Protected by scores of German police officers, workers removed sections of a key remnant of the Berlin Wall before dawn Wednesday despite earlier protests demanding the concrete artifact of the Cold War be preserved.
The removal came as a shock to residents, just as it did on Aug. 13, 1961, when communists first built the barrier that divided Berlin during the Cold War.
Tour guide Rolf Strobel, 52, was among the scores of people who came to gape at the holes in what had been the longest remaining stretch of the wall — about eight-tenths of a mile.
The wall remnant is a gallery of colorful murals created following the 1989 popular uprising in what was then Communist East Germany. One of the murals features Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing East German chief Erich Honecker, who built the Berlin Wall.
"I'm quite disappointed. This is impertinence," Strobel said of the wall's dismantling. He argued that it belongs to the public and not investors like Maik Uwe Hinkel, who paid the workers to take down four panels from the barrier.
Hinkel is building a luxury apartment complex nearby along the Spree River and wants to create an access road through the wall. But he stopped his work following a number of protests this month, including one led by actor David Hasselhoff, who starred in the TV series Baywatch and Knight Rider.
Hasselhoff is a popular singer in Germany; his anthem "Looking for Freedom" was belted out by the generation who brought down the Berlin Wall.
During a protest he thanked people for joining. "This is a part of history," he said. He also pledged to hold a "huge concert" in Berlin to increase the pressure if talks to preserve the wall fail.
In an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press, Hinkel said he was tired of fruitless negotiations with city officials. He also said Wednesday's removal is temporary so trucks can reach the building site.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This morning in Germany, workers protected by scores of policemen removed sections of what is left of the Berlin Wall. The removal comes despite protests demanding this concrete artifact of the Cold War be preserved.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has this story from Berlin.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: On the morning of August 13, 1961, Berlin residents awoke to communists building a wall to divide their city. This morning, they awoke to workmen taking down chunks of what is left of that historic barrier.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)
NELSON: Tour guide Rolf Strobel, who is 52, came to gape at the holes in what had been the longest remaining stretch of the wall - about four-fifths of a mile. The remnant was turned into a gallery of bright murals, following the 1989 uprising in the Communist East that eventually led to German reunification. One of the murals features Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing East German chief Erich Honecker, who built the Berlin Wall.
ROLF STROBEL: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Strobel, the tour guide, calls this morning's removal shocking and impertinent. He argues the barrier belongs to the public and not investors like Maik Uwe Hinkel. Hinkel is building a luxury apartment complex nearby along the Spree River and wants the wall removed for an access road. But the work stopped following a number of protests, including one led by actor David Hasselhoff.
PROTESTERS: David. David. David. David...
NELSON: Hasselhoff is also a popular singer in Germany. His anthem, "Looking for Freedom," was belted out by the generation that brought down the Berlin Wall.
DAVID HASSELHOFF: You guys ready?
PROTESTERS: (Singing) I've been looking for freedom. I've been looking for so long...
NELSON: Hasselhoff, told protestors on St. Patrick's Day he was determined to protect what's left of the wall.
HASSELHOFF: How are you guys doing? Are you good?
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
HASSELHOFF: Thank you all for coming. This is a part of history. Thank you.
NELSON: Hasselhoff pledged to hold a huge concert here to up the pressure if talks to preserve the wall fail. But investor Hinkel said in an e-mailed statement to the Associated Press that he was tired of fruitless negotiations with city officials. He also says today's removal is temporary so that trucks can access his building site.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE BEEN LOOKING FOR FREEDOM")
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