Berlin then and now

Not a classic ‘CrisisManagement’ blog, but still, a glimpse at a city that’s been ‘through the mill’ of war and division and has come out the other side as a vibrant and fascinating destination.

I made a trip to Berlin to see a former colleague who is now working in the city, and given he’s new into the job and has limited time in the day, we decided to ‘do dinner’.

As there was a national doctors’ conference in the city, the closest hotel I could find was about 18km outside the centre, in Glienicke – a leafy suburb of the former East German part of Berlin. And just to prove Berlin is stuffed with history at every turn, it’s also where the Soviets and the West used to exchange spies during the Cold War – specifically on the bridge over the river there. Gary Powers (pilot of the US U-2 spy plane) was one such exchange.

The hotel was a bit Fawlty Towers, almost empty and the staff didn’t speak German as their first language, and despite advertising Italian cuisine, I wasn’t convinced they were from Italia, either.  As I was going to be a bit late in, I asked if the key would open the door and was shown a back door where the key worked.

Off I went on the S-Bahn train to central Berlin and we had dinner in a nice place, which had been close to the Wall and opposite was a building that looked like it had some pock marks from bullet holes.  It seems the pieces of masonry with bullet marks in them were the least damaged and were re-used in the rebuilding, whereas most of the rest of the stone had been blown to bits.

The pic below (taken from one of the displays at the Soviet War Memorial (more of that later) shows how the centre of Berlin looked in about May 1945 showing (X) where the restaurant is now and an arrow pointing to the cupola of the church – with the present day view of the same church in the next pic, taken from the street. Distance from ‘X’ to church – about 50 metres.Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 17.31.04

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Light show

We then had a walk around the city centre, which the old Berlin Wall criss-crosses.  The following shot shows part of the light show where images are projected onto buildings – this one depicting Maximilian Kolbe a Polish Catholic priest who took the place of a condemned prisoner in Auschwitz. He was made a saint for this action. More here

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Berlin Cathedral

The city’s Gothic cathedral – like St Paul’s in London – seemed to have avoided the worst damage in a city centre that was almost razed to the ground. This night shot shows a projection of gaudy colours on the plain stone.


Berlin Wall reminders

In some underground stations, there are memorials to the time of the Berlin Wall, where families were split overnight and rarely saw each other for years. These two following pics are from Nordbahnhof.



I caught the train back from the city centre, although it turned out that ‘engineering works’ diverted the train around the station I was looking for, so I and a couple of other people had to get off in the middle of nowhere and we shared a taxi back to where we should have been.

I arrived at the hotel, which was in complete darkness (can only assume Sibyl and Basil were having an early night) and made for the gate, which was locked.  Given the spikes on the top of the gate, I decided to climb over the wall – not forgetting the irony of climbing over walls in this particular city…

Day Two

I saw one human being at breakfast and it was a women who offered me coffee or tea and then I made for the bus and S-Bahn train to the centre of the city to seek out some of the iconic sites of WW2.

I’d always seen photos of the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate , wrecked after the Second World War and the proportions of the structures and spaces around them seemed huge on the photos.  But it took me two minutes to walk from the Brandenburg Gate to the Rechstag and a further two minutes from there to the Soviet War Memorial.  Fighting in the Battle of Berlin resulted in the near-total destruction of the city centre.

Brandenburg Gate



Brandenburg Gate today, with four horses and a crane.

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Above is a post war pic – probably autumn 1945 with Russian soldiers

The Reichstag

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Ruined Reichstag building, Berlin, Germany, Jul 1946 ww2dbase, Source: ww2dbaseBundesarchiv. Photo ID code: Bild 183-V00397. Licence: Creative Commons

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Reichstag June 3, 1945. Imperial War Museum. Public Domain. According to the United Kingdom Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, copyright protection has expired for photographs created prior to 1 Jun 1957.

Soviet War Memorial

The Soviets built the memorial, using stone from a Prussian Palace which became the Reich Chancellery which was partially destroyed in the battle and from bombing by RAF Mosquitoes, and which they further reduced stone by stone for their memorial. They wanted rid of the palace as it posed a potential focus for renewed post-war German national pride. The Soviets lost around 80,000 troops in the two weeks of fighting and 2,000 just around the Reichstag.

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In this above photo, the Reichstag building can be seen in the top right corner in 1945.

Holocaust Memorial

Five minutes’ walk away is the Holocaust memorial (hundreds of dark grey blocks of varying heights laid out in a grid on a slightly sloping site), and a minute further is a nondescript car park with a rough aggregate, unfinished surface, under which was Hitler’s Bunker and the place he committed suicide in 1945. The German authorities were concerned that if the site was marked in any way, it could become a target for pilgrimage by neo-Nazis, so everything is very low-key – one small noticeboard only.



Zoological Gardens and The Hollow Tooth

I then took the train to the Zoological Gardens station (abandoned ‘boots picture’ below) which used to be the main rail interchange for West Berlin, before the wall came down. It was also the right place to catch the bus to the airport.


In the centre of the square, just up the road from the station is Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was partially destroyed in RAF bombing on November 23, 1943 and which has been preserved in its damaged state. Locally, it’s known as the ‘Hollow Tooth’.


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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, partially destroyed November 1943

And finally to Tegel Airport for the trip home. The airport was used as one of the air bases to receive supplies during the Berlin Airlift and more recently, apparently they had to do a survey of unexploded WW2 bombs, prior to widening the runway to take the A330 and Boeing 777.


All colour pics my own 😉


Oxfam – work begins on ensuring a permanent fix for the aid sector

Since allegations emerged of aid workers participating in sex parties in disaster-stricken Haiti, Oxfam has been fighting a rear-guard action.   It’s looked like an organization that was wrong-footed from the outset, never regained the initiative and is struggling to use its undoubtedly noble values as a defence for the defenceless.

This is doubly ironic, as many who know the sector say Oxfam’s HR and investigation processes are ‘stringent’ and better than many smaller, less well-resourced charities. A systemic issue that ranges across the sector as a whole looks more of a possibility.

Oxfam won’t win this one, but it must prevent the next one.

Aside from Oxfam’s unenviable current position, other notable elements of this crisis include the role of the International Development Department of the UK government and the Charity Commission. It could be the international development aid sector’s version of the #MeToo movement, with complainants or whistle-blowers feeling empowered by seeing stories of Oxfam.

The charity no doubt has systems and processes in place to collect, triage, verify, report and remedy allegations of all types of problem from bribery and corruption through to assault and mobbing.  There was a whistle-blower, there were internal reports and there are safeguards over employment processes.  So either the information didn’t reach the highest level or if it did, someone either didn’t appreciate its seriousness, or they decided to sit on some or all of it.  Its report of ‘misconduct’ to the Charity Commission, apparently, did’t contain specific allegations of abuse of  beneficiaries, according to a statement from the Commission.

Why not? And if not, does the Charity Commission have to take some heat because it didn’t dig sufficiently deeply into the allegations?  And how much did the International Development Department know and how diligently did it seek to discover more?

What next?

  • Bosses of any organisation must set a tone from the top that expresses a ‘zero tolerance’ for misconduct.  AND they must have the strength of character to also welcome reports of misconduct and ensure they are properly investigated and action taken.
  • The organisation must review its compliance processes, including whistle-blowing policies, hotlines and protection to ensure they’re fit for purpose
  • The processes and systems for ensuring good oversight of human resources management and safeguarding of employees and other stakeholders must be robust and must be tested
  • The Charity Commission has launched a statuary review and this must include a review its own processes if it finds that this incident has raised concerns that its oversight was weak or incomplete
  • The government is channeling public aid money through charities and has a duty to ensure it is satisfied with how the money is spent and that the organisations it contracts are the subject of rigorous due diligence from a financial, ethical, social and governance perspective.  The process may now have to be more intrusive than prior to the Oxfam/Haiti revelations
  • Any charity sitting on similar allegations should be seriously considering going public on anything they know – and soon…because the allegations will find their way into the public domain, sooner or later and it’s better to be proactive on this

Penny Mordaunt, for the International Development Department, announced a new unit, which clearly implies there are perceived weaknesses in the oversight processes. She said: “This unit will be wide-ranging and comprehensive in its remit, looking at safeguarding across UK and international charities, suppliers, and the UN and multilateral organisations so that together we can make progress.

‘This will look at how to guard against criminal and predatory individuals being re-employed by charities and abusing again, including the option of establishing a global register of development workers.”

And finally – all parties need to do the acid test: imagine there is a repeat of this scandal and review whether their improvements to policies, training, oversight and whistle-blowing would stand scrutiny in the court of public opinion. Imagine they’re picked over in The Times and see how complete and robust they seem to be then.

CrisisManagement offers crisis and resilience audits to ensure organisations have the right levels of awareness and proactive processes in place to avoid or mitigate risks.

Photo cropped from original of Haiti by @verdyverna. Many thanks for posting royalty-free.


The Presidents Club: the sound of British businessmen in five-speed reverse

20-20 hindsight is a great thing…

Bear with me on this, because the fallout from this dinner is a great crisis, business ethics and risk management case study.

Case study scenario: Bosses of company X are invited by supplier Y to a charity dinner as their guests where they will be treated to entertainment costing around £1,000 each at the men-only event. The guest list is packed with clients and competitors in the industry. Should they attend? End of scenario.

The ticket price of £1,000 would be ‘trigger one’. It would prompt a deeper dive into whether attendance is a good idea, initially relative to the UK Bribery Act and the Gifts and Entertainments clause of ISO 37001, the anti-bribery standard.  At a rough guess, the invitations should have been rejected at this stage by many guests, as attending the event, with this ticket price, could be seen to represent a significant potential compliance issue. Whereas they probably wouldn’t take a £1,000 bung for a business favour, a dinner ticket worth a grand needs careful handling. Alternatively, executives could be offered the chance to pay for their own tickets to avoid any whiff of a business ethics issue.

But if the company still considered allowing executives to accept the invitation, it should have a policy on, and a process to evaluate, offers of gifts, entertainment etc and give or refuse approval to attend on the company’s behalf.

‘Trigger two’ would follow, once due diligence had established the real nature of the event (men only except professional hostesses), aside from its charitable fund-raising.  And perhaps it would be good if men AND women were involved in this due diligence.  At this stage, it would probably be a ‘no’.

But in a broader context, if any scenario identifies a risk as having potential to hit the company, it must decide what to do against clear criteria.  Should it mitigate the hazard, avoid it or share it (insure against it)?

Avoiding it is the only option. It’s almost impossible to ‘share’ the risk of attendance at the Presidents Club dinner by insuring against it – and post-hoc mitigation attempts by those invited have been hilarious and represent some are excellent examples of throwing fuel on the fire.  Companies refuse to comment (their name is already in the Financial Times), so they’re guilty by association.  Individuals, including politicians say they were invited, but claim they left early (presumably before any of the harassment or groping got underway); some said they weren’t aware of any bad behaviour and others say that although they were invited, they weren’t there.  It’s the sound of British business in five-speed reverse… 

Anyone who thought a dinner like this couldn’t possibly be the subject of headlines of the Financial Times – for consecutive days – and that the Presidents Club itself would be dead in a day and a half following these revelations – needs a reality check.

So what should have happened?

A company wanting to avoid reputational damage and possibly a big-ticket legal item, like being the wrong side of the UK Bribery Act, should have implemented a systematic and arm’s length approach to event due diligence, which may include the following:

  • A diversity of people should review events the company is involved in on a strategic basis – and a case-by-case
  • The review needs to thoroughly determine the type of event – by using multiple sources
  • It needs to evaluate whether the cost of the tickets offered are in line with its own gifts and entertainments policy. If it doesn’t have one, it needs to get weaving PDQ…
  • On a company basis, it should avoid the hazard and not attend the event, as mitigation is also almost impossible. Mitigation, in this case, would be like choosing new material for the deck chairs on first day of the first voyage of the Titanic
  • And finally: Executives should do their own risk management 15 second test, by answering this question: “What would my kids think if they knew everything about the event I’m about to go to?”

As my old news editor used to say: “If in doubt (lad), leave it out.”

Government issues media advice for people caught up in disasters… Really?

The UK government has issued advice for those members of the public caught up in a crisis or a disaster – don’t hold your breath – it’s mainly a marketing push for its radio, TV and newspaper complaints channels.

It recommends people talk to a lawyer and that they should be aware of PR companies who can help manage the media.

As a card-carrying member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (MCIPR) for more than 25 years – I would dispute this advice.  Not because I don’t want my colleagues winning business, but because working with victims of disasters and taking a fee off them is generally NOT something ‘PR people’ do.

I’m pretty sure few, if any MCIPR or PRCA members would seek out paid work members of the public who have been affected by disasters, unless the individual was well enough to sell their story to the highest bidder – and again, that’s not supporting victims, it’s monetising their experience.

Yes, PR people work with business facing crises and to help them present themselves in a transparent and responsible way.  They also work with celebs to manage relationships with the media and sometimes with governments, NGOs and multi-lateral organisations to help them get their message across to attract funds and support for humanitarian work and campaigns.

Our team here at CrisisManagement has worked on response and communications for significant issues and crises.  We’ve supported people whose family members have been impacted by natural disasters, unlawful detention, terrorist kidnap or killings, but we’ve done that within the context of a corporate response to international crises, not as consultants.  In those cases, we’ve often worked with third-party professional psychological care-providers, but we’ve never taken this kind of work to charge a fee. We have worked with and against lawyers who have initiated multi-party actions on behalf of hundreds, thousands and hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs, but that’s another story.

If an individual member of the public finds themselves in the middle of a media storm resulting from a terrorist attack or other disaster in the UK, often the police, and their experienced communications people, will help them keep a low profile and protect their privacy and that’s exactly as it should be.


The civil service has good HR processes; the government doesn’t. Discuss.

Within the course of a week, two government ministers resigned under pressure over impropriety and governance issues.

Last week, Theresa May’s Defence Secretary resigned under a cloud of allegations about impropriety and because he couldn’t guarantee there was no prospect of further issues emerging.

So, Gavin Williamson, erstwhile Chief Whip and holder of all the dirt on the disgraced Defence Secretary, shimmies into the top position of State. He goes from keeping a list of MP’s weaknesses and proclivities to a position where he is making life and death decisions on a daily basis.  I’m not even sure he was in the cadet force at school or the sea scouts on a Thursday evening (what HR people would call ‘domain competence’).

And today, Priti Patel, International Development Secretary, now joins the growing ranks of former government ministers who have more time to spend with their families. She was, according to one commentator this morning, naïve in her conduct, but more importantly, he said, these ministers don’t have a proper induction when they move into what are big jobs, with big budgets and sensitive issues to handle. Good point.

But how is that OK? Imagine appointing a butcher as a consultant thoracic surgeon. 

In the corporate world, appointing a completely unsuitable candidate to a top job in any company is rare.  This is because ‘top talent’ and likely successors are systematically coached, trained and assessed throughout their career, so stepping into a leading position is a logical, incremental move.  Equally, head-hunters are scrupulous in assessing outside candidates and take meaningful references.  So, by comparison, becoming a minister from the back-benches must be a shock, even if ambitious politicians (tautology) relish the prospect.

Aside from the political and Brexit leanings of a ministerial candidate (today probably accounting to 75% of the available assessment points), why aren’t a ministerial candidate’s competence and leadership capacity neutrally assessed – and compared with other likely appointees?  Where’s their HR file?

It seems that the backbone of running the country is undertaken by professional civil servants for whom decent HR systems and processes exist.  Senior civil servants know about governance, protocol and communications.  And it’s a good job, because ministers are parachuted in for a term of office, try to radically change stuff and in the end learn the art of the possible.

What broke down here with Priti Patel’s ‘working holiday’ was that the visit and itinerary were not led by her civil servants. They probably didn’t know she was going to extend the concept of a ‘holiday’, to include 12 meetings in one week, including one with the leader of another country.

But do we know whether her induction into her role included an explanation of the obligations to properly plan, inform, prepare, record and follow-up foreign visits – and the reasons for these seemingly bureaucratic steps? Did she know that venues for official meetings would be ‘swept’ for bugs in case foreign actors wanted to compromise politicians, blackmail them and use them for their own purposes?

We don’t know what she knew.

But her department’s decision to hang her out to dry by denying knowledge of meetings, or confirming that they didn’t involve department staff, speaks volumes.  Her civil servants had had enough.

This systemic failure can be addressed with the introduction of transparent systems and processes for the induction of new ministers.  Never mind competence and leadership assessments for now. That can come later.  But the basics MUST be adopted for the sake of new ministers and for the sake of the reputation of their department and of the government.

And once they’ve been inducted – they need to sign off that they understand their obligations, just like any manager in an international company has to do when they complete compliance training. This means any transgression is a ‘commission’, rather than an ‘omission’ and therefore a sackable offence.

Seems fair.