Robert Pimm

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The Berlin Wall: my part in its downfall

Istanbul is possibly the most historic living city in the world.  But other cities have extraordinary histories, too.

25 years ago, the Berlin Wall came down.  I was living in London at the time, and was as surprised as anyone.  I thought: “should I travel to Berlin?  This looks like history.”  But I made a mistake, and decided I was too busy at work.  I’ve been regretting that decision ever since.

Later on, however, I was lucky enough to live and work in Berlin for seven years, from 1999 to 2006.  During that time I came to know and love this terrific city, with all its confusion, vibrancy and troubling, sometimes dark, history – it’s one of my favourite places on earth.

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Getting to know Berlin included walking the entire 166km length of the “anti-fascist protection wall” with some friends, in ten instalments.  I wrote a newspaper article about walking the wall, for the Financial Times, in 2003.   It’s a lyrical piece, focusing on “my three favourite spots where you can best appreciate the wall that isn’t there“.  It includes the following:

Tourist: Where’s the wall?

Guide: Here. (more…)

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Can hosting a World Cup boost a country’s image?

In the wake of Germany’s brilliant triumph in the 2014 World Cup, it’s worth casting an eye over my 2006 piece, written on the eve of the World Cup final in Berlin that year.  I wrote then that: “The only reliable way to wow a global sports audience is with – wait for it – outstanding sporting achievement”.

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Who will we remember most in 5 years’ time?  Brazil, for hosting the tournament?  Or Germany for winning it?   Thoughts welcome.

I took the picture, by the way, in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 Games and restored for the 2006 World Cup final.

And I should add, as always, that the sub-editors write the headlines – not the journalists!

Im Dienst Ihrer Majestät

Die Diplomatin Trudy Curry ist Vizekonsulin an der Britischen Botschaft in Berlin. Jetzt geht sie nach Beirut. Begonnen hat sie ihre Karriere als Sekretärin im Foreign Office Von Robert Pimm

Die Welt, July 17, 2004

Ich war sehr gern Sekretärin”, sagt Trudy Curry. “Man ist immer mittendrin. Aber die Art und Weise, wie man im Foreign Office arbeitete, änderte sich. Auf einmal hatte jeder einen Computer auf dem Schreibtisch. Mir war klar, dass Änderungen auf uns zukamen.”

Arbeitgeber und Arbeitnehmer müssen flexibler sein – so lautet ein Schlachtruf der Wirtschaftsreform. Für das britische Außenministerium hat das zur Folge, dass Mitarbeiter, die als Bürokräfte oder Sekretärinnen angestellt werden, in die Diplomatenlaufbahn übernommen werden können. Wie aber fühlt man sich, wenn man diesen Sprung geschafft hat?

Trudy Curry wuchs in einem Dorf in Südwestengland auf und ging nach der Mittleren Reife von der Schule ab. Vom Foreign Office, dem britischen Außenministerium, erfuhr sie zum ersten Mal, als sie einen einjährigen Kurs für Sekretärinnen in Exeter absolvierte und den Vortrag einer Berufsberaterin hörte. “Sie schilderte uns das Leben im Ausland als sehr interessant”, sagt Trudy Curry. “Über Botschaften wusste ich damals nur, dass sie Briten im Ausland halfen, wenn sie in Not waren.”

1975 begann sie beim Foreign Office. “Ich wurde zu zwei Vorstellungsgesprächen und einem Test in Steno und Maschineschreiben eingeladen. Man interessierte sich für meine Qualifikationen, aber vor allem für meine Einstellung: wie ich auf verschiedene Situationen reagieren würde, wie ich es fände, im Ausland zu leben. Es war ein ziemlicher Schock, als ich die Stelle bekam: Ich war 17 und noch nie von zu Hause weg gewesen.”

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Nice buildings, shame about the events

No matter how much hosts of global spectaculars try to engineer greatness, it’s sporting brilliance that counts, says Robert Pimm

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Olympic Stadium, Berlin – Photo: Robert Pimm

Financial Times, July 8 2006

The house where Jesse Owens slept still stands, its faded walls fringed with lush, uncut grass. Klaus, our guide, shows us a restored bedroom with a photo of the great athlete. Yet, the parkland outside, once landscaped and stocked with native German flora and fauna, ran wild long ago. The artificial lake is dry. The café that overlooked it has vanished, along with 120 of the 140 accommodation buildings. In their place loom abandoned Soviet-era apartment blocks, empty windows yawning.

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ALL THE RAGE IN BERLIN

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times Magazine, 29 January 2005

A tribe of extremely small men from the east has taken German by storm.  These communist-era poster boys have found fame at last.

On January 5 this year, at the corner of Zeppelin Street in the quiet Berlin suburb of Spandau, a little green man made his biggest step yet in an irresistible, yet curiously congenial advance.

“He’s brighter,” says Eva Maria Kohrt. “Cuter. Funnier. He shows you when you can go.”

“He’s more colourful,” says Sandra Rieger. “Better for kids – especially at night.”

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This Ampelmännchen is on my mouse mat at work – Photo Robert Pimm

“It’s great, the way he’s stepping out, with his hat,” says Claudia Schroder. “But he does look very… eastern.”

That’s about to change. Since 1989 (more…)

Balmy breezes and beach bars in Berlin

By Robert Pimm

Financial times, August 31 2004

The moon above the palm trees is bright tonight.  The air is balmy but the fine, white sand is cool between our toes.  We sip cocktails and watch pleasure boats float by.

There’s a buzz around the bar, music and laughter and the chink of iced drinks.  But here at the far end of the beach, among the intimate encampments of blue- and green-striped deck-chairs, the night is dark and calm.

Berlin is surrounded by water – here the Teltow Canal. Photo – Robert Pimm

Welcome to Berlin, summer 2004.  Tourist cities are a problem in high summer.  It’s so hot and sticky that locals, and most tourists with any sense, head off to the beach.  Berlin is different, in that much of the city actually is a beach.

That’s why the Berlin Tourist Board’s new campaign to persuade visitors that the months of July and August are the perfect time to visit Germany’s reunited capital is less daft than it sounds.

(more…)

Where the wall came down

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, August 8, 2003

I’m out on a launch in the Havel, the ribbon of lakes that bounds Berlin to the west, with Erika and Juergen. Juergen’s a retired fireman, he’s been messing about in boats for years.

“In the old days there was an imaginary line down the middle of the water,” Juergen says. “If you sailed across it the East German police would arrest you and impound your boat.”

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Berlin Wall running through Potsdamer Platz, 1980 – Photo Robert Pimm

All around us, pleasure craft bob in a bowl of blue and green. (more…)

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