BerlinBSN

How did the Russian tank get to Berlin?

Enno Lenze and Wieland Giebel in front of the destroyed Russian T-72 tank. Photo: Stefan Frank

On February 24, 2022, the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. The aim was to wipe out life, culture, the state and Ukrainians. Driven by racist madness, hundreds of thousands of terrorists set out. I was there a lot at the beginning of the war, reported from the highway in front of Bucha, visited Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Mykolaiv and Kramatorsk. The artillery and rocket impacts rob you of sleep and the tension is exhausting. It's a good thing that my parents and their parents had sex in the right country, which is why I now have the "right" passport and can escape the war zone at any time. It's that easy to decide.

How do you process such impressions? How do you explain it to others? How do you express your dark thoughts? I've created a lot of art in my life - most of the time it wasn't noticed or praised, but it's a good way to express yourself. In this case, a tank wreck came to mind. The tank as a symbol of indestructibility. It stands for war, destruction, death and suffering. There is not one use of battle tanks that does not have to do with these issues. And then this supposedly indestructible device can degenerate into a pile of scrap in seconds, the grave of those sitting in it who others had previously brought to the grave.

Tank wrecks with a sign prohibiting them from being taken

In the Ukraine, next to Kyiv in the town of Dmytrivka, I passed a tank cemetery. Bizarre because there was a sign in front of it saying that the tanks already belonged to someone and that you weren't allowed to take them with you. But I wanted to show exactly such tanks in Germany in order to show people in Germany the transience of people and machines without directly confronting them with shocking images of the dead victims. 

This has also been pulling for some time now Special exhibition about memes in war Visitors, a new kind of Ukrainian war propaganda, encouragement from below, which everyone can join in on the Internet. 

For Wieland Giebel, the curator in the bunker, war and peace have been life issues since he was the federal manager of the Association of Conscientious Objectors as a young man, then as a war reporter, until his current engagement as a volunteer in the Welcome Hall at the main train station Berlin, where the refugees from Ukraine were cared for day and night. In Kyiv he contacted the Ministry of Defense.

So how do you get a tank like this?

Destroyed Russian tank with "Wolverines" lettering
Destroyed Russian tank with “Wolverines” lettering

In June 2022 I sent a very brief email to the Ukrainian embassy in Berlin:

"Dear Sir or Madam,
I think it would make sense to display at least one shot down tank in Berlin, similar to next to the InterContinental Hotel in Kyiv. However, it is unclear how one can borrow such a tank and legally export it from Ukraine. Do you think such an exhibition makes sense? If yes, who should I contact?
Greetings, Enno”

The answer came in minutes and I was forwarded to the appropriate person. This has been a great help since then until today. But what exactly does the administrative process look like? I have experience with events, having organized Europe's largest history festival, the Historiale, in Berlin for a long time. So it all started on June 28, 2022 with a harmless application to the district office - followed by a request to discuss the whole, somewhat unusual matter.

We knew it could get complicated. So it's better to coordinate everything with everyone involved beforehand and only then take action. I had no idea what kind of disaster I was heading into. The tanks were ready in Prague and Warsaw, everything was sorted out so far, we just had to load them up and drive to Berlin. I would have borne the costs. From my point of view, a matter of days. And then… nothing… nothing happened. Like in a western when the straw bales roll by. The completed form sent to another office in the Mitte administration for art and cultural projects also remained unanswered. 

Application for art in urban space
Application for art in urban space

By chance, I spoke to journalists from the Tagesspiegel about the planned action, and they asked the district office a month later, on July 20, 2022.

The checkpoint on July 21, 2022: “Enno Lenze, museum director in the 'Berlin Story Bunker', wants to place shot-up Russian tanks from Ukraine in Berlin-Mitte together with companion Wieland Giebel. The destination: the square in front of the Russian embassy. Everything has been resolved with the Ukrainian side, the war debris is already in Prague. And the project doesn’t seem as impossible as it sounds: a similar exhibition opened in Warsaw yesterday.”

On a Friday, July 22, 2022, between eight a.m. and 14 p.m., we dialed about a hundred times to try to reach one of the ten telephone numbers of the corresponding department in the Mitte district. No one ever picked up. Wieland Giebel reports: “And then on Monday, July 25, 2022, I am standing in the Mitte town hall, the gatekeeper puts the telephone receiver in my hand: I can speak to the secretary of the city councilor Neumann, who is responsible for streets and green spaces.”

I then received a confirmation of receipt. And then, pretty soon, a rejection. I couldn't understand why the matter was rejected. One accusation was that people could have died in the tank. That's quite possible, but here's a life hack: Don't commit war crimes in the neighboring country if you don't want to die in the tank! I have lived by this motto for 40 years and so far I have been spared all anti-tank mines and rocket launchers. This is so easy. But this drama didn't end there.

Statement from the Office for Further Education and Culture

The rejection stated, among other things: “This is not a project of art in urban space, but rather a decidedly current political statement about the war of aggression against Ukraine,” decided the Department of Art, Culture and History of the Office for Further Education and Culture of the district – one week after the checkpoint intervened. We are told that the exact origin of the tank has not been proven, that there is no artistic concept, that it is “a clearly political action using the means of expression of military propaganda.” - I found it interesting that politicians want to evaluate what is art is and what is not. And that without having seen the work of art or spoken to the artist. Impressive. I tried that once too. I received a grade of “unsatisfactory” for this – and that was at a comprehensive school in Bochum. 

A week later, the city councilor responsible for transport obtained a “report” from the district’s cultural department and submitted it. Who wrote the report is still unknown to this day. A secret cultural document from the Berlin-Mitte district from unknown people, from whom any supreme court rulings on the evaluation of art have so far obviously remained hidden.

Wieland Giebel on July 26, 2022 about the checkpoint: “I appeal to the district councilor and the Senate Chancellery to take a clear position on this criminal war and to support the action within this week.” Then we could have had a tank from Prague and everything would have been very easy. But now we were faced with the question: give up or go to court?

The lawyer Dr. Patrick Heinemann, one of Germany's most prominent administrative lawyers due to his achievements, got in touch. It was important to him to see this thing through and he offered to provide legal support for the project from now on.

“The installation of military equipment, even if it is only temporary, represents a significant impairment of the protected appearance of this boulevard.” Another attempt by the district. Our Attorney Dr. Patrick Heinemann asked a well-known and experienced monument conservationist for an opinion on this question. Prof. Dr. Leo Schmidt from the Brandenburg Technical University of Cottbus [29. August 2022]: “'The installation of military equipment, even if it is only temporary, represents a significant impairment of the protected appearance of this boulevard'. This statement essentially has the character of an assertion; Technical arguments that could be examined and possibly refuted are not presented... In order to assess whether a change in the appearance of a monument should be viewed as a detriment, it is essential to first examine and understand the specific situation... It should be noted here “The street Unter den Linden stands for the complex and always painful and problematic history of the city like hardly any other place in Berlin…”

Go to court. That's why I live in a constitutional state and that's why I'm happy to pay taxes. The right to art must not give way to the injustice of war.

Letter from the legal office to the court

The district legal office saw things differently. In my mind's eye I imagined how people there, like in Berghain, prepared the evening and then used consciousness-expanding means to swing their pen. I simply cannot explain the pleadings any other way. One letter after another arrived at the court. And the reasons became increasingly bizarre. First of all, my art could affect the interests of the Federal Republic of Germany. Damn it! So you don't do it underneath anymore. Why not endanger the space-time continuum, like in “Back to the Future”? That would have brought even more drama. So I looked at the organizational chart of the district office. No, it wasn't over the State Department yet. Rather far below. I just wanted to make sure I didn't miss a shift in responsibilities.

“In addition, it can be assumed that motor vehicle drivers will also be distracted from road traffic by the tank wreck and by the expected gatherings of people in front of the tank wreck, so that an acute risk of accidents can be expected.”

The tank could provoke riots, Syrian refugees could be traumatized, and cyclists could be so distracted that they fall over. 

Another letter from the mayor's legal office dated February 2, 2023 calls for the tank to be surrounded with barriers so that no one accidentally walks in front of it. 

Duhok in Kurdistan – don’t be afraid of Russian tanks

I wrote to my friends in Kurdistan and asked them if they were traumatized by the matter. “Yes, we think that would be great!” – “No, would that traumatize you?” It went back and forth. They said we were talking past each other or I was using the wrong word. In the end, they understood that this is a real question. "How come? Are you not feeling well? Do you have problems with trauma?” – This is how it ends if you follow the arguments of the district legal office. People in the crisis area want to help you. 

So the matter ended up in court because the district office wanted it that way. 

The court thankfully refutes the Mitte district's argument that pedestrians cannot pass - with a fabulous trick, namely a measurement on Google Maps: The tank is 3,60 wide, which you can also find out on Wikipedia, the crossing of Schadowstrasse, where the tank is to be set up is 15 meters: “The section of Schadowstrasse in question here covers approx. 8 x 15 m (measured with Google maps) and therefore offers enough space to allow pedestrian traffic. It is also not expected that large crowds will form on the surrounding parts of the central promenade and that this will create a significant obstacle. In this respect, it should be taken into account above all that it is not necessary to spend a long time in order to notice the tank wreck and the protest it expresses. Likewise, the respondent has not credibly demonstrated any acute risk of accidents due to the tank wreck.”

On October 21st The AfD even submitted a question to parliament, mentioned me by name and wanted to know how the whole thing was financed.

The court's decision

Court decision

On November 3, 2022, the administrative court informed the mayor's legal office: "The respondent [district] is obliged by way of an interim order to grant the applicant [us] the requested road traffic exemption to erect a tank wreck on the cordoned off section of Schadowstrasse, which is the Central promenade that crosses the street Unter den Linden, for a period of two weeks. Otherwise, the application is rejected.” and further: “The exemption must be granted. The respondent's discretion is reduced to zero. A refusal would be unlawful.”

Won. That's the end of the matter. Completed. Complete. The district has burned through enough of our hard-earned tax dollars on its nonsense. First the city councilor, then the mayor's legal office, spent a lot of taxpayers' money not to have to look us in the eye and not to exchange a single word with us. 

To date, the district has not been interested in the concept and idea behind the “Death Machine” art installation. From the very beginning it was a matter of rejection without even examining the facts in the slightest. For this purpose, only - and in retrospect this is interesting - areas of the company's own administration were surveyed. No external report was obtained and no survey of those allegedly affected was carried out. We never work like that. But we can also easily explain our decisions personally. And we have to pay for everything out of our own pockets. The district can hide behind others financially and morally. 

The legal office demands: ADDEEEEEE

But as in bad amateur theater, the actors think they are incredibly clever and good, while the audience begs for mercy. We had enough. The amateur actors shouted “encore” to themselves and went into a second round. Because we couldn't move the tank we wanted to Germany quickly enough and the mayor's legal office sensed morning air. Unbelievable war crimes took place in Ukraine again in November and December. Waves of large missiles, drones and artillery were fired at homes, infrastructure, schools and hospitals. First I received news that an acquaintance was seriously injured and lost body parts, then that a medic I knew died from an artillery shell. Then came the request to get body bags: “A thousand or so. We have to tape trash bags together to secure people and prevent them from tearing when lifting. That’s a problem when we collect parts.” That’s what everyday life is like there. Every day. This is what the messages we receive look like. These are the things we worry about every day. 

destroyed shop in Kharkiv
Destroyed shop in Kharkiv

In addition to these incredible tragedies, there were widespread power, heating and water outages. People set up tents outdoors, which were heated and powered by generator power so that Ukrainians could warm themselves and charge their cell phones once a day. The people of Ukraine had completely different things to worry about than stamping the permits for the tank. A clerk at an office there signed off and said that he first had to go look for his family. We also had other concerns, namely caring for everyone we knew there. 

There is a saying among war profiteers: “Chaos creates opportunity.” What is meant is making profit from acts of war. The district obviously doesn't see it any differently. Instead of asking how we can help, the mayor's legal office was at its best and informed the court: "to reject the applicant's application in the written submission of November 10, 2022." Our argument as to why it is difficult to give a clear date and why the situation is the way it is, the legal office of the mayors of Berlin-Mitte commented with the words: “The recent presentation and the associated application by the respondent are incomprehensible.” 

It would be too unworthy of me to take advantage of such a situation in this way. But the sentence came to mind: “If you are embarrassed by something, you don't get enough money for it.” I don't get anything, but I also have to pay the other side's lawyers through my taxes, who obviously earn enough that they don't feel embarrassed to send such letters. 

But Justice did not falter here either. The court's succinct answer: "In the administrative dispute (...) the extension of the deadline is granted as requested."

The court has now explained several times what its position is. All arguments were presented several times by everyone. The mayor's legal office is not making any progress with its stance, which would please Putin. So the end? No!

One more goes, one more goes in!

If you don't pay for the legal dispute yourself and are ultimately not really responsible for the outcome, you can still send a letter to the court. This time, the mayor's legal office complained that "further votes and consultations are required that have not been able to take place so far." - It is not true that they could not take place. We have offered the vote numerous times. We were always brushed off. We also obviously manage to explain in detail what we plan to do, when, how, where and why to a number of newspapers, blogs and social media channels.

Only the district office acts as if no information is available. It is also significant that they write to the court via a lawyer that they have questions. Instead of just calling. As a precautionary measure, it is pointed out: “In this respect, the respondent is considering arranging a closed, all-round construction fence.” We are glad that a circumferential concrete box closed at the top is not to be arranged as a privacy screen for sensitive people, but rather just a fence. However, this collides with the idea of ​​the work of art “Death Machine”, which is intended to represent the transience of humans and machines and make it tangible.

At Documenta it is common practice to directly touch and experience works of art that are located in the middle of the city on Friedrichsplatz or in the Aue. In galleries too, depending on the work. It's also interesting how much people suddenly worry about pedestrians. In view of the numerous wrecked cars on the streets that have not been disposed of for weeks and months and the hundreds of e-scooters lying around on the sidewalk, Berliners can only laugh about it.  

Back on site

T-72 tank as art
T-72 tank as art

I visited the tank on site in Ukraine. Final questions had to be clarified. Among other things, whether it was correctly demilitarized according to German standards. I now have a lot of practical experience with this question, as I have climbed around on many tank wrecks and have to be able to tell whether the reactive armor, i.e. square steel containers on the outer shell of the tank filled with plastic explosives, are still active or not. But the details can be difficult. So, together with Chris Klawitter, known from the Spiegel cover, I drove back after 20 years in Afghanistan to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense's Museum of Strategic Missiles. The tank was there. Chris is an experienced explosive ordnance disposal officer and was on one side of the phone with me, on the other side was the lawyer Patrick Heinemann and the German Ministry of Economic Affairs BMWK, which is responsible for imports. For more than two hours we photographed, filmed and measured things, inspected every box of the reactive armor, measured the curvature of the broken pipe and much more. The result was: Pretty good… but…. The pipe was in marginal condition, not so broken that it was definitely demilitarized. However, Chris was able to immediately call his team of welders, who repaired the pipe. “OK, we'll bring the generator with us - not that the Russians are bombing out the power plant and we have no electricity.” This isn't a macabre joke either, but normal planning in a war zone. 

Document all details in the T-72 tank
Document all details in the T-72 tank

After the work was completed, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense inspected the tank, then another expert: Everything was OK.

We had our final meeting in Ukraine in the lobby of a large hotel. We never met at the ministry for security reasons. The danger of dying there is too great. The setting in such a case is irritating: Excellently trained staff deliver the best snacks and the best coffee to the theater-sized lobby of a five-star hotel - where everyone has a bulletproof vest and a first aid trauma kit next to them. “Air alert” is said in the middle of the meeting. Everyone looks at each other…no one reacts…ok we stay put. There are no bunkers - they don't suddenly appear when a war starts. And no one can predict where a rocket will hit. Therefore, it makes no sense to go anywhere else. So we hold our meeting and survive. 

The meeting is getting bigger, in addition to representatives from the Ministry of Defense, there is also a minister who wishes us much success. The project is important here and placed very high up. The logisticians from a western army notice it at the next table and ask whether we need help and whether they can do anything for us. The final details of the crossing are discussed: The Ukrainians accompany the tank to the Polish side of the border, from where our team takes over.

The alarm is canceled. We survived, in another city people were killed in the attack.

Final opponent Berlin

We return to Berlin full of hope that everything will work out. Due to the air strikes, the airspace is closed. Eight hours by car to the border, through checkpoints, past anti-aircraft defenses, shelters, tanks and soldiers. Behind the border, another ten hour drive to Berlin. 

The plan is simple: the tank comes to the Russian embassy on a low-loader. It will stand where Schadowstrasse crosses the Linden trees. A crane unloads it, 14 days later everything is reversed, then it goes to the Netherlands. That's the plan.

On February 2, 2023, the district mayor's legal office contacted the court again, as so often. Again they have ideas: “In addition, the applicant [i.e. us] has to explain how he will protect the tank wreck from unauthorized entry day and night and prevent passers-by from injuring themselves on protruding components (sharp edges, gun barrel, etc.). In this respect, the respondent [the Mitte district] is considering arranging a closed construction fence all around.”

At some point it's easy enough. After the legal office kept coming up with such bullshit, didn't even contact us, and rejected all offers to talk, I'm fed up and vent my anger online. 

To my surprise, the district mayor, who only came into office at the end of 2022, contacted me personally the next day. She is again surprised by my textual outburst of anger, which 250.000 people read shortly before the Berlin elections. She explains to me that of course there is nothing against my art, not even against critical art. However, the entire process, all the problems with it and all of our offers to talk completely passed her by. The mayor's legal office's constant attempts at sabotage were not ordered by her, but were carried out by the legal office on its own initiative. The brief conversation ends with us agreeing on the matter - that for some inexplicable reason, a lot of things just ran past each other over the course of eight months.

All's well that ends well?

The crane and tank are stationary - they are not allowed in the yellow area

In order to get everything ready at the last minute, an on-site appointment is scheduled to take place on Thursday, February 16, 2023, just one week before the start of the campaign. Logisticians, crane company, district office and I are there. There is an extremely friendly and competent employee in the district office who has been in charge of the process since the beginning. He has a few detailed requests regarding the exact alignment of the tank and the barrier to the street. Good ideas, very well thought out and no problems with the construction itself. The crane company, which has done a lot of crazy things in business life, has various technical concerns - but has everything from paper templates to lasers to clear them up. Seven days until action. Everything solved. Excellent. The tank should be in the crossing, with the pipe towards Moscow. During construction, the crane must not block certain areas of the road, shown here in yellow.

Complete! The redemption

On Friday, February 17, 2023, at 12:05 p.m. we received the news that we cannot set up the crane there. Both Deutsche Bahn and the local BVG have tunnels there. The BVG just laughs at the request. “No, no, we already know how to build tunnels. Everything OK!". But the railway says that we have to keep a distance of 17,5 meters from the tunnel. This means that in addition to the yellow area of ​​the sketch, we are now not allowed to use these red areas either.

Very rough representation of the prohibited areas

Friday at one o'clock everyone does their own thing - so it's the weekend and no office can be reached anymore. 

Go on!

But what the heck, we're used to it. There are three variants that we came up with after much consideration: helicopter, reloading, leaving it on.

There is a transport helicopter that can carry the weight: the Mil Mi-12. A unique piece that is in a Russian aviation museum. Since the art campaign is about a Russian tank and the Russian embassy, ​​they must have an interest in it succeeding. But we can't find a suitable contact person.

Mil Mi-12 – the largest helicopter in the world

The next idea is to leave the tank on the trailer and park it on it. Either on what is there or on something yet to be found. However, the existing trailer will be needed a few days later to transport relief supplies to Ukraine. We can't find a trailer to reload in such a short amount of time. After further meetings on site it became clear: the tank would stay on the trailer, in the crossing, but only for one weekend. On Monday, February 21st we will discuss it with everyone involved. Nobody thinks the solution is ideal, but everyone can live with it. Also the train, as the main load lies on the rear of the trailer, far enough away from the tunnel.

Tanks, trailers, grids – everyone happy

Complete?

T-72 loaded on the low loader

But on Tuesday, February 21, 2022, the next news comes: The police do not want the pipe of the Russian tank to point at the Russian embassy. Let him be turned around. But then he points to the offices of the German Bundestag. And the burden is on the tunnel. Three more days and the same thing again: a restriction is coming that no one knew about for eight months and that thwarts all plans. It's grueling. 

Something like this could have been prevented if we had gotten a meeting with everyone at the beginning...

Nevertheless, we continued and on the evening of February 21, 2023 we had all the permits in Berlin (and Germany) together. However, the tank was still on the Ukrainian-Polish border. There were problems with the shipping documents that needed to be resolved. Anxious hours of waiting. Should everything fail because of this? Three days before? After a number of offices and companies on the German side worked hand in hand at the last second to somehow make it happen? There was no positive news during Tuesday. It will be Wednesday morning. It's actually too late, but hope dies last. The press is breathing down our necks like never before, wondering whether this tension is intended to serve marketing purposes. No - it's just incredibly annoying. If the truck doesn't arrive on time, it won't be allowed to drive on the weekend either. That's how it is in Germany. Since he can only stand until Monday due to various other problems, the action would be buried. And all the following in the other cities - at some point you no longer feel like investing your free time and your private money in such large projects.

Done! The tank is standing!

Then she WhatsApp message “We crossed the border. “Will be in Berlin on time” (“We have crossed the border and are in Berlin on time”). Success. After it seemed impossible. We made it. Thanks. The tank will be on display for a weekend from February 24.02.2023th, XNUMX.

This project was carried out in collaboration with the National Museum of Military History of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the Berlin Story developed and by Dr. Patrick Heinemann legally represented. The question remains who financed it. So far we, Wieland Giebel and Enno Lenze, have pre-financed almost a six-figure amount out of our own pockets.

Update...

On February 24, 2023, the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a ton of events took place in Berlin. We had invited people to the Unter den Linden press conference at eleven o'clock. The T-72 had been clearly visible in front of the embassy since the early hours of the morning and many journalists had arrived early, to take their pictures. The crowd at eleven o'clock was overwhelming. Reuters streamed the press conference live, CNN was there several times, and all major media and international agencies came. Many had questions. Wieland Giebel and I gave interviews for more than two hours. At around 13:00 p.m. the Ukrainian ambassador Oleksii Makeiev appeared accompanied by “Birdie”, one of the last defenders of the Azov steel plant in Mariupol. She was taken prisoner by Russia and was later released in a prisoner exchange. In the early evening, the huge demonstration by the “Vitsche” association marched past the tank. But the action ultimately seems to go off without any problems for those around. Until the installation is dismantled, tens of thousands of Berliners and tourists will come to see the tank.

Clearing the tank...

The tank was actually supposed to arrive by Monday evening. But the district gave the OK in writing that he could stay longer. However, on Monday evening at 21 p.m. the police called. The tank had to “immediately leave Berlin to avert danger.” They are already there. We should come immediately.

There were a few high-ranking police officers on site and an employee of the Senator for the Interior, who happened to be there. “What a political issue,” he said to me. “I just got this. There was a political decision from the very top, which then went down to the Senate and the police, and they should immediately remove the tank, but they don't even have a route or a destination. You won't believe what's going on here. The last time I experienced something like this was at Breitscheidplatz.” The evacuation has also not been coordinated with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which owns the tank. No one can say what danger needs to be averted. They don't want to give us anything in writing. Not even the lawyer.

The police officers present asked me which route we took to get the T-72 and I explained it to them. The police officers consulted and decided to simply cordon off everything so that the tank could be safely guided through Berlin and out of the city. In the end, even the highway was closed. What a night.

Where is the tank?

After the tank's onward journey could be clarified, it continued its journey to Freedom Museum in the Netherlands where it has stood ever since.

Advertising