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New Cold War Museum Planned For Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie

An exhibit about the Cold War will open this spring in the “Black Box,” a building that now fills the space where American and Russian tanks faced off in 1961. It will eventually be part of a permanent museum exploring the Cold War, in the city where it b

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany (marabuchi)
Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany (marabuchi)
Sven Felix Kellerhoff<

BERLIN -- Nowhere did the Cold War burn hotter than in Berlin. And nowhere in Berlin were tensions higher than at the crossroads of Zimmer and Friedrichstraße, known around the world as "Checkpoint Charlie." It was only appropriate, therefore, that Checkpoint Charlie was chosen as the site of upcoming Cold War displays set to open this coming spring in a temporary building dubbed the "Black Box." The displays will later be part of a full-fledged museum.

Berlin's secretary of state for culture, Andre Schmitz, publically presented the temporary building last week. It is located on one of the pieces of prime real estate that have stood unoccupied for decades at the crossroads. They were last used by the Berlin Wall Museum for a controversial installation of crosses commemorating those who died at what used to be the border separating the two Germanys.

The "Black Box" really is a deep black, with a white surface shaped like the city of Berlin onto which the different sectors can be projected. Visitors will be able to see exactly how the city was divided on Aug. 13, 1961, along with important historical sites and memorials that have been erected since.

Displays are expected to be housed in these temporary quarters for about three years. Exhibits will deal with the entire Cold War era, from the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition in Europe to the alienation that rapidly ensued, the mutual posturing and threats on both sides, the eventual cautious relaxing of tensions, the halt of the arms race, and finally the break-up of Communist dictatorships.

An epilogue section will feature present-day challenges. The exhibit will make the point that the Cold War has not been laid entirely to rest – as evidenced by the two Koreas and by the fact that tensions remain between the United States and the capitalist but non-democratic states of Russia and China.

Expecting 100,000 visitors per year

The land on which the "Black Box" is being planned belongs to an Irish investor who intends to erect office buildings at the location. Until construction begins, the Berlin Senate – the executive body that governs the city – will continue to lease the land for a symbolic price. Once the office buildings have been completed, 2015 at the earliest, a permanent museum will be built on the site. The exhibitions being prepared for the temporary building are expected to be integrated into the permanent museum display.

Operating costs for the pavilion are expected to be covered by ticket sales. Located in a prime tourist area, the facility is expected to draw over 100,000 visitors a year.

The new museum isn't expected to give the nearby private Berlin Wall Museum a run for its money – exhibits in the latter, which focus on escapes across the Wall, are so unusual that they will continue to draw significant numbers of visitors. With 870,000 visits in 2010, the Berlin Wall Museum is the city's fourth most visited.

The "Black Box" displays will be sure not to present the Cold War clash as a conflict between two morally equivalent blocks. It wasn't. The standoff between the two superpowers was a confrontation between dictatorship and democracy, between a lack of freedom and freedom. Checkpoint Charlie is not the place for mincing words.

Read the original story in German

Photo - marabuchi

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Longyearbyen Postcard: World's Northernmost Town Facing Climate Change — And Russia

The melting of the sea ice in the Far North has accelerated in recent years. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard has become the focal point of the environmental drama gripping the Arctic as well as the geopolitical tensions it is causing there, with Russia in particular.

A statue of a coal miner stands in the center of the photos with houses surronding it, draped around their shoudler is a Ukrainian flag. The environment is snowy and the sky is white from clouds.

A Ukraine flag placed on a statue of a coal miner in the center of Longyearbyen

Steffen Trumpf/dpa/ZUMA
Laura Berny

LONGYEARBYEN — The Longyearbreen glacier, which once unfurled to the sea, is now a shadow of its former self. Only the name of Longyearbyen’s Isfjorden now conveys the idea of something frozen.

“Last January, during the polar winter, the temperature was between 0 and 5 °C. When I went for a walk by the fjord, I could hear the waves. This was not the case before at this time of year,” says Heidi Sevestre. The French glaciologist fell in love with Svalbard as a student, so much so that she now lives here for part of the year.

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Compared to Siberia, Canada’s and Greenland’s High North – the Arctic archipelago, located just over a thousand kilometers from the North Pole – has historically benefited from a slightly more benign climate despite its extreme latitude. Temperatures here range between 5 °C and 15 °C in summer and usually not below -30 °C in the coldest of winter. This relatively “mild" weather has its origin in the Gulf Stream — the marine current which rises up from the Caribbean and runs along the west coast of Svalbard.

But the situation has now changed.

“There has been a lot of talk about the rise in atmospheric temperature for at least 20 years. But in the past three years, ocean temperatures have also risen significantly. This is what is causing the increasingly rapid retreat of the ice pack,” explains Jean-Charles Gallet, a glaciologist who has worked at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) since 2010.

“The sea ice acts like an air conditioner for the ocean, so the more it decreases, the more the ocean warms up. This causes a chain reaction which ends up accelerating the warming process,” adds Eero Rinne, a Finnish specialist on the topic and a researcher at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). Rinne is working on the CRISTAL sea ice satellite mission, slated to go live in 2028 as part of the European Space Agency’s Copernicus program.

Beyond the alarming disappearance of glaciers and ice packs and the threat to polar bears (of which there are still around 300 in the archipelago), global warming is also causing cracks in the infrastructure of the territory, which is covered by permafrost. Landslides are increasingly frequent, and all recently constructed buildings in the region are on stilts.

“It used to rain very little in Svalbard, but now it is getting wetter and wetter, which is weakening the soil,” explains Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, a Danish-Norwegian scientist and specialist on permafrost at UNIS.

Norwegians kept a low profile about Svalbard's growing crisis, until 2017. That was the year when the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was flooded, less than 10 years after its foundation. The facility, dug near a mine in Longyearbyen, the capital of the archipelago, was built to preserve more than a million seeds from a possible cataclysm. The disaster didn’t affect the seeds but left a scar in people’s minds. Even this close to the pole, permafrost is thawing.

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