Don't tear down our wall, Berliners plead

Fri Mar 1, 2013 1:58pm EST
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By Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Protesters tried to stop demolition of one of the last remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall on Friday, decades after jubilant Berliners tore down sections of the hated symbol of the Cold War.

Blowing whistles and brandishing placards with slogans such as "Berlin is selling itself and its history", around 200 people gathered at a 0.8-mile painted section of the wall known as the East Side Gallery, adorned with the work of artists such as Keith Haring and Gerald Scarfe.

Developers plan to build luxury apartments close to the open air gallery but builders had to stop tearing down the wall on Friday due to protests and local police said they had removed their machinery by late afternoon.

"We need this part of the wall because with its paintings by international artists it symbolizes the way in which we managed to defeat dictatorship peacefully," said Peter Flenz, a 72-year-old retired civil servant.

Communist authorities in the former East Germany built the wall in 1961 as an "anti-fascist protective barrier". The 11.81-feet-high concrete structure divided Berlin for 28 years and an estimated 1,000 East Germans were killed trying to escape to the west after its construction.

Most of the wall was pulled down or chiseled away after it was breached on November 9, 1989, when ecstatic crowds of East and West Germans surged through checkpoints and on to the wall, hacking bits off it and dancing on top of the structure that for so long had symbolized their division.

The East Side Gallery, on the banks of the River Spree, was declared a historic monument in 1992 and has since become one of Berlin's main tourist attractions.

One section features a giant image of East German leader Erich Honecker and his Soviet counterpart Leonid Brezhnev kissing each other on the lips.   Continued...

A worker attaches the clamp of a crane to a segment of the former Berlin Wall, now called the East Side Gallery, in Berlin March 1, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Peter