Protest stalls removal of Berlin Wall section

BERLIN Hundreds of angry protesters on Friday prevented construction workers from removing a section of one of the few remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall, part of a plan to build a road to a new luxury condominium being built on the banks of the reunited city's Spree river.

Crews only managed to remove one section from the famous East Side Gallery before about 300 protesters pressed too close for work to continue. Demonstrators then wheeled in a mock wall section they had set up in front of the gap.

The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall and is one of the German capital's most popular tourist attractions, with Nicolas Cage recently mugging for snapshots with his wife Alice Kim during time off from the Berlin film festival. It was recently restored at a cost of more than 2 million euros ($3 million) to the city.

The wall section stood on the eastern side of the elaborate border strip built by communist East Germany and, when the border was closed, carried none of the graffiti that covered the western side of the wall.

On Friday, a protester carried a sign asking, "Does culture no longer have any value?" in bold letters, with "Die yuppie scum" written in smaller letters.

People protest against the removal of a section of the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall for a housing construction project, in Berlin, March 1, 2013. ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

"With our art we documented the peaceful revolution — it is a document that needs to be saved for the next generations," said artist Kani Alavi, whose mural of hundreds of people streaming through an open wall is not affected by the construction. "If we destroy it now, we have nothing left to illustrate our past — we have to fight for keeping this historic document."

The respite is likely only temporary, however, despite calls to halt the construction permanently.

Local city district chairman Franz Schulz told Bild newspaper that historical preservation authorities had given a construction firm all the permission needed to dismantle the 22-yard section of the 3/4-mile stretch of the wall for the Living Levels condominium project.

Volker Thoms, a spokesman for project developer Living Bauhaus, said construction would continue in the "coming days" but sought to allay concerns, saying that the sections being removed would be reconstructed in the riverside park that runs behind the East Side Gallery.

"The artists aren't very happy about this, but in the end their paintings and their art will not disappear, it will just not be in the wall but behind it," he told The Associated Press.

A woman writes on a part of the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall, March 1, 2013. As news of the removal of the remaining section of the wall spread, activists and artists who had decorated this Cold War relic known as the East Side Gallery came to protest. ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Another small section of the East Side Gallery was removed a few years ago in conjunction with the building of a new sports and concert arena.

Thoms said the road will give pedestrians access to a new footbridge across the Spree that was destroyed during World War II and is being rebuilt by the city, as well as another condo project.

The East Side Gallery was transformed into an open-air gallery months after East Germany opened its borders on Nov. 9, 1989, and is now covered in colorful murals painted by about 120 artists. They include the famous image of boxy East German Trabant car that appears to burst through the wall; and a fraternal communist kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and his East German counterpart, Erich Honecker.

Crews were only able to remove one approximately 1.5-yard section on Friday from a mural depicting a stylized version of another Berlin landmark, the Brandenburg Gate, before the protests stopped the work.

Robert Muschinski, one of the protest organizers, called the demonstrators' success a "historic moment."

"It's a scandal and it's embarrassing," he said. "Today we showed the world we would destroy a longtime part of our history in favor of the interests of private investors."