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Court allows placing wrecked tank near Russian embassy

October 11, 2022

Activists should be allowed to place a wrecked Russian tank in front of Moscow's embassy in Berlin, according to a German court. City officials had resisted the idea.

August 21, 2022, Kyiv, Ukraine: Children sit on a gun of a disabled Russian tank
Kyiv organized a much larger urban display of damaged Russian military hardware in the summerImage: Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press/picture alliance

Two Berlin museum operators have won a court appeal after their initial bid to place a destroyed Russian tank outside Russia's Embassy in central Berlin was refused by local authorities. 

The ruling, which could be subject to appeal, obliges Berlin's Mitte district to enable an action it had at first sought to block. 

Enno Lenze and Wieland Giebel of the Berlin Story Bunker museum first proposed the idea in June, saying they wanted to place the ruined T-90 tank outside Russia's embassy on the renowned Unter den Linden boulevard for a period of two weeks.

They had been inspired by similar actions in cities like Kyiv and Prague and Warsaw, Lenze said in an English-language video posted online. 

Why was the proposal initially shot down? 

"But, the city of Berlin said, 'no.'" Lenze said. "And they had hilarious reasons. First, they said it will endanger the safety of the Federal Republic of Germany. It could endanger bicycle drivers, the pedestrians, the car drivers, lorry drivers. It could traumatize Syrian refugees. It could be some kind of problem for the kebab booth down the road, and so on and so forth."

Mitte also objected to the plan saying that people "in all likelihood died" in the damaged vehicle, among other reservations including possible negative impacts on German foreign relations.

Berlin's court of arbitration (the Verwaltungsgericht Berlin) on Tuesday did deny one part of Lenze and Giebel's plans. It said that the middle of Unter den Linden likely could not support some 40 tons of disabled Russian tank, instead suggesting a location for the display on a nearby street across the way from the embassy, Schadowstrasse. It recommended that this smaller street be closed, to avoid any risk of traffic disturbances.

The court also said that another of Mitte's queries, whether the display could fairly be classified as "art," was besides the point. 

"Whether or not this action constitutes art is irrelevant, because in any case, as an expression of opinion, it falls under the constitutional protection of free speech," the court said in a press release on its verdict. 

When might it actually be on show? 

Lenze warned supporters that despite the victory of his lawyer Patrick Heinemann on Tuesday in court, he wouldn't be rushing to park his tank on the Russian Embassy's lawn quite yet. 

"But... we're still in Germany!" Lenze joked. "And it will take weeks or months until we have all the other paperwork done that we need, because, you know, our government doesn't want us to send tanks to Ukraine, but it doesn't want me to import one as well, so it's a bit stupid." 

Lenze quipped that he would keep people updated on progress, so they could book their "respective flights or trains" at the right time to visit. 

Lenze, who was in Ukraine earlier in the year working as a war correspondent, posted one word that loosely translates as "victory" on hearing of the news, plus an image of him standing on top of the damaged tank in Ukraine. 

Kyiv's outgoing ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, had voiced support for the idea, saying that it would make Germans face the "brutal war of destruction" Ukraine is suffering. 

Unter den Linden runs right through the heart of the capital and hosts a number of government buildings. The site in question is a short walk away from the Brandenburg Gate. Russia's embassy is close to both the German Federal Health Ministry and Madame Tussauds Berlin, as well as Rosneft Deutschland's Berlin offices.

msh/rs (AFP, AP, dpa)