Don't tear down this wall, Berlin protesters demand

Thousands of Berliners turned out Sunday to protest the removal of a section of the Berlin Wall to make room for luxury apartments and a pedestrian bridge over the Spree River, in support of a petition signed by more than 56,000 also upset about the removal.

East Side Gallery portion to be removed to make room for luxury apartments

Thousands of Berliners turned out Sunday to protest the removal of a section of the Berlin Wall to make room for luxury apartments and a pedestrian bridge over the Spree River.

More than 56,000 people have also signed a petition at, demanding that Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit stop the development.

After the wall came down on Nov. 9, 1989, it was covered in murals by 120 artists from around the world.

On Sunday, Thierry Noir stood near the section he painted, and shook his head. He doesn’t know if his art will still be here in a few days.

"I can’t believe it, the project is to build a big tower on the death strip, this place where 10 people had been killed, so it’s like making a supermarket on a church yard. I can’t believe it, people want to live here," he said.

"It’s a paradox, yes. Before we were fighting to tear down the wall, now we are fighting to keep the wall."

This is the second-most popular tourist attraction in Berlin, after the Brandenburg Gate, tour guide Johannes Westerkampe said as he stood with a sign beside the wall.

"It’s important. Everyone wants to see the East Side Gallery. I think the responsible politicians of Berlin didn’t understand that so far and maybe because of the protest, they will get to understand it now. I hope so," he said.

CBC in Berlin

Karen Pauls is in Berlin to enhance CBC's European coverage at a time when the continent is struggling through one of the most unpredictable periods in recent history. Germany's prosperity is being closely watched as the ongoing fiscal crisis puts the European Union under great strain.

Pauls has covered national affairs in Canada for CBC Radio, and was previously posted in London and Washington, D.C.

Follow her on Twitter @karenpaulscbc.

Berlin-based investment group Living Bauhaus is building a 14-storey luxury apartment block featuring floor-to-ceiling glass fronts.

In a statement, the company said it is trying to meet the growing demand for affordable living space in Berlin.

Company spokesman Volker Thoms said construction will continue in the "coming days" but added, the sections being removed will 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.

Local city district chairman Franz Schulz told Bild newspaper that historical preservation authorities have given a construction firm permission to dismantle 22 metres of the 1.3-kilometre stretch of the wall.

Crews started dismantling the section on Friday, but were blocked by about 300 people who formed a human chain.

Police officers finally had to halt the work because it was becoming a hazard.

Activists immediately started making plans for Sunday’s demonstration. They say 10,000 people attended, although police put the number closer to 6,000.

Some protesters carried signs with sayings such as, "Does culture no longer have any value?" in bold letters, with "die yuppie scum" written in smaller letters.

Another hand-written note on the wall read: "Mr. Wowereit, don't tear down this wall." It was an appeal to Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit —a reference to a 1987 speech made by the then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan in which he urged the Soviet leader: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

Hans-Joachim Steinert and Lili Seidl were some of the thousands of people who came out to protest the removal of a 22-metre part of the 1.3-kilometre East Side Gallery. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

Hans-Joachim Steinert grew up 10 minutes from this area, when the city was still divided. He came Sunday to show his support for the East Side Gallery.

"He thinks it will fall but you can’t stay at home, you have to be here to try and stop it at least," Steinert said through a fellow protester Lili Seidl, who translated for Steinart, and then added a few thoughts of her own.

"I think this is part of history and it should remain so we can show our children what it was like," she said.

The demonstration was organized by a group called Germany.

Campaigns director Paula Hannemann said she is confident the voice of the people will be heard.

"Berlin is a huge city but gathering seven to10,000 people at once is something amazing and I think after this public protest, politicians are very aware maybe just tearing the wall down is not such a good idea," she said.

Another small section of the East Side Gallery was removed a few years ago to accommodate a new sports and concert arena.

Critics say this is part of the gentrification of Berlin, a city that Mayor Wowereit once called "poor but sexy."