Protest halts demolition of Berlin Wall memorial

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The Independent Online

Demolition squads have been told to destroy the memorial by its owners, an investment bank which wants to use the site for office development.

But Hans-Eberhard Zahn, 77, who was imprisoned for seven years by the East German regime, said yesterday: "I am shackling myself to the memorial with one of the foot chains that was used on me during my time in jail. The police can carry me off, but I am not going of my own fee will."

He added: "It is a disgrace that Berlin's only functioning wall memorial should be destroyed. We are demanding that the demolition be stopped."

Three other former East German dissidents supported Mr Zahn in his protest, which has also been backed by the city's opposition conservative party.

The privately run "wall memorial" was set up only last year to remind visitors - in a city virtually devoid of wall relics - of what the former concrete barrier between capitalism and communism once stood for.

Complete with searchlights and black crosses commemorating the 1,067 people shot dead while trying to escape west across the Cold War frontier, the white-walled memorial has become a major tourist attraction. Last week, at least 2,000 people a day were visiting the site.

But days ago, the owner of the plot, the BAG banking group, was given approval to demolish the memorial. Alexandra Hildebrandt, whose Checkpoint Charlie museum built the wall memorial, wrote to President George Bush, hoping that American intervention might save the project. "The Americans value the history of Berlin more than the Berliners themselves," she said.

Mrs Hildebrandt also embarked on a last-minute drive to collect €36m (£24.3m) to buy the site. She said yesterday that she had still not given up hope. The owners say her museum leased the site for three months and the deadline for her to remove the memorial has long since expired. Opposition conservatives appealed to Berlin's coalition city government of Social Democrats and Communists to save the memorial. Frank Henkel, the Berlin conservative party's general secretary, said: "This red administration's failure to act is historically irresponsible."

In the 15 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is hardly a trace of the former Cold War barrier left in the city. Last week an all-party commission of MPs was to meet in Berlin to discuss proposals for a permanent Wall memorial.

Checkpoint Charlie was manned in rotation by British, American and French occupying powers during the Cold War. It was the scene of a menacing stand-off between Soviet and American forces only weeks after the wall was built by Communist East Germany in summer 1961.

American tanks, their engines running, stood almost muzzle to muzzle with Soviet tanks at either side of the checkpoint, raising fears of war until the conflict was defused.Checkpoint Charlie was also the scene of one of the last attempted escapes from east to west months before the fall of the wall in November 1989.