Handelsblatt auf Englisch Data Data on the Wall

Berlin is fast becoming a center for European digital privacy experts. Next year, it will also become the home of Germany's top spy agency. A visit to a city of extremes.
  • Dustin Volz
07.09.2015 - 15:55 Uhr
Data protest in Berlin.
Data protest

Data protest in Berlin.

Daniel turned off his cell phone two U-bahn stops away from the protest. Best to be careful, he thought, even when knocking on the front door of where German spies go to work.

Despite the rain and bluster, Daniel, who, like many gathered in northern Berlin on Saturday afternoon, would only give a first name, came out to object to a massive government office building under development.

The row of homogenous buildings on Chauseestraße in Berlin's Mitte district that was drawing his ire is the new headquarters of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND.

“Refugees welcome, BND go away,” one organizer said to a smattering of applause at the start of the anti-surveillance rally that attracted about 100 people. Several short speeches followed in a small grassy alcove—unofficially christened by protesters as “Edward Joseph Snowden Platz” — adjacent to the BND’s outer fence.

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    On the fence, one of the protestors had hung a sign: “You are now leaving the democratic sector,“ a reference to the language used at checkpoints in divided Cold War Berlin.

    A march soon followed, culminating in the formation of a human chain-link fence around a side of the building.

    The anonymous looking complex, slated to be completed in 2016 and capable of housing 4,000 employees, represents not only an expansion of the BND — which is moving its headquarters from the Bavarian town of Pullach in former West Germany — but a consolidation of resources in Berlin, a place many digital activists have long called home.

    The construction is also the latest flashpoint for privacy advocates in Germany, where many politicians, journalists and activists in recent months have begun to shift their attention from the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance to the secretive activities of their own spies.

    To read more, go to Handelsblatt Global Edition.

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