Summertime - and Christmasworries begin in Berlin
19 August 2004 , BERLIN - It's summertime and Berliners are already turning their thoughts to the towering Christmas tree that will stand beside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the centre of German capital. Berlin newspapers are already reporting on efforts by officials to find just the right tree. And shamefaced officials vow they will not be humiliated yet another year by picking a pitiful one. At issue is the embarrassing fact that, for three of the past four years, the Christmas tree has turned o
19 August 2004
BERLIN - It's summertime and Berliners are already turning their thoughts to the towering Christmas tree that will stand beside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the centre of German capital.
Berlin newspapers are already reporting on efforts by officials to find just the right tree. And shamefaced officials vow they will not be humiliated yet another year by picking a pitiful one.
At issue is the embarrassing fact that, for three of the past four years, the Christmas tree has turned out to be a fiasco for all concerned.
In 2000, for example, a man in Bavaria donated what was billed as a magnificent, 60-year-old fir tree to Berlin. On arrival in the capital, however, it turned out to be very much the worse for wear. Half its limbs had been lost in transport and it sagged badly to one side.
That tree ended up being sawed up for firewood and mulch and for feed for the elephants at the nearby Berlin Zoo and a replacement had to be brought in from Spandau Forest at the last minute.
Then in 2001, officials said they had found just the perfect tree in northern Sweden. But when it arrived in Berlin, experts determined it had dry rot and was liable to send limbs crashing down on passersby on the nearby busy boulevard.
Again a replacement had to be found fast. And even then, quibblers were not satisfied. Additional limbs had to be pinioned into the trunk to satisfy experts who said it looked lopsided.
The worst was yet to come. Last Christmas. 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 Church.
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.
"That's got to be the ugliest Christmas tree in the whole world," a small boy told a TV reporter.
Whole limbs were bare of needles. Many limbs themselves were missing and those that the tree had were largely broken and hanging at odd angles, giving the tree a severely lopsided shape.
"It's a catastrophe," said Berlin City Senate Speaker Michael Donnermeyer.
The most embarrassing thing of all was that the tree was a gift from the residents of a small town in central Germany. Townspeople in Winterberg in the Sauerland heartland area of the nation were aghast at the response of big-city folk up in Berlin.
In the end, that tree too ended up being shredded for elephant feed and a replacement tree was trucked into Berlin at the last minute.
"This year we aren't taking any chances," says Werner Bubner, who heads the Berlin Christmas tree selection committee. We started asking for bids in May and have narrowed down the selection to a single finalist."
The town of Oberstdorf in the Bavarian Alps has offered to deliver a tree.
"The folks in Oberstdorf supplied us with our tree in 1999," recalls Bubner. "And that was the last really good tree we got."
The problem is that the Berliners want a particularly tall tree - a minimum of 25 metres is the requirement.
"That's a real super-sized tree," says Rolf Esslinger, a Berliner who grew up in Oberstdorf and who is in charge of organising the delivery of this year's tree.
"The truck beds have to be extra long and we have to drive in a convoy with escort vehicles and we have to get special permits in each region we drive through," he says.
"There is also the problem of damage en route," he notes. "The bigger the tree, the more apt it is to be damaged en route to Berlin. That's been the main problem in the past."
The people in Oberstdorf have pledged to do their best to pick just the right tree. After all, the tree they picked in 1999 was well received by city dwellers in Berlin, not a few of whom decided to spend their holidays in Oberstdorf - to see where that magnificent Christmas tree came from.
And just in case the Oberstdorf tree turns out to be a dud, officials in Berlin are already lining up an alternative replacement tree - from a forest at Kaiserslautern near the Black Forest.
Subject: German news