Anniversary revives interest in rescuing Berlin Wall traces

Fifty years after its loathed Wall went up, Berlin is gripped by a renewed desire to preserve the few remaining traces of the dark chapter of its division and bring history to life for visitors.

Of the 155-kilometre (96-mile) length of the Wall which made East Berliners prisoners of their own country, there is little more than three kilometres left - a heritage authorities are now keen to protect.

This was not always the case in the years following the fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989 in the course of a peaceful revolution.

"In the early 1990s, 90 percent of Berliners were desperate to get rid of the Wall," Rainer Klemke, a city government's cultural affairs officer, told AFP ahead of the 50th anniversary of its construction on August 13, 1961.

He recalls that initial euphoria drove much of the destruction, as well as a fear that the border could be closed again if the Wall was still there to maintain it.

"Then in the 2000s, Berliners began asking what happened," he said.

This gave rise to the Berlin Wall Plan, adopted in 2006 by the city government comprised of a coalition of Social Democrats, leftists and former East German communists.

"The idea was to divide up the Wall sites in a thematic way," Klemke, who piloted the project, told AFP.

These included Checkpoint Charlie, the famous Cold War border crossing that saw a standoff of Soviet and American tanks in October 1961; the Brandenburg Gate, which stands for national unity; and Bernauer Strasse, the site of several dramatic escapes from the communist state.

A "Parliament of Trees" by artist Ben Wagin is dedicated to the estimated more than 600 people killed trying to flee, and the longest stretch of Wall still standing, the 1.3-kilometre East Side Gallery, is decorated with murals that cover different aspects of the city's tumultuous history.

Meanwhile a government office has developed a Berlin Wall smartphone application to guide history enthusiasts.

Since 2006, pedestrians and cyclists have been able to trace the former border along a demarcated path called the Mauerweg.

The main museum and open air memorial, on Bernauer Strasse, the site of Saturday's official commemorations, has seen the number of visitors jump to 500,000 last year from 300,000 in 2009, said Sarah Bornhorst of the memorial foundation.

Following a recent expansion of the site, stretches of the Wall still standing there that were in danger of collapse are being restored using funds seized from the East German ruling party after national reunification.

Yet the long list of scattered memorials has not stopped tourists, who numbered a record 20.8 million last year, from asking "Where was the Wall?"

Markus Klug, a 28-year-old German visiting the capital, lamented the lack of relics.

"It just disappeared, as if it never existed. I would have liked to see a bigger piece of it, to see how it was before, with the guard towers and everything," he said, viewing a small slab of the Wall at Potsdamer Platz in central Berlin.

"When you arrive in Berlin, you obviously won't bump up against the Wall," Klemke admits. "It is not a question of the length (of the remaining traces) but of visual aids to explain how the structure worked."

He said a little curiosity coupled with a willingness to zigzag among the various sites would pay off in helping understand a fascinating period of recent history.

"If you can manage to interest people who have never immersed themselves in the subject, if only for a few minutes, that's a success," Klemke says.

He is upbeat about the prospects for keeping memories alive in Berlin, pointing to the still brisk sales of tiny pieces of the Wall - albeit of dubious origin.

"It remains a symbol of hope for all oppressed peoples that translates around the world and for the young," he said.

And what about the young people on Potsdamer Platz who stick their chewing gum to the slabs? Klemke is not bothered.

"After all the Wall is not the Mona Lisa," he says.

Sport
Brendan Rodgers is confident that Sterling will put pen to paper on a new deal at Anfield
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal at the Golden Globes in 2011
film
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Recruitment Genius: HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver / CPC and HIAB Training Provider

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver is required t...

    Day In a Page

    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
    France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

    Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

    Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
    'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

    Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

    Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
    Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

    Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

    New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

    Rebranding Christmas

    More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
    A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

    A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

    Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
    Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

    Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

    New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
    Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

    Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

    He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...