Section Of Berlin Wall Reconstructed For Tourists

Roundup: Talking About History

Unsigned, The Irish Times, 11 Oct. 2004

Germany: The Berlin Wall returned to the German capital last week like a bad sequel. Berliners watched in disbelief as the wall rose from the dead before their eyes, days before they celebrate the 15th anniversary of its demise writes Derek Scally in Berlin.

A 200-metre stretch of the wall has been reinstated at the notorious former border crossing, Checkpoint Charlie - this time for the tourists.

"We want to remember the victims of the wall and the efforts of the Allies," said Ms Alexandra Hildebrandt, director of the nearby Wall Museum and initiator of the project.

Her Berlin Wall II has whipped up a lively controversy in the German capital, a city well used to heated historical debates.

The original 166-km long"anti-fascist protection wall", as it was officially known, was erected at dawn on August 13th, 1961, turning West Berlin into an Allied-controlled island in East Germany.

The wall halted the flow of refugees to the west that had reached 160,000 in the first eight months of 1961.

Some 215 people were killed trying to cross in the 28 years of the wall's existence, with another 800 dying on the border with West Germany.

Most of the wall has ended up in motorway foundations, with only three sections still standing in the city centre.

Like most sequels, the Berlin Wall II is a shadow of the original and many see it as a crass attempt to cash in on the notoriety of its predecessor.

Dr Hubertus Knabe, a leading historian of the period, criticises what he calls the"trivialisation" of the wall - the reconstruction without the razor wire, automatic machine guns and other deadly methods used to seal the border.

"The wall wasn't a tourism project but an instrument of murder," said Mr Walter Momper, mayor of West Berlin in 1989, to Die Welt newspaper."The authentic locations with their wall remainders are sufficient. Anything else would be Disneyland."

Puzzled Berliners and tourists weren't sure how to react."It's so difficult to imagine that there used to be anything here, so in that sense it's a good idea," said Ms Pauline Morris, visiting from Bristol. Ms Greta Schiller from Bonn said:"I think it's a good idea. For my grandchildren the wall's just a boring historical detail." An elderly Berlin lady said:"Don't they know how much we hated that thing?" before stalking off with a stricken expression.

A spokesman for the city government admitted yesterday that they badly need new ideas for ways of keeping alive the memory of the wall, but said this project was of"little help".

Anyone who wants to see the reconstructed Berlin Wall will have to hurry, though: the city has approved the project only until the end of the year. As construction workers put the finishing touches to the wall yesterday, an impatient British tourist asked:"What time does the Berlin Wall open?"

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