The wall comes down again: East Side Gallery, Berlin

031I was dismayed to see this picture last week – the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall is to be partially dismantled to make way for an access road to new luxury apartments. The Wall has been beautifully painted by various artists and is known as the East Side Gallery – I wrote about our visit on our Berlin holiday last year, which we really enjoyed. The image above links to another Telegraph photo, and the full gallery includes an artist’s impression of the proposed new apartment block. According to the accompanying story, about 300 protestors prevented all but a small section being taken away, and Demotix has a photo-story of thousands protesting on Sunday. As of yesterday, it seems that the process has been put on hold and the Mayor has said that he will try to ensure the structure is preserved. I hope he succeeds – I’m all for progress and regeneration where appropriate, but this is a unique piece of history that should be preserved.

PS 11/3/12 – since I wrote last week, there have been further developments, including the setting up of a petition and support from David Hasselhof no less. If you want to sign the petition, all the information is on andBerlin’s blog.

Berlin: Unterwelten & East Side Gallery

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Our last full day in Berlin dawned grey and damp, so we decided to take one of the tours from Berliner Unterwelten E.V. (Society for the Exploration and Documentation of Subterranean Architecture). These cover potential nuclear bunkers from the Cold War, tunnels used to breach the Wall and, in our case, a Second World War shelter located behind a U-bahn station. Conditions were horrific, with people staying down there for up to 5 days at a time during air-raids in which 80% of the city centre was destroyed. This is worth remembering as you wander around Berlin – much of what you see, including Schloss Charlottenburg which we visited earlier in the week, is fake, a post-war reconstruction.

The Unterwelten organisation relies entirely on tourists’ fees to fund its activities, which are not just concerned with conservation, they do humanitarian work too. For example, many of the “Ostarbeiter”, labourers imported from the East, had very difficult lives when they returned to, say, the Soviet Union, because they were regarded as having collaborated with the Nazis, even though they were enslaved. More recently, however, compensation has been offered and the society has unearthed records which have enabled people to establish their entitlement by proving they were forced to work for German firms.

By the time we emerged, blinking, 90 minutes later, the weather had perked up so we headed across town to the East Side Gallery. This is a surviving stretch of Wall which has been turned into an open-air art gallery:

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One of the most famous images is Brezhnev locking lips with Honecker with the inscription “God help me survive this deadly love.”

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More pictures of the gallery (p4) and all our Berlin adventures are available on John’s Berlin Photo Journal.

As for us – we went off for a late lunch / early dinner. We had a concert to go to!