13 DAYS TO GO
Saturday 18 December 1999
Trouble is, the "bad" will just not be left behind. Berlin's extravagant farewell to a dark German century faces the chop, as politicians argue over a light show's perceived Nazi content. The spectacle is part of the official celebrations, which also include an open-air concert by Mike Oldfield and a fireworks display. The three events are choreographed by Gert Hof, a local artist.
Shortly before midnight, beams of light are set to start their merry dance around the Victory Column in Tiergarten, forming what Mr Hof describes as a "cathedral of light".
Yet some people claim they have seen it all before. Jorn Jensen, the mayor of Tiergarten, and Thomas Flierl, a communist councillor in east Berlin, are reminded of Albert Speer's creations: the illuminations of the Olympic stadium in 1936 and the Nuremberg rallies. They and historians who have joined the debate also feel that the idea that 250,000 revellers should bring their torches and flash them at midnight will evoke chilling memories of the storm-troopers' torchlit processions. Worst of all, they are appalled that anyone should deign to celebrate around the Victory Column, which was worshipped by the Nazis.
Mr Hof is growing tired of explaining to the city fathers that he chose the Victory Column because it was the only open space in the city centre. "I told them: `if you don't like the Victory Column, blow it up'."
That suggestion did not go down well, but a meeting was scheduled last night to thrash out "corrections". Most of the critics are willing to concede that Mr Hof, born after the war, had no sinister agenda, but they accuse him of gross insensitivity none the less.
He has lit up skies elsewhere before, without a murmur of complaint. But Berlin is different.
"This is a German disease, and especially a Berlin disease," he says. "Wherever you go in Germany, there is a spot where the Nazis did something. But what am I supposed to do about it?"
Imre Karacs, Berlin
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