He came back the next day for his daily walk, but this time instead of walking and sighing he stopped at the derelict no mans land, his hand strecthed into it and pulled out some rubbish. Then more and more rubbish was removed. The weeds were the next to come off, he was on a roll.

He went back again and started to grow flowers, this was going to be a garden. Using the scrap metal that he salvaged he built his own treehouse. People started to talk about the baumhaus an de mauer, the treehouse on the wall. The old devastated land was now a cute little garden.

Even with a wall, news continued to scale it everyday in Berlin and the East Berlin soldiers caught wind of it. This was a police state still and its ears certainly peered into the western side.

Trailer of the 2006 Movie – The Lives of Others

Was this a western spy mission against us? What were his true intentions? This was a time of tension, the United States had elected a new President recently an old former B-grade actor named Ronald Reagan. And tensions at the wall were no closer to easing. What was this man up to?

And so they walked, part of his treehouse bordered their wall anyway it wasn’t trespassing. They stopped at his wall and inspected it. But could find nothing suspicious except an old rather crazy man. They walked back to report the matter to their officer in charge.

“Imbeciles!” screamed their commander, “ask Sergeant Martin to take three people and check it again.” the chastised soldiers went back to inform their colleague. A few more patrols visited the treehouse on different occasions but none could find a capitalist plot hiding in the scrap metal treehouse. They eventually left the man to his devices and that little edge of the Berlin Wall added colour to an otherwise drab paintjob.

To the outsider, the treehouse stood as a testament to the resilience of a people and the colour of capitalism against the morbid greyness of socialism. To Kalin, it was just a way to have his own little garden and enjoy it.

The fall of the wall in 1989 was a good thing for Germany but a bad thing for the treehouse though, should all the wall go the threehouse should be destroyed with it. By six years of witnessing the treehouse meant that the people had come to develop a relationship with the treehouse. They stood with Kalin to defend his treehouse, the wall may go but not the treehouse, let the man have his treehouse! Incredibly, the Berlin authorities allowed the treehouse to stand, and it still stands today, surrounded now by roads and railway lines running all around it but still standing. Osman continued to tend to his garden until 2017 when he passed away at a ripe old age, his family tends the garden today.

Kalin’s name might have sounded strangit did not sound Germanic. That’s because he surname was not traditionally German and that’s because he was not Prussian by ethnicity.

Kalin was a ethnic Turk West Berliner. He was not rare, Turkish people had been in Germany and Prussia since the time of the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century. Many had gone on to assimilate into German culture, some were even raised to the ranks of local nobility. Others became mercenaries under the Prussian king. West Berlin Turks mostly arrived in Berlin after the wall was raised in 1961. A labour crisis had emerged as a result of the wall and the inability of East Germans to move to West German to find employment, guest workers were brought in from Germany to help keep the West German economy afloat. They stayed there and experienced the same hardship as other Germans, becoming through experience as German as the next person (a sensitive topic, that has become rather topical in the last few months which we will broach in a later post), so German in fact that Kalin’s act of doing things because he wanted has come to symbolise the Berliner attitude to life – ambivalent to authority, self-starting and resilient.



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