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Culture

Vanquishing the Ghost of Mohammed Atta

Berlin artist Stephan Hoffstadt has taken over the Hamburg apartment shared by Mohammed Atta and two members of the Hamburg terror Cell for the next three days. He hopes to normalize the image of the notorious address.

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The infamous street

In a real estate market as tight as Hamburg's these days, it's an absolute steal.

Three rooms, a full kitchen and bathroom and just 20 minutes with the train to downtown Hamburg. All for a little less than 500 euro a month.

But since the previous tenants moved out, there have been no takers. The reason: those same three tenants carried out the worst terrorist attack in history a little over a year ago.

Days after the Sept. 11 attacks, police and media descended on the apartment on Marienstrasse 54 where investigators believe Mohammed Atta, Said Bahaji and Ramzi Binalshibh plotted the attacks that killed more than 3,000 in the United States. Camera teams beamed photos of the unassuming white facade across the world, investigators scoured the three rooms and no one has wanted to live there since.

This weekend, Berlin artist Stephan Hoffstadt will direct a three-day exhibition in the apartment, marking the first time the public has been let into the so-called "terror nest". With an exhibit titled “Marienstrasse 54 space clearing,” Hoffstadt hopes to normalize the image of an apartment associated with so much tragedy.

Exhibit avoids Sept. 11 themes

“It would be naïve to think we could neutralize the connotation,” Hoffstadt told DW-WORLD. “But we’re convinced that we can create an effect of “space clearing”. That people come there and say: ‘Hey, it’s just an empty, banal, meaningless apartment, with a kitchen and bathroom.’ ”

Documentary films about the Harburg district where the apartment is located, an art installation by Berlin artist Katrin Glanz and live readings by an actor form the program of the twice-daily shows. The rooms will remain bare, aside from Glanz's installation. The walls, the same white they were when Atta and his crew moved out in March 2001.

No longer just another building

Roughly six months later, police descended on the apartment building on a slight hill a day after the Sept. 11 attacks. Germany’s FBI, the state police, even American investigators poked around the cleaned-out apartment. They covered the white walls in graphite powder, searching for fingerprints and then re-painted everything again.

Rental agent and landlord Thomas Albrecht has told reporters that though many prospective tenants have come by to take a look, none seem willing to move into the apartment, located 200 meters from the Technical University Harburg, where most of the terror cell studied.

It’s not so much the terror cell’s legacy as the continuous media storm that scares prospective tenants off, Albrecht has said. Since Sept. 11 camera teams of every nationality have set up crews across the narrow street from the house’s façade. Tenants, sick of the hassle, slam their doors in the face of curious reporters. Hoffstadt says his project will stop at least some of that.

“The media has been waiting for a long time for someone to move in and do a story,” he said. “Every three days, people call up the real estate agent and ask ‘Is someone in?’ After our project, this story won’t be as interesting anymore. We will have taken a piece of this sensation away.”

For many of the residents in the neighborhood, that sensation has already faded. Sebastian Strunck, a 21-year-old electronics student at TU Harburg, has lived in Marienstrasse 54, one floor above the apartment, for a month now.

"I don’t understand why people don’t move in there," he said, noting the tight real estate market has an especially hard effect on students. "I would move there, It’s not like I think Mohammad Atta’s ghost haunts it or anything."

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