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Weekly digest, Dec. 18th 2022
It has been a month of surreal news stories. Last week we had an alleged coup plot with a cast fit for an Agatha Christie novel. This week one of the world’s largest fish tanks exploded in a Berlin hotel, ejecting swarms of exotic fish into the foyer and onto the street outside.
For anyone who isn’t aware of what I’m talking about, the Aquadom aquarium, a vertical cylinder in the courtyard of the Radisson Blu hotel at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, collapsed in the middle of the night.
The power of the explosion must have been enormous. The explosion unleashed a million litres of water and was registered on a nearby earthquake seismometer.
I spent Friday morning interviewing people at the scene. One man who owned a penthouse in the same building told me he’d been ripped out of his sleep by the sound of twisting metal. His first thought was that the ferris wheel at the Alexanderplatz Christmas market had collapsed. It was only when he looked out the window that he realised the sound had come from inside his own building.
A hotel guest I met said he had slept through the explosion - he’d been to a heavy metal concert the night before. His hearing obviously still hadn’t recovered. He showed me video he recorded from his interior window. The scene was one of complete devastation. Chairs and tables that had be lined up below the tank the night before were covered by twisted metal and shattered glass.
Berlin’s mayor, Franziska Giffey, pointed out how lucky the city had been. If the tank had collapsed at 5pm rather than 5am we wouldn’t just be talking about dead clownfish.
The hotels around Alexanderplatz are full of tourists at this time of year who’ve come for the Christmas markets. It is horrific to think about how many people would have died if the tank had collapsed during the day. The city’s reputation would have been destroyed for years.
We don’t yet know what caused the accident, so one should be careful about pointing fingers. But why oh why do these type of things always seem to happen in Berlin?
It’s not all bad news from the capital, though.
One of the city’s most notorious mafia families has revealed where they hid a hoard of priceless jewels. Several of the Remmo clans’ top members were jailed for a 2019 heist at the Green Vault Museum that was home to the Saxonian monarchy’s crown jewels. It seems that the mafia bosses have revealed where they hid the jewels they stole in return for more lenient sentencing.
Among the treasures that have been recovered is the diamond-encrusted Breast Star of the Polish Order of the White Eagle.
In other news, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has decided to banish the name of Germany’s founder from her ministry. The ministry’s main meeting room had been named after Otto Bismarck for the past six decades. But now it will be called ‘the hall of German unity.’ Is this the latest example of a great historical figure being ‘cancelled’ by zealous 21st century progressives? In Monday’s newsletter I took a closer look at the man who united Germany with ‘blood and iron’.
Since we’re on the topic of ‘culture wars,’ I wrote on Thursday about a Frankfurt court’s ruling against Twitter. The social media company could face whopping fines if it doesn’t now employ a crack team of experts on German defamation law. The ruling gives some insights into why current debates over freedom of speech are often wide of the mark.
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From the archive
With perfect timing, winter has decided to make a return after a hiatus of several years right in the middle of an energy crisis. With the mercury well below zero already, this is one of the coldest Decembers in recent memory.
The weather Gods clearly have a dark sense of humour. One of the bitterest winters of the 20th century hit Germany a year after the end of the Second World War when many people were still living amongst the rubble of their bombed out cities. That winter was named the white death and killed hundreds of thousands of people. But the deaths were as much a man-made tragedy as a natural disaster.