Berlin Wall attracts preservationists fighting developer’s plans
Many people who fought to scrub the Berlin Wall from the map are now scrambling to preserve what remains of it.
The Washington Post
BERLIN — The workers used the early-morning darkness to obscure their secretive task: removing pieces of the longest-remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall.
When the wall fell in 1989, Berlin’s residents were eager to clear away the hated divider as quickly as they could. Now many of the people who fought to scrub it from the map are scrambling to preserve what remains. Recently, they came up against a developer determined to build on his property, in the former no man’s land between East and West Berlin.
Until recently, many in Berlin were happy to rid themselves of reminders of the post-World War II period when they were separated by political systems and an 86-mile reinforced concrete barrier that ringed the western half of the city.
At a mile-long stretch along the Spree River known as the East Side Gallery, artists painted exuberant murals on the wall in the months after East and West Berlin were reunited. Tourists have long flocked to see a cheerful monument to peaceful revolution in a once out-of-the-way area.
But as the city has boomed, developers have targeted the empty spaces left by World War II bombings and communist neglect. Last week, workers removed a 25-foot concrete span of the landmark wall to make an access road for a planned 13-story luxury-apartment building along the river. The move sparked immediate protest.
“There is a wider consciousness for the wall and its cultural significance,” said Axel Klausmeier, director of the Berlin Wall Foundation.
The apartment construction, which started in early March but was temporarily halted after public protest, has galvanized opposition among Berliners who fret that their city is forgetting its history and losing what made it unique after 1989.
The concrete wall, erected in 1961, was once the most visible international symbol of the Iron Curtain division between the capitalist West and the communist East. East German authorities built it overnight to halt a steady stream of defections. At least 136 people died, most of them shot, as they tried to escape to the West.
Images of jubilant Berliners chipping away at the wall with chisels and pickaxes were broadcast around the world in November 1989 and helped accelerate the downfall of the Soviet Union.
The wall is a landmark monument, meaning it is usually protected against demolition and modification, but a loophole in the law gives the developer permission to remove up to 65 feet to build the access road. Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit held meetings with the developer,but no compromise was announced.
The controversy has even attracted the attention of David Hasselhoff, the U.S. actor and musician, whose 1989 New Year’s Eve performance atop the Berlin Wall left him with an unusual and enduring cultural influence in Germany.
This month, he visited Berlin to campaign to save the wall, turning out thousands.
“It’s a sad day as the bulldozers came & ripped out the memories of those imprisoned by the Wall and those who died,” he said on Twitter last week.