Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Berlin keen to preserve once hated wall

BERLIN: Fifty years after its loathed wall went up, Berlin is gripped by a renewed desire to preserve the few remaining traces of the dark chapter of its division and bring history to life for visitors. Of the 155km of wall which made East Berliners prisoners of their own country, there is little more than 3km left - a heritage the authorities are now keen to protect. 'In the early 1990s, 90 per cent of Berliners were desperate to get rid of the wall,' Mr Rainer Klemke, a city government cultural affairs officer, said ahead of the 50th anniversary of its construction on Saturday. He recalls that initial euphoria drove much of the destruction, as well as a fear that the border could be closed again if the wall was still there. 'Then in the 2000s, Berliners began asking what happened,' he said. This gave rise to the Berlin Wall Plan. 'The idea was to divide up the wall sites in a thematic way,' Mr Klemke, who piloted the project said. These included Checkpoint Charlie, the famous Cold War border crossing that saw a stand-off of Soviet and American tanks in October 1961; the Brandenburg Gate, which stands for national unity; and Bernauer Strasse, the site of several dramatic escapes from the communist state. Since 2006, pedestrians have been able to trace the former border along a demarcated path called the Mauerweg. A Berlin Wall smartphone application to guide history enthusiasts has also been developed. Mr Klemke is upbeat about the prospects for keeping memories alive. 'It remains a symbol of hope for all oppressed peoples that translates around the world.' AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE