Germany Struggles to Save Berlin Wall

When communist East Germany collapsed in 1989, Berliners were eager to tear down its most detested symbol—the Berlin Wall that divided their city during the Cold War.

Germany Struggles to Save Berlin Wall
Seventeen years later, city officials and artists are arguing about how to do the exact opposite—and keep the wall's largest remaining section, now a major tourist attraction, from falling apart.

"The wall is rotten inside, crumbling away on the outside and there is not enough money to pay for its entire preservation," said city official Joerg Flaehmig—adding that the planned September start of restoration work would most likely have to be postponed.

Flaehmig was referring to the East Side Gallery, a three-quarter-mile stretch of the wall in Berlin's Friedrichshain neighborhood that 118 international artists commissioned by the city covered with graffiti in 1990.

As the wall's longest remaining stretch, the East Side Gallery attracts droves of tourists, who pose for snapshots in front of the murals, where the Cold War superpowers stood nose to nose for four decades.

The wall's western side was covered in graffiti during the decades after the barrier was erected on Aug. 13, 1961. Parts of the eastern side—to which the East Side Gallery belongs—were painted only after communism collapsed.

However, car emissions, rain, ice and aging have turned famous images such as the fraternal communist kiss between East German leader Erich Honecker and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, or the East German Trabant car that appears to be bursting through the wall, into a sad sight—with long cracks in the concrete and big chunks of paint flaking off.

"On top of this, people keep chipping off pieces for souvenirs or they write their names across the paintings," Flaehmig said, adding merely restoring the wall's structure would cost an estimated $1.8 million—money which is available.

But in order to get at and restore the wall's rusty steel insides, the artwork would need to be scraped off and then reapplied, which would cost even more, Flaehmig said. "We don't have that money for the restoration of the artwork yet, that's why we can't start with the reconstruction."

Kani Alavi, 51, the head of the East Side Gallery's Artists' Association, disagreed.

"We were told the euro850,000 ($1,172,490) needed to fly in all the artists and have them repaint their works were available," said Alavi, an Iranian-born artist who in 1990 painted a mural of East Germans crossing Checkpoint Charlie into West Berlin on Nov. 9, 1989.

"The main problem is that the Berlin authorities are so slow and prefer dreaming instead of doing their job."

Whoever the culprit, the crumbling goes beyond the East Side Gallery, to 34 other, smaller parts of the wall throughout the city—all that remains of what was once a 103-mile stretch.

"Wind, weather and especially the people are leaving their traces on the wall," said Thomas Klein, a spokesman for the Berlin Wall Association, a group of volunteers that oversees a documentation center about the wall.

"Depending on the condition of a particular wall section, different methods are needed for the restoration and those can cause very different costs."

Klein could not say how much the entire restoration of the wall would cost.

Further complicating restoration planning is the question of property. While some pieces of the wall belong to private owners, others are federal property and are now under preservation as national historic monuments.

The East Side Gallery received historic monument status in 1991, but the possibility remains that parts could be removed if private investors build near the attractive site on the Spree River—increasingly likely as Berlin's real estate market recovers from a long period of stagnation.

Despite the deterioration, Sarah Company and her three friends who had come to visit from Barcelona, Spain, were impressed by the East Side Gallery.

"We arrived yesterday and right away we came to see the wall," Company, 22, said as she was taking pictures of her friends in front of a graffiti-sprayed mural.

"But we really don't like that people scribble their names on this wall and chip off pieces—that makes everything look very dirty."

AP
Last Mod: 09 Ağustos 2007, 12:43
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