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Culture

What I discovered about the moon in Berlin

Life on the moon? A visit to a Berlin-based moon startup has inspired DW columnist Gero Schliess to envision a better world - and a new home for Donald Trump.

Today, everything is about the moon. But let me say one thing upfront: Even in this moon column, I can't totally avoid Donald Trump. Why? Yes, I know a lot of people would like to send him to the moon. But I'll mention another reason a bit later.

First, join me in Mahlsdorf, a neighborhood on the east side of Berlin. I'm meeting Karsten Becker, who is picking me up from the tram station. "I think we'll head to our spaceship first," he says, and asks me to get into his Honda.

On Apollo's trail

I'm on my way to a Berlin moon mission. Yes, you read that right. In Berlin, there is a startup that is preparing for an unmanned trip to the moon, over 40 years after the legendary Apollo moon landings.

Gero Schliess

Gero Schliess' Berlin 24/7 column appears every Sunday

It was my mother who first told me about the moon. "Der Mond is aufgegangen" is a popular lullaby she used to sing to me and my brother. Since then, the moon has had something peaceful and homey about it for me. 

I can still vaguely remember the televised images of the Apollo landing and the floating astronauts in their thick white moon suits. Even now I can still hear the crackling of their radios transmissions to Earth.

On the way to the Berlin moon startup, I can't help but think of the Starship Enterprise, run by the dream team of prime time television: Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura.

A spaceship to the moon for Google

When Karsten Becker finally opens the door to the factory, my expectations run high. But then the disappointment sets in.

Instead of an elegant spaceship, I find a wire box. It's an octopus-like monster on four legs with a belly made of gas bottles that would excite any amateur BBQer.

"Yes, that's our spaceship," confirms Karsten Becker with shining eyes. Not much more is needed to bring two vehicles to the moon - which is their goal.

Moon vehicle ALQ (PT-Scientists)

This vehicle is built for moon walking

Becker and his colleagues are participating in the Google Luna XPRIZE, a contest that was posted in 2007 and draws space lovers with $20 million (18.6 million euros) in prize money. The group that manages to get its vehicle to the moon by 2017 and drive it 500 meters (1,640 feet) will get the check, explains Becker.

I stare at the octopus with disbelief, unable to picture it venturing through outer space. There's also the matter of numbers. The Apollo program cost some $120 billion and employed 400,000 people. Becker and his team want to manage with $40 million and 30 experts - some working part-time.

The rapid technical advances that have been made since then, along with an economical project management are going to make their endeavor possible, says Becker. The team acquired most of the funds from the auto industry, without taking a single euro from the state.

Why the moon? I ask. Hasn't it already been done? Becker says the moon is an ideal launchpad to get to the rest of outer space. Then he starts talking about plans for a moon village where people will live to ensure the survival of the human race - just in case we all kill each other down here.

Trump on the moon

Alan Bartlett Shepard and Edgar Mitchell on the moon (Getty Images/AFP)

Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell were just the beginning; should we build a moon colony?

Now I sense the peaceful, comforting aura of the moon once again. I feel a strong desire for a better world when I think of all the craziness going on around us. And that brings me back to Donald Trump. Fear and insecurity have grown since he was elected earlier his month.

His victory caused serious concern among some, including myself, but most of all among my American friends, who are devastated and now fear for their country and the world.

The moon seems to be a harmonious utopia. And it's true: The moon binds together even the worst enemies and releases positive energy among us humans. The best example if the International Space Station. In it, Russians and Americans live side by side, despite the tension between their countries on Earth.

Maybe they have an empty room up there. You know for whom.

 

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