Berlin's 'ugliest-ever' Christmas tree
14 November 2003, BERLIN - Berliners are at odds with each other and with residents in a town in central Germany over what the tabloid press is calling the "ugliest Christmas tree ever" to adorn the heart of the city.
14 November 2003
BERLIN - Berliners are at odds with each other and with residents in a town in central Germany over what the tabloid press is calling the "ugliest Christmas tree ever" to adorn the heart of the city.
It was amid much fanfare that the mighty fir tree was removed from a flat-bed truck and hoisted into place in front of the landmark Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on one of the German capital’s main boulevards.
The "oohs" and "ahhs" of the crowd of tourists and local spectators who had gathered to watch the gala unveiling turned to gasps of disbelief when the supports were removed and the 20-metre-tall tree stood on its own.
"You call that a tree? It's a disgrace," a female passerby told RBB Berlin television.
"That's got to be the ugliest Christmas tree in the whole world," a small boy told a TV reporter.
Whole limbs are bare of needles. Many limbs themselves are missing and those that the tree has are largely broken and hanging at odd angles, giving the tree a severely lop-sided shape.
The tree has become a political football, with city officials bickering about whether to remove it and about who should pay for any and all costs involved substituting another tree for it.
"It's a catastrophe," says Berlin City Senate Speaker Michael Donnermeyer.
The most embarrassing thing of all is that the tree is a gift from the residents of a small town in central Germany. Townspeople in Winterberg in the Sauerland heartland area of the nation are aghast at the response of big-city folk up in Berlin.
"People in Winterberg are taken aback, to say the least," says Michael Siebert, head of the Winterberg Tourism Association, who helped pick out the tree in wooded hills outside of town.
"It wasn't my first choice as a Christmas tree, but I can't say I recall it looking quite as mangled and forlorn as it does now," he told Berliner Zeitung newspaper.
"I expect a few needles blew off as the truck sped along the autobahn. And apparently some of the limbs took a beating," he says. "I have made it clear that the residents of Winterberg are willing to provide a substitute tree if Berliners are really unhappy with this one. It was one of five really lovely trees and the others are still there waiting."
But it is not as easy as just removing the tree and putting up another one. Nothing is ever that easy in Berlin. The tree has its detractors. But it also has its supporters.
And the people who paid for the transport of the tree to Berlin insist it must stay put. They are the Berlin Carnival Amusement Association, who stage the annual Christmas fair at the broad square in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
"We're not sawing down this tree," says association head Christian Wagner. "Sure, it's got a few bare spots. But that's no reason to pull it down."
Wagner is convinced that adding a few limbs and dressing the tree up a bid will make all the difference.
"You just wait until the workmen tidy her up a bit and the designers get the decorations up and the lighting technicians have all the lights on," Wagner says. "You wait and see. It'll be a lovely tree."
Meanwhile, the tree has become something of a symbol for the mood in this city, with unemployment spiralling and with Germany mired in a stubborn economic recession and with the government proposing massive cuts in economic and social welfare programmes.
"I just lost my job," a young man told RBB Television as he gazed at the sad-looking tree. "That tree looks about as miserable as I feel. I think it's appropriate for this Christmas."
In a bid to quell what has become a rather ill-tempered debate, Wagner has offered to let the ugly tree stand and to donate to children's charities the money his association would have spent on trucking in another one in its place.
The whole town of Winterberg, meantime, is excited about the tree- lighting ceremonies planned for November 24 when the town burgermeister and other dignitaries will travel to Berlin to formally throw the switch.
"That's our tree and as such it is a representative of our town and we shall all turn out for its big moment," vows Siebert. "It or a substitute tree. Makes no difference as long as it comes from our town forest."
Perhaps an elderly Berlin resident put the whole controversy into perspective best when she told RBB Berlin television, "I don't understand what all the fuss is about. Let's give this tree a chance," she said.
"Trees are like people. Some are pretty to look at but rotten at the core. Others are gnarled from the hard knocks they've had in life. But that gives them a certain character," the old woman noted. "It looks like a fine tree to me."
Subject: German news