In Colombia, Peso 'Banknote Trees' Ripe For Harvesting

'Arbol de billetes', or 'banknote tree' in Cali, Colombia
"Arbol de billetes", or "banknote tree" in Cali, Colombia

BOGOTA — Maybe money does grow on trees. This week, in the Ciudad del Río sector of Medellín, Colombia's second largest city, passersby were surprised to see a tree "flowering" with banknotes. Fastened to the tree's branches (with laundry clips) were real peso bills.

Too good to be true? Some people seemed to think so and chose to just observe. But others took the liberty of "harvesting" the money, helping themselves to a banknote or two. Looking on, according to witnesses, were eight coordinators to keep things from getting too rowdy.

A similar scene unfolded near the Museo de la Tertulia, in Cali. And in Bogota, the capital, a tree in the El Virrey park was adorned with money the previous day, April 2.

The big question, of course, is where the money came from.

Alberto Meneses, an events organizer in Medellín, was one of many caught off guard by the sight in Ciudad del Río. "I asked what was happening and nobody said anything. But people began arriving and taking 20,000 and 50,000-peso bills (worth $7 and $18 respectively), so I decided to grab one," he told the Spanish news agency EFE. "It was exciting to see so much money in one place. Everyone was happy."

The big question, of course, is where the money came from. Who put it there and why? One theory is that it the trees were decorated as part of a sociology study. A bank employee said he saw a cameraman by one of the trees filming people's behavior. Others claim it was a publicity stunt by the online film company Netflix, though in a Twitter post, Netflix Latin America denied any involvement. Still others think it was organized by an artist collective.

Either way, the stunt seemed to produce a fairly universal reaction: pure delight! For a few minutes, anyway, the money trees brightened up Colombia's largest cities with some unusually giddy smiles.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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