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Berlin Presents Concept for Wall Memorial

DW staff (sp)April 19, 2005

15 years after the fall of the Wall, Berlin's culture commissioner has a blueprint to unite the city's scattered Cold War remnants into a coherent memorial concept and give tourists a real feel of the dark chapter.

The plan wants to expand the official Wall memorial at Bernauer StrasseImage: AP

Thomas Flierl, Berlin's commissioner for culture, was showered with praise on Monday by historians, politicians and victims of the former Communist regime in East Germany.

But, the accolades weren't so much for his blueprint to highlight and better market the stray traces of the Cold War as for the fact that his plan finally represents some concrete action on the subject 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"There hasn't been a coherent Wall concept so far, just remains of the Wall scattered over the city -- a double row of cobblestones in some places to mark the former border and a few disparate signs and plaques on the Wall victims,” Dominique Krüssen of the Berlin Senate for Culture told DW-WORLD last year. "It probably was a mistake to tear it down to such a large extent in the early 1990s."

Expanding official memorial

Touristen an der Berliner Mauer
Berlin visitors look through the wall at Bernauer Strasse on Aug. 13., 2002, the 41st anniversary of the building of the Berlin wall.Image: AP

Flierl's plan foresees building upon the official Berlin Wall Memorial at the Bernauer Strasse, the scene of several escape attempts during the Cold War. At present, about 70 meters of the former border strip have been bracketed off into two seven-meter high steel walls. Visitors can peer through slits in the hinterland wall into the empty death strip.

However, the Bernauer Strasse memorial remains largely ignored by the hordes of daily tourists who prefer to flock to the more commercially-successful Checkpoint Charlie -- the former border crossing between the American and Soviet sector and Berlin's most famous Cold War symbol.

Flierl hopes to change that by injecting some authenticity into the rather bleak landscape by transporting some further real pieces of the Wall to the area.

"No Hollywood-like rebuilding"

In addition, his plan envisions using the remains of the front and secondary Wall scattered around on the scruffy parks in the area between the Bernauer Strasse, the Nordbahnhof railway station and the Mauerpark and combining it with some multimedia features such as video bus tours and electronic audio guides to give visitors a real feel of the horrors of the death strip.

However Flierl made clear that a "a Hollywood-like rebuilding of the Wall as a trivialized theme park" was definitely not on the cards.

1.000 Holzkreuzen die neben einem Streifen ehemaliger Berliner Mauer in der Naehe des ehemaligen Checkpoint Charlie stehen in Berlin
Two men read the letters, names of victims of the Berlin-Wall, of wooden crosses, standing next to a re-erected strip of the former Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin on Oct. 31, 2004.Image: AP

The comment was directed at the controversial rebuilding of the Wall at Checkpoint Charlie and a memorial with wooden crosses in memory of the Wall victims erected by Alexandra Hildebrandt, head of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

The Berlin Senate for Culture has been wrangling with Hildebrandt for months over the controversial exhibit. A local court has now ordered its removal. Flierl's latest plans include erecting an "information pavilion" on the area.

Historians slam plan

However, Flierl's plans, in particular his refusal to reconstruct old watch towers and security barriers near the Bernauer Strasse, also triggered criticism on Monday.

Galerie Berliner Mauer: Der erste Mauertote
The August 17, 1962 photo shows dying Peter Fechter carried away by East German border guards who shot him down when he tried to flee to the west.Image: AP

Klaus-Dieter Henke, historian at the University of Dresden said the blueprint hardly mentioned the political actors who "deprived the people of freedom through cement and guns."

Manfred Wilke, head of the research group on the communist regime at Berlin's Free University said the plan utterly lacked shedding light on the perpetrators and the historical context.

"The words 'fleeing from the GDR' doesn't make an appearance in the paper at all," Wilke said. "But, that's what the people associate with the Wall."

Question mark over finances

Others have more immediate concerns. Alice Ströver, the education expert of the local Green party warned that the undertaking could end in naught if it's too ambitious to start with and involves too many memorials at disparate sites.

Most importantly, there's no mention as yet of what the whole project would cost and where the money will come -- not an unimportant matter in a broke city.