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26th Feb 2024

Magazine

Berliners protest against wall removal

  • Street protests have prevented a 22m-portion of the EastSide Gallery to be taken down (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Thousands took to the streets Sunday (3 March) to protest against a luxury real estate project that would take down a part of the longest stretch of what remains of the Berlin wall.

The 1.3km long "EastSide Gallery" is a popular tourist destination displaying graffiti and wall paintings made by artists from all around the world in 1990, when most of the former east German border wall was torn down.

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  • Graffiti reminder of the Cold War (Photo: Valentina Pop)

A luxury real estate project, bringing in revenue to the cash-strapped city, would require a 22-metre gap in the wall. The new building would be constructed behind the wall, on the Spree river bank running parallel to the Cold War relic.

Last Friday, protesters blocked a crane after it managed to remove one wall piece. They put flowers, candles and a banner reading "Capitalism vs. history" in the gap.

Five other gaps already exist to provide access to the river bank promenade and some bars on the other side, but the new gap would be almost in the middle of the intact stretch of wall.

Negotiations with the city hall are likely to look for a compromise solution that would preserve the threatened 22m wall segment.

Speaking to the mass-selling tabloid Bild, real estate developer Maik Uwe Hinkel said he was "flexible" about the location of the gap and gave assurances that the wall pieces would be preserved intact and displayed on the river bank.

"We can draft new plans, if the local authorities and the other construction site next to us are cooperating," Hinkel told Bild. An Israeli investor is also planning a seven-storey high hotel on the river bank and would enlarge an existing gap in the wall to have access to the street.

"I am thrilled that the protests went so well and so many people showed up," Kani Alavi, an artist who organised the demonstrations told this website.

Alavi said the local authorities have decided to halt the demolition until 18 March and in the meantime hold talks with the artistic community behind the EastSide Gallery.

"It is about our cultural heritage. This stretch of the Berlin wall must remain authentic," he said.

Cold War symbol

Constructed in 1961, the 155km-long wall was supposed to prevent east Berliners under Soviet occupation from fleeing to West-Berlin that was under the authority of France, Britain and the US.

Families were split, houses levelled down, cemeteries and churches demolished to make room for the wall. At first it was a simple barbed wire fence. By the late 1980s it included an inner wall, watch posts with round-the-clock guards allowed to shoot anyone who tried to escape, a "death strip" where all buildings were demolished, and a 3.6m-high outer wall.

At least 136 people died in connection to the wall, most of them shot while trying to jump over, according to the Berlin Wall Memorial, which is a 1.4 km open-air museum, including a 200m stretch of the original wall in north-east Berlin.

Another 250 people also died at or after passing the checkpoints at the Berlin border crossings.

The Wall became a symbol of the Cold War, with US President Ronald Reagan in 1987 making his famous appeal on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in front of the Brandenburg Gate - which was then on the eastern side of the wall: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Two years later, as the Soviet Union collapsed, televised images of people climbing over the wall and then cranes taking it down told the story of countries in the eastern bloc eager to reunite, as Germany did, with the rest of Europe.

Apart from EastSide Gallery and the Wall Memorial, other pieces of the wall are scattered throughout the city, including at the Bundestag - the German parliament - or at Potsdamer Platz, a former border crossing.

"We have to bear in mind that a lot of tourists are coming to Berlin just to see the wall. If we break the longest stretch into pieces, the authenticity of the wall experience will be destroyed," Hanna Berger, spokeswoman of the Wall Memorial told this website.

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