It was the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and finally the guns were silenced and the slaughter stopped. The First World War, 'the war to end all wars' had ended. In the Battle for the Somme, where eventually no ground had been permanentaly taken by either side, a million soldiers of many nations had perished, sent to their needless deaths by the titled gentry in charge of such things. On 11th November at 11.00 November this year I found myself standing to attention for 2 minutes as the nearby Town Hall clock rang out the time. A small gathering of old soldiers in World War I khaki uniforms, with tin helmets and ancient rifles, along with a Lord Mayor in scarlet cloak and white plummed hat bowed their heads. Everyone was wearing a poppy, an artificial silk red one, with a black button inside, to signify the blood and death from Flanders Fields, where they grow naturally. From their donations over $50 million is earned each year and distributed by the Royal British Legion, to help those in need on this island, from all wars and armed conflicts.
When you think of war you often think of Berlin, which has been in the midst of many of them. You perhaps think of Prussian militarism, black and white scratchy news reel film of rushing trams and people, decadence as in CABARET, wheel barrows full of useless inflationary Marks, Brown shirts and Black shirts, Hitler and his cronies' ravings under the torchlights, the Nazi Olympics of 1936, The assault by the Red Army, The Berlin Airlift, the four power divide and rule, the Berlin Wall, the Reuniffication, and the regeneration, glitz and excitement of FIFA World Cup 2006.
I often get asked what European team is worth supporting and have some character. Well how about FC UNION BERLIN, in the Eastern Berlin suburb of Kopenick on the River Spree. Founded in 1209, it claims to be older than Berlin itself, and close to the Muggelsee lake district. Before this summer's FIFA World Cup I went to see the team play their final home match of the season to win the Oberliga North- East , North Division, one of a number of Regional Division IV leagues around the country. You take the Blue Line S Bahn No. 3 way out of town through the countryside to Kopenick station. I bought a Doner Kebab at a 'Schnell Imbiss', a fast food outlet, opposite the station and followed the crowd through the woods to the quaint Alte Forsterei Stadium, deep in the forest, with half a dozen training pitches surrounding it.
'IRON UNION', as they are nicknamed, were a well known German club before World War I and later lost 0-2 to Hamburger SV in the 1923 Championship. After the 2nd World War and the city was divided, there were 2 teams. Most of the coaches and players fled West before the Wall came down and the group in Kopenick changed its name to SC Oberschonweide. The western branch drew huge crowds to the Olympiastadion, supported by loyal fans from East Berlin, but after the wall 'sealed them in', the crowds disappeared. The eastern branch had a hated rival in the Stasi sponsored BFC Dinamo whose stadium was next to the wall, with Stasi and other police lining the back of the terrace so that fans couldn't escape. After SIX NAME CHANGES the eastern branch finally became 1 FC UNION BERLIN in 1966. With reunification in 1992 they progressed but after winning Division III in 2002 and 2003 they were denied admission by the DFB on financial grounds. By 2001 they did make it and and also lost in the final of the Deutsche Pokal (always held in Berlin at Olympiastadion) to FC Schalke and even progressed to the 2nd Round of the UEFA Cup. More financial problems and they slipped down 2 divisons in consecutive seasons, before their turn of fortune this summer.
They play in red and white hoops with EAST-WEST JEANS across their chests and lots of sponsors including Berliner Pilsner Beer that the fans drink in great quantity to help digest their currywurste, half chickens, snitzel and pommes frites. Fantastic support with fans waving giant club flags, swaying with their scarves and singing and chanting throughout. Not as glamorous as well supported HERTHA BERLIN, but with new stadium renovations, and more exciting opponents I think that they are a team to watch, and to support. Dynamo Berlin were disbanded and disappeared, Tennis Berlin are now just a small club in a local league, and even though they won the DDR Championships and Cup many times, Vorwarts Berlin were moved to Frankurt an Oder.
Berlin is a huge place, and it seems over 50% is green forests and blue lakes. One afternoon while riding on a bus, it braked sharply. I looked outside to see a family of wild boar, mom, dad and 9-10 little ones trying to cross the road. I seriously suggest that you buy a BVG City Tour Card to give unlimited travel on U bahn and S bahn trains, buses, trams and even lake ferries. One day out is to WANNSEE, in South-West Berlin, where you can walk to the lake and take lots of different short or long cruises, some for free with your transport pass, and even to Peacock Island, built for King Frederic William II's sweetheart in 1794-7. One 'must see' trip is a 10 minute ride on Bus no. 114 round the south of the lake and up the western shore from Wannsee Station and S bahn No.1. to the Wannsee Villa at Am Grossen 56-58. Here in the dining room of this handsome lakeside villa on June 20th 1942 Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the Reich Security Office chaired a meeting of 14 government and SS officials, on the orders of SS Chief Heinrich Himmler, with Adolph Eichman put in charge of carrying out the task. Only lasting half a day the only subject was THE FINAL SOLUTION, the genocide of European Jews. Although Jews and others were already being murdered, this was now to become a more coordinated effort. Most Jews were killed soon after arriving at a concentration camp, and stronger ones were to be worked to death. Many of those present at the meeting were executed or died in the latter stages of the war, but Eichman disappeared. Eventually he was discovered by the Israeli Mossad, living at an address on Garibaldi Street in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in 1960 was drugged and smuggled out on an El Al Bristol Britannia aircraft to Israel. He was put on trial in Tel Aviv on May 21, 1960 and finally found guilty and hanged on May 31, 1962 cremated and his ashes scattered in the Mediterranean. To this day he is the only civilian executed by the State of Israel.