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Berlin Wall Memorial Faces Final Fury

DW staff (sp)June 30, 2005

A controversial Berlin Wall memorial near the famed Checkpoint Charlie museum is set to be razed. While the museum director is fighting to save it, tourism experts fear the demolition could damage Berlin's image.

The wooden crosses won't be around for longImage: AP

On July 5 excavators will move in near Checkpoint Charlie, the former border crossing between the American and Soviet sector and today a popular museum.

If all goes according to plan, the machines will rip out massive cement stakes out of the ground and along with it 1,065 wooden crosses that form a controversial memorial to the victims of the Berlin Wall.

Erected last year by Alexandra Hildebrandt, the Ukrainian-born head of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, the memorial, which is officially called an "artwork," has been at the heart of an angry dispute between Hildebrandt, the Berlin city government and a bank that owns the land on the city's Friedrichstrasse where the memorial stands.

Tasteless and commercial

While many have slammed the memorial as a tasteless take on the Holocaust memorial which opened recently near the Brandenburg Gate, others have criticized the historical accuracy of the undertaking. Hildebrandt has resurrected a 140-meter-strip (153 yards) of Berlin Wall a few meters away from its original location, to complement the memorial.

Berlin Mauer Jahrestag
The controversial Berlin Wall memorialImage: AP

"It's an obvious commercial trick that we don't consider appropriately remembering the victims of the Wall," Manuela Damianakis, a spokeswoman for the city planning department told DW-WORLD last year.

Hildebrandt, who has steadfastly defended her handiwork all along has called it "a monument to peace and the victims of the Berlin Wall."

But, the bank which owns the piece of land upon which the memorial and wall stands, has decided to have the final word.

After a meeting of its supervisory board on Wednesday, the BAG Bankaktiengesellschaft said it was sticking to plans to demolish the memorial on July 5 if it wasn't dismantled by then. It then plans to sell the land.

A letter to Bush

Hildebrandt, however has decided to fight back. On Tuesday, she announced a donor campaign to collect 32 million euros ($38.68 million) to save her memorial from destruction.

Mauermahnmal in Berlin Checkpoint Charlie Alexandra Hildebrandt
Alexandra HildebrandtImage: AP

Saying that the German capital had no other place that so authentically and effectively remembered the deployment of western allies for Berlin, Hildebrandt added she wanted to use the money to buy the land herself and thus save the monument. At the moment the plot is leased by Hildebrandt.

While it may seem unlikely that the museum head will manage to collect so much in such a short period, it hasn't deterred her from appealing to foundations and international companies for help. She has also reportedly petitioned US President George W. Bush.

But, not everybody seems to view the wall memorial as an eyesore. Carmaker DaimlerChrysler has asked the bank to at least postpone the planned evacuation of the site, while some regional politicians of the conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) are said to be bravely planning to oppose the excavators on July 5.

Bad for Berlin's image

But, one thing the heated tussle over the Wall memorial seems to have overlooked is its immense popularity among tourists to Berlin.

Mauermahnmal in Berlin Checkpoint Charlie
Image: AP

Thousands arrive in busloads every day at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum: It enjoys cult status, even internationally, as Berlin's most famous Cold War symbol and a documentation center for the dramatic escape attempts from former East Germany to the West.

Most seem unbothered by the fact that the US army checkpoint in front of the museum is a mock one or that the stretch of wall along Hildebrandt's memorial stands in the wrong place as they walk around frenziedly taking photographs.

Berlin's tourism boss, Hans Peter Nerger, has caught on to the potential fall-out that a forced demolition of the memorial might entail.

"When pictures of excavators mowing down the wooden crosses at the wall memorial go around the world, that's going to be very bad for Berlin," Nerger said.