Berlin and Beyond: Cooing and construction | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 14.07.2017
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Berlin and Beyond: Cooing and construction

It's easy to be wistful about what, during the past two-and-a-half decades, Berlin has lost to urban development, but as Tamsin Walker keeps telling herself, even contradictions can hold charm.

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Symphony of a metropolis

There's a place I pass regularly - and yes, I am a creature of habit - where visual and acoustic poetry are hard at work. A small-scale, 21st century atonal Sinfonie der Großstadt or at the very least a movement - featuring a chorus of pigeons and cranes. As in small birds and big tools.

In a red wooden hut bearing the words Flying Tippler - in reference to the species within - 50 or so birds coo to themselves, each other and whoever happens to be passing by.

Their keeper is Bosnian Semso Ehnert-Fekica, also known as Nico. He arrived in Germany in 1991, bringing with him a fascination for pigeons that he'd been carefully nurturing since he was a boy.

In those early days of reunification, he invested in a couple of birds and a hut which he put down on what - until shortly beforehand - had served as the death strip dividing East and West Berlin. And there it has remained. A tiny red loft where pigeons are bred to do things of which we Homo sapiens can but dream.

Just meters behind it is another red construction, an elaborate makeshift archway to a very different breed of dream. Emblazoned with the words "So inviting. So Berlin. So home. So Berlin," it is a flagrant hard sell for hundreds of new flats and the unmistakable rhetoric of investors driving the German capital down avenues still in the making.

two white pigeons on a red wooden building (DW/T. Walker)

The old pigeon loft that has survived extreme urban development

When the site was cleared for the sprawling construction project now well underway, uprooting old fruit trees and a hard fought battle with locals in the process, I felt a familiar pang of nostalgia for the slower paced Berlin. For that place in which anyone and everyone used to set up higgledy–piggledy bars, urban gardens and performance venues on unloved and disused space. For the Berlin which investors had yet to colonize.

All the more meaningful then that the pigeon loft is still there, offering a glimpse of the magical among the increasingly ordinary.

Noise, what noise?

For these are birds capable of incredible feats. In 2012, he and one of his pigeons broke the German record. And they still hold it. To be honest, hand on heart, ignorance on the table, I had no idea if Flying Tipplers were racing or homing pigeons. As it happens, they're neither.

They're endurance birds, flying around in the same general area for as long as their wings will carry them. Nico's pigeons made it into the history books by circling the skies above the hut for 20 hours and 45 minutes. Non-stop. He narrowly missed out on the world record last month, but is quietly hopeful for next year.

A man holding a white pigeon

Nico with the birds he has loved since he was a child

To that end, every day after his shift working as a nurse for the elderly, he comes down to the red hut to watch, whisper and whistle to his Tipplers. I'm amazed they can hear him over the noise of the building going on meters away. But they appear as unfazed by its racket and existence as him.

As we sit together on a small triangle of grass on that former death strip, Nico every now and then gazing skywards to one of his flock soaring above, the clattering construction site and everything it stands for ceased to seem so singularly invasive, becoming instead just a bit part in this - albeit atonal - 21st century movement of a metropolis.

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