Plans to remove sections of Berlin’s East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, have struck a raw nerve in the German capital. Opponents see it as an attack on the city’s identity.
In the summer of 1987, US President Ronald Reagan gave a landmark speech at the Brandenburg Gate, calling on Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to make good on his intentions to liberalize communist Eastern Europe by demolishing the most visible symbol of the Iron Curtain. The speech culminated in the four most famous words of his presidency: “Tear down this wall!”
Who would have guessed that nearly 26 years later, thousands of Berliners would gather in front of the once reviled Berlin Wall and demand city politicians leave it standing?
Monday morning, about 100 demonstrators managed to prevent construction workers from removing approximately 23 meters of the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Wall that is now covered in murals painted by artists from around the world. The section was to be relocated just a few meters away.
That demonstration followed a much larger protest of some 6,000 people on Sunday, all demanding the East Side Gallery remain untouched.
While the 1.3-kilometer (0.8-mile) East Side Gallery is a protected landmark, city officials apparently approved – and perhaps even requested – the demolition work as part of plans to build a high-rise luxury apartment complex on the grassy area between the Wall and the Spree River.
That area was once aptly called the “Death Strip” because East German police would shoot any would-be defectors trying to escape through it into West Berlin. The gap in the East Side Gallery would give future tenants of the complex, as well as pedestrians crossing a bridge to be built there by the city, better access to the street along which the Wall runs.