The East Side Gallery is one of the few and longest lasting original sections of the Berlin Wall. It is also considered to be the largest open-air art gallery in the world, and used to be 1300 meters long, but it seems that the longer it stands, the shorter it gets.
A few days ago, a crane at a construction site starting removing a segment of the wall to make room for a luxury building with apartments for up to 7.800 euros per square meter and a hotel. Six years ago, about 40 meters of the wall were displaced to enable access by boat to the nearby huge multi-purpose arena with the capacity to host 17.000 people. The contradiction: the East Side Gallery has been listed as “historical site” under rules of conservation since 1991. So how is this possible?
“Berlin is selling itself and its history”, said a sign carried by one of the 400 protesters who came to save the wall two weeks ago. Since March 1st, a huge wave of indignation has managed to stop the dismantlement of the East Side Gallery, for a short period of time at least. The highlight event took place on Sunday, when David Hasselhoff, best known for his performances in ‘Night Rider’ and ‘Bay Watch’, showed his solidarity for the 7000 Berliners protesting against the destruction of the East Side Gallery.
“This last piece of the wall is really sacred”, Hasselhoff said out of a yellow van being followed by the masses. “It’s about people and it’s about hearts that were broken, hearts that were torn apart and lives that were lost. That’s what we are talking about today, not a piece of real estate”, he said on March 17th. Hasselhoff sang “Looking for Freedom” to a million people on both sides of the wall in 1989 and did it again, this time to save the wall, not to tear it down.
What is this protest at the East Side Gallery about?
First of all, the protests mainly address the issue of remembrance. “Many young people are tired of hearing East and West. They are just ‘Berliners’”, says Olaf Riebe, a tour guide who is specialized in explaining the horrors of the Berlin Wall to school children. For these kids it’s hard to imagine what a life in a separated city was like. Still, the fact that they can actually go to a part of the wall makes this task a whole lot easier. Of course, the East Side Gallery isn’t the only place they can do this. There is another memorial site in the city center, where you can visit a 80 meter short wall segment. But the fact that there will be luxury condos on the former death strip where hundreds of people were killed is rather awkward. “If we don’t constantly engage ourselves in democracy, this can always happen again”, expresses Bernhard Piniek, who lived close to the wall in former East Berlin.
Secondly, the East Side Gallery not only is a memorial site but also a collective work of art. Hundreds of artists from all over the world painted murals on the 1300-meter long wall. “Back in 2006, when parts of the wall were displaced, “we fought alone” against the removal and couldn’t avoid it. “Other monuments, such as the Brandenburg Gate or the Memorial Church, are not removed or destroyed. Why should ours be? We have to find a permanent solution for our East Side Gallery, not only for us but for our children and future generations”, the artists say.
Perhaps there is more backing for the artists because it involves a third question in a more intense manner this time. It is something that has been haunting Berlin for the past five years since it became known as a hip, cheap, bohemian city – gentrification. That means, that poorer residents are forced to move to other neighbourhoods as they can’t cope with rising rents nor afford real estate. As the average income of a neighborhood grows, prices of other services, such as cafés, bars and supermarkets, might also increase. It’s not only the fact that a historical site is being demolished that enrages people. It bothers many more to know what for: the construction of super expensive luxury condos. This is source of much of people’s anger because they fear the growing gentrification in the inner core of the city.
Of course, gentrification has positive sides to it: more investment, more jobs, and better infrastructure. The question is to what extent. The citizen’s movement in Berlin has proven: heritage, remembrance, and above all democracy should prevail.
But the luxury building and the hotel will be built. Preparatory measures have already been taken. Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s mayor, wants to see the two buildings erected, though not at the expense of the monument, he claims. The segment of the East Side Gallery that was removed on March 1st will remain open – so the excavators can move freely…”Fancy new apartments with view over the two sides of the wall” might be the future sales slogan.
Author: Josephine Landertinger Forero