erlin is a city with history at every turn. And for me, one of the most intriguing aspects of this vibrant’s city’s past was the Berlin Wall. Not only because I could actually see a part of the wall still standing, but because it seemed incredulous that this wall stood tall and mighty till less than three decades back, dividing a city and it’s people. Everyone I met had been a part of this piece of history, having lived it themselves. It made it seem so real and close and tangible, not like a textbook chapter on a moment begone.
There was one story in particular that I especially loved, that of Osman Kalin. “Osman Kalin who?” you ask. A commoner, like you I, but there is something very special about his story. Read on.
Osman Kalin was a Turkish immigrant living in Kreuzberg district in West Berlin when the wall was erected in 1961, cutting off the West and the East. Due to a bend on the border, a small patch of land which belonged to the east side ended up on the west. Nobody in the west side cared about this piece of “No Man’s land” since it wasn’t really theirs, and it became a dumping ground for all sorts of trash. Till Osman decided to clean it every weekend, so that he could make a little garden of his own. Which he did and he planted flowers, fruits and vegetables and took good care of them.
East Germany guards got a whiff of this and decided to pay Osman a visit. They told him that they had concerns that he was building a secret tunnel to move people across the wall. Osman turned them away with vegetables. They eventually found their peace and the guards let him and his garden be.
Osman loved this spot so much that he decided to start building a house here. He used discarded furniture and house hold goods and other odds and ends to create his masterpiece. Every door, window, wall and room looked different and the house became a unique piece of art and creativity. Osman took up residence there with his family.
The wall fell in 1989, and the authorities decided to build a road, passing through the exact spot where Osman’s house stood. West German authorities couldn’t do anything about it as this piece of land was not under their jurisdiction. Osman decided to resist this move, and cemented all his furniture to the floor as a show of his intention to not leave. Locals supported him, and so did the church and eventually Osman won. This piece of land was handed over to Kreuzberg district and they gave the land deed to Osman.
This wall is gone, but this house still remains and is an iconic reminder of that era in Germany’s history. And a testimony to the human spirit of perseverance, courage and creativity. Osman lives close by and is happy to shake hands with any visitors.
Below is a picture of the house as it stands today. If you pass it, it may not look like much but there is a tremendous story behind it.
I got to know about Osman Kalin and the Tree House through our guide at Alternate Berlin Tours. When I heard this story, I was really inspired to meet Mr Kalin, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. If you do want to, there is a number on the board outside the house which you can call and arrange a visit.