5 things we learned from maps of the Berlin Wall

The wall in 1975. Image: Edward Valachovic via Flickr, reused under a creative commons licence.

A quarter of a century ago, the Berlin Wall was torn down, rejoining two cities into one. Cartographers responded in different ways to the wall's erection and destruction - usually choosing to emphasise either unity or disunity, depending on their politics.

CJ Schuler, a cartographic historian, has tracked the ways the wall was represented by maps on mapping blog Here.

Here's five things we learned from his piece.

1. Some East German maps left off West Berlin altogether.

This 1988 map from East Germany shows the western part of the city as a gaping hole, surrounded by a thick pink line:

2. Two U-Bahn lines went under the wall.

The lines didn't actually connect East and West, but the configuration of the metro system meant some western trains passed through 11 abandoned stations under the eastern part of the city. Only one train station, Friedrichstrasse, actually allowed passage between East and West Berlin.

3. Western U-Bahn maps made the city look connected.

This subway map used in West Berlin appears to show the city's transit network as one contiguous system:

Only by reading the small print could travellers find out that the eastern stations were "only accessible by the BVG East and DR". There was actually only one train station in the city  where you could pass from east to west, and it was, as you'd expect, controlled by guards and checkpoints. 

4. Eastern U-Bahn maps, meanwhile, fiddled geography to make it look like West Berlin didn't exist.

As with the geographical map above, East Berlin's U-Bahn map used a clever trick to miss out West Berlin altogether: it superimposed a map of the East German suburb of Potsdam, which lies further west, on top of West Berlin, and makes its lines part of a radial network with its centre at Alexanderplatz. 

Image: Frank Jacobs’ Strange Maps.


5. After reunification, the Berlin Senate set up a commisison to change East Berlin's Soviet place names. 

Around 80 streets were renamed in total. Leninallee became Landsberger Allee (wonder why they felt they should change that?). Otto Grotewohl Strasse, named after the East German prime minister, reverted back to Wilhelm Strasse, its original name

You can read Schuler's full article here

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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