Developer removes segments of Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery

A property developer has removed a portion of the Berlin Wall. The surprise move, which happened at dawn, comes amid a bitter dispute with protesters who want the Cold War icon to remain.

Four segments of the wall, which is part of a 1.3-kilometer (nearly 1 mile) stretch known as the East Side Gallery, were removed Wednesday morning at around 5:00 a.m. local time (0400 UTC). The work crews were backed by around 250 police.

The 1.2-meter-wide (4-foot) wall segments were taken out to make way for an access route to planned high-rise luxury apartments.

The projects investor, Maik Uwe Hinkel, made the decision to remove the wall segments, police spokesman Alexander Tönnies said.

"The developer had the right to do this and he informed us a few days ago about his plans. Last night we were told that he wanted to remove the wall pieces early this morning," Tönnies said, adding the Wednesday's removal took place without incident.

"Hinterland Wall" was the name given to the wall behind the Spree River, the actual border between former East and West Germany. For 1316 meters (4317 feet), the East Side Gallery runs from Berlin Ostbahnhof to Oberbaumbrücke. It's been protected as a memorial since 1991.

During renovation in 2009, old coats of paint were removed through high-pressure steam cleaning. Then the concrete was repaired so artists who participated in 1990 and were still around could repaint their images. After steam-blasting, what remained was bare concrete, which is how the Berlin Wall looked before it fell in November 1989.

The gallery is a must-see for visitors to Berlin. With millions of tourists flocking to the East Side Gallery, it is the second-biggest tourist attraction, after the Brandenburg Gate. Fashion designer Daniel Rodan even designed a matching wardrobe, which he presented in front of the remainder of the wall.

Four segments of the wall, which is part of a 1.3-kilometer (nearly 1 mile) stretch known as the East Side Gallery, were removed Wednesday morning at around 5:00 a.m. local time (0400 UTC). The work crews were backed by around 250 police.

The 1.2-meter-wide (4-foot) wall segments were taken out to make way for an access route to planned high-rise luxury apartments.

The projects investor, Maik Uwe Hinkel, made the decision to remove the wall segments, police spokesman Alexander Tönnies said.

"The developer had the right to do this and he informed us a few days ago about his plans. Last night we were told that he wanted to remove the wall pieces early this morning," Tönnies said, adding the Wednesday's removal took place without incident.

Hole in the wall

There's a hole in the world-famous Berlin Wall East Side Gallery since Friday (March 1, 2013). As protesters looked on, a crane tore away a painted section of the gallery - the largest and most well-known surviving piece of the Berlin Wall. The art on the wall dates from 1990, when 118 artists from 21 countries came to paint their excitement about the fall of the wall onto the bare concrete slabs.

Mile-long artwork

"Hinterland Wall" was the name given to the wall behind the Spree River, the actual border between former East and West Germany. For 1316 meters (4317 feet), the East Side Gallery runs from Berlin Ostbahnhof to Oberbaumbrücke. It's been protected as a memorial since 1991.

Fading myth

Over the years, the irreversible march of time has affected the artwork. Fumes from car exhaust and souvenir-hunting tourists have left their mark, damaging the paintings. In 2009, the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the wall, large-scale restoration work of the gallery took place.

Walls in our heads

Some works of art have been destroyed, or painted over with graffiti. An initiative using private and public funds was established to restore the pictures on the wall. "It's about tearing down many walls," wrote Ines Bayer in 1989 on her contribution to the East Side Gallery.

Back to concrete

During renovation in 2009, old coats of paint were removed through high-pressure steam cleaning. Then the concrete was repaired so artists who participated in 1990 and were still around could repaint their images. After steam-blasting, what remained was bare concrete, which is how the Berlin Wall looked before it fell in November 1989.

Artistic messages

Two peace doves in Picasso's style gently float carry a red ribbon holding a miniature version of the Brandenburg Gate. Artist Rosmarie Schinzler applied just by chance for the opportunity to take part in the historic act of creating the East Side Gallery in 1990.

Famous kiss

When Leonid Breschnew, leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and East German leader Erich Honecker shared an intimate kiss on the lips, the picture went around the world. "Brotherly Kiss," painted by Moscow artist Dmitry Vrubel, is one of the most famous works of art in the East Side Gallery.

Tourist attraction

The gallery is a must-see for visitors to Berlin. With millions of tourists flocking to the East Side Gallery, it is the second-biggest tourist attraction, after the Brandenburg Gate. Fashion designer Daniel Rodan even designed a matching wardrobe, which he presented in front of the remainder of the wall.

Breakthrough

The Trabi driving through the wall - a painting which earned artist Birgit Kinder worldwide fame. The Trabant was produced in the GDR starting in 1957 by car manufacturer VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau. More than 3 million Trabants, or Trabis, were produced between 1957 and 1991.

Symbolic figure

In 1970, Andrei Dmitrijewitsch Sacharow founded a committee to enact human rights, and in an open letter to the government, demanded democracy in the Soviet Union. Sacharow was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. The Soviet government forbade him from traveling to the ceremony in Oslo.

Protesters who want the wall to remain have gathered in the thousands since the beginning of March, when the first panel was taken away. The wall's removal was halted shortly afterwards.

Even US actor and singer David Hasselhoff, who gave a legendary New Year's Eve performance of his song "Looking for Freedom" at the Wall after its fall in 1989, joined the demonstrations.

Related Subjects

The East Side Gallery is the Berlin Wall's longest surviving stretch. Since 1990, the outdoor art exhibit has been covered in brightly colored graffiti murals painted by artists from around the world. One famous mural includes the "Fraternal Kiss" depicting the famous embrace between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany's Erich Hoenicker. The gallery has become a major attraction for tourists visiting the German capital.

"I can't believe they came here in the dark in such a sneaky manner," Kai Alavi, the head of the East Side Gallery's Artists' group, told the AP news agency. "All they see is their money, they have no understanding for the historic relevance and art of this place."

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The razing of the wall

Developers have said that plans to provide access to a 63-meter-high residential development along the Spree River, as well as access to a planned bridge, had required a 22-meter portion of the Wall to be removed.

A meeting between the property company and city authorities on Tuesday about possible alternative sites for the development proved fruitless.

The Berlin Wall was first erected in 1961. Dividing the city's East and West German portions, it spanned 155 kilometers (96 miles) in total. At least 136 people died trying to scale the Wall until it was torn down 28 years later on November 9, 1989.

dr/hc (AFP, dpa)