Chapter 1 - Developing the city
I guess we all know Berlin today. It’s not a bad city considering what it’s been through over the years. If you look hard enough, you can still see the scars, strip back the veneer and the past might just come and surprise you.
Unification was a bonanza time for some. There are always winners and losers. Kristian Schmidt was a winner, not a large winner, but large enough to turn his one-man band into a dozen men working for him. What did he do? Well he was a construction man, a builder, and with unification he had taken a chance. And now, was regarded as a property developer. There had been many properties needing redevelopment, in what had been East Berlin. He had acquired several, his latest a 1930s apartment block. These were good properties, in the West they had ripped down swathes of the city after the war. But in the East, they had just patched up what was there. This meant there were some beautiful façades and that meant big money after a refurbishment.
This week he was overstretched, working on this particular property, with only the boy, all his men were engaged on two other properties. His help was Aziz, the boy labourer. He had come onto a site Kristian had been running two years previously and begged him for a job. He said he was sixteen at the time, but hell it was obvious he was younger than that and that he had no one. He was as close to starvation as anyone Kristian had ever seen or wanted to see.
So he had let him stay, perhaps it was sentimentality, he had expected him to steal and leave but no such thing happened and it was good for the men to have someone keen and young to do their fetching and carrying and of course the daily lunch run, he was more of a lucky talisman for them. Yes, he was a really nice kid. And the problem with his identity, well they had never gone down that avenue, he always paid him in cash. After all, if the government stopped people like this working! Well he wasn’t the government; he was just giving a hand to someone that needed it.
The rumour was that this was one of the buildings designed by Albert Speer in the 1930s and was to be a blueprint design for the business districts which were to be laid out. However, whatever its use had been before and during the war, it had been quickly converted to accommodation after the war and had remained as such ever since.
The city planners had already been round and the next time he hoped to see anyone from that department, would be when he would be finished. He had found a curious anomaly though; he could not explain on his drawings why the basement area was smaller than the footprint of the building. Well he had a week to spare before his men would be on-site, so why not get a bit of dirt under his fingernails for a change and get the place marked out.
As he stood in the basement with Aziz, he measured the length and width of the basement again.
‘There you see Aziz, we are missing nearly half the length.’ He scratched his head for a moment.
‘Be a good lad and get a claw from the van.’ A claw was the vernacular for a heavy hammer with a gouger on the back of it.
‘Yes Mr Kristian.’ he shot off and within moments was back with the item. Kristian laughed as he took it off him, he was the only one to put Mr in front of even a christian name, when Kristian had told him he did not have to always call him Mr Schmidt, he had started addressing him as Mr Kristian. Not boss or anything else, always formal. The boy was well brought up.
‘What are you going to do with the claw Mr Kristian?’
‘I’m going to take off some of this plaster from the wall, I think it is false and just have a quick look, just want to see if we have a problem. Could be the reason the wall was put in.’
‘You mean upstairs.’
‘Yes... Maybe it was put in to hold the block up. These apartments have seen a lot of trouble in their time. I don’t want to tell you the other things,’ this intrigued Aziz.
‘Please Mr Kristian, if I am to be a builder I should know.’ Kristian smiled.
‘Okay, you asked for it. In the war they sometimes could not cremate or bury all the bodies in cemeteries, especially when the city was surrounded. So, they used to backfill basements and wall them up.’
‘Yes, we’ll just check and if there is nothing there and it is not structural, then we will take it down and...’ he slapped his hands together. ’Charge an extra five thousand euros per flat for storage lockers.
‘But what if there are these people Mr Kristian, behind the wall?’
‘Well Aziz, I think that we should not disturb them, we shall seal the wall again.’ Aziz was not totally comfortable with the situation, so Kristian thought he would lighten it.
‘There might be gold behind there, then we will both be rich.’
‘Do you really think so Mr Kristian.’ Kristian smiled.
‘I don’t think so, I am sure the wall was just put up as a support, but we’ll check it.’ With that he took the claw from Aziz and hit the wall several times. The plaster crumbled away and fell over his work-boots.
‘Look Aziz, it’s block-work, that is hardly a support and look at the joints, wow, this was put up in a hurry!’
‘Shall I get you the sledgehammer Mr Kristian?’
‘Not for now, I can manage with this.’ Kristian was worried, he would have preferred for this to be a supporting wall, this looked like the other obvious choice for those war years. Damm, damm, he thought. For all his bravado, he knew that he would do the right thing if it was, even if it meant bankrupting himself.
He hit the block several times working on a small area and gradually it disintegrated. Finally, there was a hole large enough for him to shine a torch through. With his heart in his mouth he peered through, but all he could see was another wall, a few inches further in. What the hell was this! He used the claw of the hammer to widen the hole slightly then tapped the new wall. The sound was steel, there was a steel wall behind this wall, had it been a shelter? And if so, why seal it up? The questions were still not resolved but having gone this far there was no turning back. Sometimes it feels as if you are not in control of events. You just have to continue whatever; the final outcome is.
It took the rest of the day using sledgehammers to take down the wall. Behind it was a reinforced wall and a bomb proof door.
‘Will we use dynamite and blow it open Mr Kristian, will there be gold inside?’ Kristian continued to examine the locking mechanism and hinges.
‘No, it won’t be necessary, this is not a vault door, it’s a blast door, it wasn’t meant to keep people out, just to safeguard whatever was inside. We’ll bring the torches in tomorrow and start to cut the lock out.’ Aziz looked disappointed.
‘Now, it’s getting late, do you want a lift?’ Aziz declined.
‘No, indeed not, I am too excited, I shall not sleep tonight, I think. We might find treasure!’ Kristian laughed and patted him on the shoulder.
‘Be at the yard early, I want to have the oxygen and acetylene tanks loaded and be on our way before the men turn up tomorrow.’ He touched his nose and winked at Aziz.
‘This is our secret until we get inside.’ Aziz repeated the gesture back.